DNA links man to sexual assault 2 girls in 1987, cops say


A man was arrested in connection with the sexual assault of two girls at knifepoint in Rhode Island in 1987, police say. 

A man who served in the military is accused of sexually assaulting two girls in Rhode Island in 1987 after police obtained his DNA though a “covert operation,” according to authorities.

At the time, the two girls, who were 11 and 13, were “forced into the woods at knifepoint” near one of their homes by a man they did not know in Exeter, state police say. After the assault occurred, evidence was collected and preserved — but the case went cold.

Thirty five-years later, Frank Joseph Thies, 66, of Indiana, was arrested Oct. 19 in his home state and extradited to Rhode Island, the department announced in a Nov. 16 news release. Rhode Island State Police worked with Indiana state police, about 900 miles west, to make the arrest.

He previously served in the U.S. Marines and Navy, according to state police.

Thies was arraigned in a Rhode Island court on Nov. 17 and pleaded not guilty to one count of first-degree sexual assault and two counts of child molestation, WLNE reported.

His arrest comes after detectives reopened the investigation into the sexual assault in 2019, according to Rhode Island State Police.

Three years later, in August, detectives received a tip pointing to three brothers initially from New York that suggested one was a likely suspect, the release says.

Detectives discovered the oldest brother, Thies, was in Rhode Island one day before the sexual assault in April 1987, according to police. He had reported to the Naval Justice School in Newport, which is about 15 miles from where the assault occurred in Exeter.

State authorities in Indiana were contacted about the investigation into Thies and were asked to provide his DNA, which they obtained covertly, according to a Nov. 16 Indiana State Police news release. The details of how police got his DNA were not specified.

Ultimately, Rhode Island State Police received Thies’ DNA sample and it turned out to match the suspect’s DNA taken at the 1987 crime scene, according to authorities.

In court, prosecutor Timothy G. Healy described the case as “every parent’s worst nightmare,” according to the Providence Journal.

Julia Marnin is a McClatchy National Real-Time reporter covering the southeast and northeast while based in New York. She’s an alumna of The College of New Jersey and joined McClatchy in 2021. Previously, she’s written for Newsweek, Modern Luxury, Gannett and more.

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