Katherine “Kadi” Crnkovich cringed Monday — not for herself but for her peers, the other women assaulted by a man that authorities are now calling Omaha's latest serial rapist.
In an exclusive interview, Crnkovich said she has long since put her 2005 attack — in which she awoke to an intruder raping her and covering her mouth with his hand — in her rearview mirror.
Don't get her wrong, she said, it was a dreadful ordeal. However, she said, it's one that is fading.
“I tried to make sure this wasn't a defining moment in my life,” Crnkovich said. “But I'm relieved that they finally got him.”
“Why'd it take so long?” she asked.
The head of Douglas County's probation officers gave one reason Monday.
Probation officers didn't collect Anthony G. Vaughn's DNA sample — a requirement after Vaughn was convicted of burglary — until 18 months after his probation began.
“It fell through the cracks,” said Ron Broich, chief Douglas County probation officer.
The delay meant that Vaughn was on the streets for 20 months before the Nebraska State Patrol finished comparing his DNA to an FBI database of evidence collected from crime scenes. The comparison culminated last week, when authorities charged him with the rapes of five Omaha women from 1999 to 2009.
Questions about that lapse and about Vaughn's past emerged Monday, a day after Vaughn's arrest.
The decadelong spree of alleged rapes of women in midtown and South Omaha began in 1999, just seven months after Vaughn was acquitted of charges that he raped a woman he met in a bar.
Police in both Omaha and Lincoln, where Vaughn lived during the early 2000s, now are trying to determine whether Vaughn is a suspect in any unsolved sexual assaults. Vaughn — who is being held in the Douglas County Jail without bail — and his mother declined to comment Monday.
“The DNA match and discovery of Mr. Vaughn's (alleged) crimes has certainly set in motion a series of investigative steps by our department to compare his description and MO against unsolved Lincoln rapes,” said Lincoln Police Officer Katie Flood, a department spokeswoman.
In September 2011, Vaughn was sentenced to three years of probation for breaking into a house where a woman was showering. It was his first felony conviction. A state law, expanded in 2010 to cover all felons, meant he had to submit to a DNA swab as part of his probation.
Douglas County probation officers were responsible for obtaining Vaughn's DNA sample by swabbing his cheek.
They didn't collect it until Feb. 6 of this year. It took the Nebraska State Patrol DNA lab two months to process Vaughn's DNA and run it through a national database of DNA from evidence collected from crime scenes. That is a typical turnaround time, according to the lab's director, Pam Zilly.
“It's frustrating — really, it's irritating,” Crnkovich said. “We've been waiting for years to have some closure, and we could have had it in 2011? Who knows what else he's done in the past two years. It's ridiculous.”
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine echoed concerns about the delay.
“It's a good law, and it should be a priority,” Kleine said of the DNA Testing Act. “The sooner we get them in a database, the sooner we can solve these crimes.”
Broich said probation officers have been trying to catch up with the new law's requirement that they collect DNA samples even from felons already on probation when the law was passed.
Broich pointed out that state law does not put a deadline on such collections, except to say the DNA sample should be obtained before the defendant's probation term expires. Vaughn's probation doesn't expire until September 2014, Broich noted.
However, Broich said, he had asked his probation officers to get such collections done within the first 90 days of probation.
“This was a wake-up call for us,” Broich said. “I'm going to address this in my (next) staff meeting. This is a great example of why we need to be diligent and get this done.”
The DNA sample linked Vaughn to the early-morning sexual assaults of Omaha women in September 1999, December 2005, March 2008, May 2009 and August 2009, Omaha police say.
Police have yet to determine whether Vaughn is a suspect in any cases in the 20 months since he was put on probation — or in the five years between his first two alleged Omaha assaults.
From about 2000 to 2005, Vaughn spent much of his time in Lincoln.
In 2005, the Lancaster County Attorney's Office charged him with third-degree sexual assault after a Jan. 30, 2005, break-in. A then-20-year-old woman said she awoke in the early-morning hours to find Vaughn kneeling next to her and groping her over her clothes.
She sat up. He crawled away, saying “sorry, wrong apartment.” Police arrived and arrested Vaughn. The case was later dismissed, though it was unclear why.
A live-in girlfriend — a Lincoln woman who had Vaughn's child — described him Monday as abusive and obsessive. Lisabeth, who spoke on the condition that only her first name be used, said Vaughn would sit outside her Lincoln apartment for hours, stalking her.
She said she wasn't the only one. She said she checked his camcorder and discovered that he had videotaped women outside their homes — even zooming in on specific body parts. When she confronted him about it, she said, he told her he was just trying to make sure the camera focused properly.
Omaha Police Lt. Trevor O'Brien said investigators think Vaughn scouted out his Omaha victims before pouncing.
“Our investigation led us to believe he knew who was in the homes,” O'Brien said. “We don't know if he knew the women, but he knew who was in the homes.”
Crnkovich said that was abundantly apparent in her assault.
At the time, she said, she lived alone in a tucked-away basement apartment near 49th and California Streets. A man lived in the neighboring apartment.
She had fallen asleep on her couch that night. She awoke to find her pants and underwear down — and a man inside of her. He raped her, then bolted so quickly that she had no idea whether he was white or black.
She discovered that he had unscrewed an exterior light bulb — something seen in other rape investigations. He then broke out a glass window in the door and unlocked it.
She went through a sexual-assault examination that morning at Methodist Hospital through a program created by Omaha rape survivor Heidi Wilke and her husband, Jeff.
That examination proved critical to collecting the evidence that authorities are now using against Vaughn.
It also proved to be just the beginning of what Crnkovich had to undergo. For the next six months, the then 28-year-old had to get regular tests to make sure her attacker hadn't infected her with a sexually transmitted disease.
For the first few months, Crnkovich said: “I had a period where I didn't want to be by myself at night.”
Other times, she'd walk through a grocery store and “get this haunted feeling I could be walking right past him.”
She battled through it. The day of the attack, Crnkovich had her door replaced. She stayed put in that apartment for months.
“My family and friends thought I was crazy,” she said. “I just felt like I didn't want him to kick me out of my own house.”
She took other steps. With the help of Heidi Wilke and a circle of friends, Crnkovich joined a survivors network. She counseled and was consoled by other women who had been raped.
Even scarier than her attack, Crnkovich said, was the number of women who came up to her and said they had been raped. About 20 acquaintances, even a close friend, have confided in her that they, too, had been sexually assaulted.
Unlike Crnkovich, almost all of them were raped by an acquaintance. Many hadn't reported the matter to police, in part because they had been drinking and wrongly believed they were at fault, Crnkovich said.
“It gave me something to be angry about — that this happens to this many women,” she said.
Told of the other victims linked to Vaughn — then ages 18, 21, 23 and 34 — Crnkovich winced. “Oh no,” she said at one point.
One of Vaughn's alleged victims declined to comment Monday. “I don't feel like talking about that,” she said.
Crnkovich said she understands.
“I know a lot of women who haven't even reported theirs (to police),” she said. “I wanted people to start thinking the other way.
“I just didn't want to feel ashamed for something I had no control over.”
Crnkovich now is a chef. She says she's in a good relationship. And life is good — better now that an arrest has been made.
“It was time,” she said. “I would hope this brings peace to a lot of women.”
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