x
Breaking News
More () »

Rape kit backlog in Memphis: Survivor talks lack of justice in decades-old rape

A Memphis woman involved in a class action lawsuit describes her assault and the long-haul journey that followed.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The backlog of sexual assault kits in Memphis is a major problem, but sexual assault kits being destroyed is an unimaginable pain for survivors. 

Debby Dalhoff and other sexual assault survivors are now seeking justice in a class action lawsuit.

“My story starts in 1985, 37 years ago, and I was asleep in my bed and I woke up with a knife at my throat, a hand over my mouth, was threatened that if I screamed he would slice my throat,” Dalhoff said. “He put a pair of panties in my mouth and gagged me with panty hose on top of that. He tied my hands together behind my back, tied my feet together then he hog tied me – my hands to my feet.”

DNA was not used in a legal case in the United States until 1987 – but she says the perpetrator knew it existed.

“He actually tried to clean up his DNA,” Dalhoff said. “He put me in my kitchen sink and scalded me with scolding hot water. He vacuumed my house and took the vacuum cleaner back with him.”

According to the National Institute of Justice, jurors expect prosecutors to use DNA evidence in more than 70 percent of rape cases.

“When it came out in 2014 about the untested rape kits, I started thinking, 'Wow, they can find my rape kit and they can test my rape kit,'" Dalhoff said.

However, there were over 12,000 untested rape kits.

Deborah Clubb, executive director of the Memphis Area Women’s Council, worked to get these kits tested.

“I was very glad to be part of the group appointed to a task force that has worked now for nearly nine years to get those stored rape kits tested and now investigated and prosecuted,” Clubb said.

Debby hasn’t received the due process she expected – so, she sent a letter to former Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich.

Debby claims the Rape Crisis Center said her rape kit turned up no DNA evidence, so she sent another letter – this time, 14 pages and demanding a meeting with Weirich.

“Look, there are unfortunately too many victims of crime in our community who don’t get the justice they’re looking for because there’s not an arrest that’s made,” Weirich said.

Over time, Debby lists in her journal that Assistant DA Abby Wallace returned some of her phone calls but says many remained unanswered.

“Only for me to find out in my meeting with Amy Weirich, my rape kit was never found and tested,” Dalhoff said. “Each piece of evidence had their own piece of paper and when I got my file and I looked at it, there’s a box up there and it said destroyed. That’s how I actually knew that my evidence had been destroyed.”

Dalhoff blames the city of Memphis for the lack of conviction because of what she claims to be poor communication and the city mishandling her sexual assault kit.

“Just because a sexual assault kit has been destroyed, does not mean it’s the be-all end-all,” Weirich said. “Law enforcement has made arrests against individuals without a sexual assault kit.”

“I quite frankly don’t feel like I’ve been raped once,” Dalhoff said. “I feel like I’ve been raped twice. Once by a perpetrator and once by the city of Memphis.”

Dalhoff also said the Eliza Fletcher case, though heartbreaking, has been beneficial in their class action lawsuit as the suspect, Cleotha Henderson's, DNA did match with a 2021 rape kit that had not yet been tested. She said this shows just how current the backlog issue is for the Memphis area sexual assault kits.

We have reached out to the city of Memphis as well as the Rape Crisis Center and have not yet heard back.

Currently, around 80 women are currently involved in the class action lawsuit against the city of Memphis for the destruction of their sexual assault kits. 

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 and visit your local Rape Crisis Center.

Paid Advertisement

Before You Leave, Check This Out