The Indiana University student was drunk, cold, and alone, when she accepted a ride from a stranger one November 2012 night. But instead of driving the student home, the strange man allegedly veered in another direction, and then brutally assaulted her.
The unnamed woman, now a senior at Indiana University, escaped with her life after she jumped from the moving car. Her case went quiet for years. Then, while reading a 2015 article on a local murder, the woman panicked. Staring at her from a mugshot was a man who looked like her attacker. The man, Daniel Messel, had been booked on a crime eerily similar to her 2012 assault: the beating death of Hannah Wilson, another 22-year-old Indiana University student.
In August, Messel was convicted of murdering Wilson, who had been days away from graduating college. Messel is serving 80 years in a maximum-security prison for the crime. But his August trial drew the attention of other Indiana women and their families, who think they recognized his MO from earlier crimes.
"My body reacted in a way that had not happened before. I had a panic attack," the unnamed IU student testified at Messel’s August murder trial, according to the Indy Star. "I realized this was the same person who tried to attack me in 2012."Her testimony at Messel’s murder trial was ruled inadmissible a judge. But prosecutors argued that her attack illustrated a pattern of similar crimes, allegedly at Messel’s hands.
The student had been walking home alone from a bar when her attacker pulled alongside her in an SUV. Ordinarily she wouldn’t have accepted a ride, the woman testified, but she was cold, and far from home. When she climbed into the vehicle, the man turned the car away from campus. He allegedly forced her head onto his groin, slamming her face into the dashboard when she resisted. The woman escaped by jumping from the moving vehicle.
All the woman remembered of her attacker were his dark eyes, short hair, and the acne scars on his neck. But her account closely mirrored that of a 22-year-old Indiana University law student two months prior.
When the law student entered the stranger’s SUV in September 2012, she felt an “icy presence, felt fear in her chest and sensed something was wrong and she was in trouble,” a police affidavit reads. The instinct proved accurate. Rather than drive her back to campus, the man allegedly pulled onto a gravel path in the woods, where he dragged the intoxicated student out of the car by her hair and threw her onto the road. He punched her in the face, knocking out her contact lenses, and began forcing oral sex on her, the woman told police. When the woman finally fought him off, the man sped away, taking her shoes, purse, and cell phone with him.
Signals from the missing phone, and DNA evidence collected from under the law student’s fingernails failed to identify a suspect. But when Messel murdered Hannah Wilson under similar circumstances in 2015, a cell phone would lead to his conviction.
Hannah Wilson spent the night of April 23, 2015 partying. She had just passed the final exams of her senior year, and was celebrating her upcoming graduation. Too intoxicated to continue bar-hopping with her friends, Wilson hailed a cab. Then she disappeared. When police found her the next day, she was lying next to a creek, dead of blunt force trauma to the head. A stranger’s phone was lying near her body.
A search of the phone’s call history revealed it to be Messel’s. When police arrived at his home, they spotted him carrying out a bag full of bloody clothes. His car was spattered with blood and Wilson’s hair. His arms were covered in scratches where Wilson had fought back.
"I needed to be here for Hannah," Wilson’s mother Robin told the Indy Star at Messel’s trial. "She had no voice anymore."But the trial has offered an unexpected voice for Messel’s other alleged victims, including the unnamed senior and the Indiana University law student who was attacked after a night of drinking.
It also gave hope to the family of Indiana University sophomore Lauren Spierer, a 20-year-old who vanished on June 2, 2011, after a night out at Kilroy’s Sports Bar, the same college bar where Wilson was last seen. Spierer was never found, although her phone and shoes were later discovered at the bar, with her keys and wallet in a nearby alley.
Now Spierer’s family wonders whether Messel was behind their daughter’s disappearance.
“I do feel like there’s a possibility that Daniel Messel could’ve been involved in Lauren’s disappearance,” Spierer’s mother told an Indiana Fox affiliate. “You know, unfortunately, we don’t have any evidence, because we don’t have Lauren’s body. But now, this is the second case that’s very similar, seemingly, to what’s happened to Lauren.”
For the law student, Messel’s conviction is more than just a clue. For the first time since 2012, her case is moving toward justice. When police tested the DNA under her nails after the 2012 assault, the evidence produced no matches. But after Messel’s murder conviction, investigators ran the law student’s DNA evidence again, this time against Messel’s DNA samples. The samples matched.
On Friday, police charged Messel with the 2012 attempted rape, criminal deviate conduct, criminal confinement, theft, and battery resulting in bodily injury.
"I needed him off the streets," Wilson’s mother Robin said at the close of Messel’s August murder trial. With 80 years in behind bars for his first attack, and a new charges for an alleged second assault, Messel’s likely to stay locked up for good.