BLOOMINGTON, ILLINOIS – It was nothing short of a nightmare — a man obsessively tracking women,
sneaking into their homes, assaulting them, and forcing them to perform
a bizarre “cleansing” ritual that washed away any hint of evidence from
Bloomington, Ill., Police Detective Clay Wheeler spent two years pursuing the first serial rapist in his town’s memory.
“I’ve seen more brutal things, more violent things, but some of the
things that happened and what he would say and tell these girls as he’s
assaulting them, and I mean, I get chills. It just disgusts me,” he
Rapist’s Victims Awakened by Masked Intruder
The rapist’s first victim was then 25-year-old Kristi Mills, who awoke to a masked intruder standing in her doorway in April 2003.
“I was in shock, absolute shock. I looked at the door and saw the light
there, and something just didn’t seem right. And that’s when I saw him,”
she said. “The next thing I remember is he was on top of me in the
Mills said the intruder told her he was there to burglarize her, and
that he didn’t want to hurt her, but if she made noise, he would shoot
Wearing a ski mask and gloves, he seemed oddly calm and methodical as he
bound her with zip ties and duct tape, she said. Then he slipped a
pillowcase over her head and sexually assaulted Mills for 45 minutes.
“He seemed very assertive when he talked and not like somebody who’s,
you know, panicking. He seemed like he knew what he was doing,” Mills
Still blindfolded, he forced her into the bathroom where she heard water
running. “I started to panic and I thought he was going to shoot me in
the bathtub,” she said. “Just over a month from my 26th birthday, and I
was going to die.”
Mills was forced to take a long bath and told to wash carefully, while
her rapist calmly walked about her apartment cleaning up after himself.
Then he was gone, taking with him all the evidence, including the bed sheets.
She was so upset and scared that when she got out of the bathtub,
removed the pillowcase, and ripped the tape from off her eyes, she
actually tore out chunks of hair. Though she said she wanted to run and
hide, she decided to call 911 and report it.
Rapist Left Next Victim Shaking in Tub
Two years later, the rapist found his fourth victim, 28-year-old
restaurant manager Sarah Kalmes-Gliege, who also awoke to someone coming
into her room in the middle of the night. She was just six weeks away
from her wedding.
“It was gun to my head, knife to my throat,” said Kalmes-Gliege.
He made it clear he had been stalking her, and he threatened her loved
ones. “He knew everything about me,” she said. “What my sister looks
like to what car my [finance] drove, my work schedule. He knew where I
worked out. Pretty much everything.”
The intruder sexually assaulted and attacked Kalmes-Gliege for almost
three hours. As with Mills, he was careful. He bound her hands and
covered her head with a pillowcase.
“The majority of the assault was spent just humiliating and demeaning
and terrorizing me. I mean, it wasn’t at all about anything to do with
sex. Just devastation is what, how I felt.”
Before leaving, as he had with Mills and his other victims, the attacker
forced Kalmes-Gliege into the bathroom for a long soak to wash away the
“All I could think about was, ‘I can’t have someone call my family, my
fiancé, my parents, my siblings and tell them that I have been killed
six weeks before I get married,’” she said.
He left her alone, shaking in her tub and waiting hours until sunrise to flee.
Although she considered telling no one, she thought, “If I don’t tell
the police, this person is going to rape yet another person.” So she
called the cops.
Even through her trauma, Kalmes-Gliege had memorized details of her
attacker, from his gait to the haunting eyes behind his mask.
“He had a very distinct way of walking,” she said. “Kind of cumbersome.
He had very distinct bright blue eyes. I knew I would be able to pick
them out as soon as I saw that person.”
Mills also remembered his eyes. “When you’re staring into those eyes and
that’s the only thing you can see and the only thing you can focus on,
they stick with you.”
Police Hunt for Model Citizen
Detective Wheeler and his partner Matthew Dick realized this was a
special kind of rapist; he was a stalker, a man seemingly obsessed with
his victims who gathered intimate details about them.
“He’s actually engaging in conversation rather than just the quick act
of violence,” Dick said. The victims described how he would talk almost
lovingly to them, as if he was their boyfriend, before getting angry
And he knew how to cover his tracks. “It was very obvious to us that
this was a sophisticated criminal and knew what he was doing,” Dick
When the police turned to the FBI for help, they were told the rapist might be a seemingly model citizen.
“The one thing they did tell us that I’ll never forget is that this
would be some guy that everybody works with. They’ll say, ‘Naw. He
couldn’t do that. He wouldn’t do that,’ you know. And it’d be somebody
that would be maybe a respected member of the community,” Wheeler said.
The police had no prime suspect, until he stalked then 29-year-old
Jonelle Galuska. She said she knew she was being watched, so when she
was awoken one night by her startled dog, she immediately called the
At 1 a.m., Bloomington police officer Dave Zeamer arrived to find a man
standing against the house, and in the glare of his flashlight, saw a
man turn and walk away.
“I yell, ‘Police. Stop, police!’” Zeamer said.
To his shock, he knew the man who turned around. It was one of his own … fellow Bloomington police officer Jeff Pelo, his former supervisor.
Pelo was a 17-year veteran of the Bloomington police, a former policeman of the year and married father of three.
“You got that relief of, ‘Oh, it’s Pelo.’ But then you are like, ‘Wait a
minute, it’s Pelo. What’s he doing out here?’” Zeamer said.
Once a trusted cop, now Pelo was a suspected serial rapist. “As soon as
I heard that Jeff Pelo was stopped outside that house, that connection
had been drawn in my mind,” said Dick.
Mounting Evidence Points to Police Sergeant
Mounting evidence revealed how Pelo may have used his police training and access to commit the crimes and cover his tracks.
Detectives found that Pelo’s police computer had been used to run
license plate searches on three of the victims. Pelo claimed that
someone else must have been using his computer terminal.
“Victims described how [the rapist] would pull some of the items around
from his belt. You know, the gloves that they described were consistent
with what police officers or security officers commonly wear,” Wheeler
remembered. It made sense that the rapist might be a cop, he said.
During a tense interrogation, Pelo denied “prowling” around Galuska’s
home and said he was only looking at the nearby lake. He was
house-hunting, he said, rubbing his head and eyebrows nervously.
Then, a search of Pelo’s home turned up a jacket and a ski mask made of
fibers that matched the kind found on the duct tape used to bind Mills.
“Fiber evidence was what I think was the most important,” Dick said.
“About the only actual physical evidence to tie Jeff Pelo to these
The victims were brought in to see if they could identify him, first
through a voice line-up. “The third victim, when she heard his voice,
she literally curled up into the fetal position and pulled herself into
the wall of the interview room,” Dick said.
“If you spend two hours listening to that person threatening, degrade
you, it doesn’t take very much to recognize it,” said Kalmes-Gliege.
Three victims also picked Pelo out of a photo line-up, even though the
rapist had worn a mask during the attacks. But it was those clear blue
eyes both Kalmes-Gliege and Mills said they remembered so vividly.
Believing Pelo was the rapist, Dick and Wheeler said he had betrayed the badge they held dear.
“To go to the victims and have to tell them that ‘This was one of my own
that did this to you,’” Dick said. “It was pretty devastating.”
Family Stands By Pelo
Pelo’s family — his wife of 20 years, Rickie, and their three kids –
stood by him. Rickie Pelo said the police jumped to conclusions.
“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said. “He’s explained
to me. He’s never given me any reason not to believe him. So I do
Pelo’s home life was exemplary, according to his family. He seemed to be
a devoted family man who volunteered at his kids’ schools. He coached
his daughter’s softball team and was present at all sporting events.
Rickie Pelo describes her husband as being her kids’ biggest fan. “In
fact, my oldest daughter’s friends would always joke around. They knew
when her dad was in the audience because they could hear him,” she said.
At Pelo’s trial in May 2008, the most damaging testimony came from his victims.
“The women that were his victims, the women that survived his attacks,
were all women that were willing to stand up,” Mills said. “We took
control back. And I think that’s what really led to his downfall.”
After six weeks the jury returned a damning verdict: guilty on 35
counts of rape, kidnapping and stalking. He was sentenced to 440 years,
one of the longest sentences in Illinois history. Pelo is currently
appealing, asking a judge to overturn his conviction.
“I just felt it was important to have him be accountable to me, to my
family, to the public for the things that he did. I have no doubt that
the person sitting in jail right now, Mr. Pelo, is who is responsible
for every single one of these attacks,” said Kalmes-Gliege.
But Pelo’s family says the jury got it wrong. “I don’t think he did it,” Rickie Pelo said.
“There wasn’t DNA that said it was him. There wasn’t any hard proof to
say it was him, so I just don’t understand how so many people have come
to the conclusion that he’s a bad person,” said daughter Shayla Pelo.
Rickie said she tries to shut out the present, fondly remembering the
Jeff Pelo that she knew, the man she fell in love with when she was just
“He had such a great sense of humor,” she said. “Such a loving, caring
heart. Actually, the first thing that I fell in love with are his eyes.
His eyes were just beautiful, and I could just lose myself in them.”
They’re the same eyes that will stare at four walls in a small cell for
the rest of his life, the eyes his victims say they cannot forget.