Questions swirl around history, DNA of Bloomington killer

Daniel Messel is serving 80 years for murdering Hannah Wilson. He is also charged with attempted rape in a 2012 attack on a young woman in Bloomington, Ind.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WTHR) — 13 Investigates has discovered disturbing new details about the man convicted in the murder of Indiana University student Hannah Wilson.

Daniel Messel is now facing attempted rape charges for an assault that happened more than two and a half years before Hannah was killed.

Records uncover a trail of troubling behavior that one victim says should have raised flags.

For the first time, that victim is speaking out about what she says are the scary encounters and missed clues.

Suspicious man trolling outside bars

“They witnessed this person basically trying to find women to get into his car”

It's a familiar scene in the heart of a college town: young co-eds out for the night enjoying food and drinks at off campus establishments. But in the fall of 2012, women leaving bars after a night of drinking crossed paths with a man who would first ask for directions and then try to get them into his car.

Six young women called police.

Some of them reported a suspicious man trying to get girls into his silver Kia SUV. One reported an attempted rape, and yet another was the victim of a sexual battery. The reports came within weeks of each other, described a similar man, and revealed a troubling pattern. The suspect appeared to be targeting women who were vulnerable and under the influence of alcohol.

But victims say Bloomington Police issued no warnings.

"When you look at the number of people who tried to report it, it's very scary," said one 22-year old woman who called Bloomington Police at least three times to make complaints.

She is still upset about what happened and asked that 13 Investigates not share her identity. She believes the public should know Daniel Messel harassed young women and got away with it until he committed murder.

"I think it's very telling that there were five witnesses that could testify about how they witnessed this person basically trying to find women to get into his car," she said.

Victims report intimidating and criminal behavior in 2012

This young woman says she and other women reported suspicious behavior of Daniel Messel to police years before he murdered another IU student.
This young woman says she and other women reported suspicious behavior of Daniel Messel to police years before he murdered another IU student.

The young woman who spoke to 13 Investigates recalled her first encounter with Messel.

One night, while sitting on her porch on Grant Street, a friend emerged from the dark, running toward her.

A man had approached her friend twice and tried to get her into his car.

"She was just so freaked out. That was aggressive enough to me that I felt like we should call the police," the woman recounted.

That was August 29, 2012.

Three days later, on September 1, Indiana University police responded to the attempted rape of a 22-year old law student. She reported she had been out drinking and ended up in a car with a strange man who tried to sexually assault her. She fought back and scratched him before he punched her in the face and took off. She told I.U. Police she couldn't identify him, but during the medical exam, investigators found she had snagged his DNA under her fingernails.

Daniel Messel Timeline

July 11, 1997Daniel Messel’s DNA collected by the state.
Aug 29, 2012IU students file report with Bloomington Police. Say an older man approached one woman twice to offer a ride and yelled obscenities at her.
Sep 1, 2012Woman reports attempted rape to IU Police. She reported being a vehicle with a man she didn’t know when he attacked her. DNA recovered from under her fingernails.
Sep 10, 2012Bloomington Police speak again with women who made Aug 29 report.
Nov 3, 2012Sexual Assault occurred but not reported until Nov 26.
Nov 15, 2012Bloomington Police report they obtained new information about suspect in Aug 29 incident.
Nov 26, 2012Young woman reports sexual battery to Bloomington Police. Says she accepted a ride from a man who attacked her in the vehicle. She escaped. Attack happened Nov 3.
Dec 2, 2012Women report to Bloomington Police that suspicious man circled block then stopped to ask directions. They say they’ve encountered him several times over 6mo. BPD spoke with suspect, Messel, and released him. Officers found he had a camera with video of himself asking for directions from the IU students.
Dec 3, 2012Bloomington Police speak again with woman who made Nov 26 report.
Dec 6, 2012Bloomington Police make case of Nov 26 report inactive.
April 24, 2015IU Student Hannah Wilson found murdered in Brown County.
April 27, 2015Messel charged with Wilson’s murder.
Aug 10, 2016Messel convicted of murdering Wilson
Aug 11, 2016Victim in Sept 1, 2012 attack contacts IU Police. Believes Messel is the suspect in her attempted rape.
Oct 28, 2016Messel charged with attempted rape for Sept 1, 2012 attack.
Oct 31, 2016Victim in the sexual battery case (reported Nov 26, 2012) submits evidence to Bloomington Police.

DNA not put into Indiana or FBI databases

Captain Craig Munroe, a spokesman with University Police, said Indiana State Police did not run the DNA sample through the Indiana or FBI database because there was not "sufficient quantity" for comparison at that time. But if it had been, could it have provided a match to Daniel Messel sooner?

According to the Indiana Department of Correction, Messel's DNA has been in the system since July 1997 from prior felony convictions involving violence towards women. The decision not to run the DNA sample is now raising questions and could be a haunting one.

"He was seeking out a way to carry out his fantasies," said the harassment victim.

By November 2012, the women living near Grant street had seen the guy in the Silver Kia so much, they gave him a nickname, "The Creeper."

But the harassment victim told 13 Investigates that Bloomington Police did not really seem to care.

Victim says complaints not taken seriously

"They basically just treated me like I was an hysterical woman who had no reason to be calling the police. I think my mindset was they would want to know that there was an aggressive person and a creepy person driving around," she explained.

"This was a pattern for Mr. Messel," said Ted Adams, the Brown County Prosecutor who convicted Messel in the Hannah Wilson case.

Adams first discovered Messel's disturbing background as he was preparing for trial and reviewing police reports and Messel's criminal history. He believes the young women acted appropriately by reporting Messel's unnerving behavior.

Brown Co Prosecutor Ted Adams shows Sandra the area of Bloomington where he believes Messel looked for victims.
Brown Co Prosecutor Ted Adams shows Sandra the area of Bloomington where he believes Messel looked for victims.

"Clearly these are red flags that we have a potential stalker or even a violent person," Adams told 13 Investigates.

Just a week after Bloomington Police stopped and identified Messel in November 2012, another woman reported a sexual battery.

The 18-year old admitted to accepting a ride from a man she now believes was Messel.

"He had grabbed her head and thrust it onto his lap. She struggled with him and then ended up jumping out of the vehicle," Adams told 13 Investigates. A move that, he believes, could have saved her from something worse.

Daniel Messel identified in harassment cases years before student killed

“It was extremely scary the way he pulled up on the sidewalk and basically tried to accost us”

Days later, the so-called "creeper" was trying to corner another victim and her friend as they walked home on December 2, according to the young woman who spoke to 13 Investigates.

"It was extremely scary the way he pulled up on the sidewalk and basically tried to accost us," the victim recounted.

The young women got away and called 911 as they ran. That night they also helped Bloomington Police track down Messel.

"I remembered his license plate and that's how they were able to pull him over that night and catch him with his pants down," she revealed.

"428LKH. I'm pretty sure," she said reciting the license plate she gave to police and that is now etched in her mind.

It was the same license plate number found on Messel's Kia SUV after his arrest in the Hannah Wilson case two and a half years after her encounter with Messel.

The night police tracked Messel down for harassment, he was questioned by Bloomington Police and released. According to Adams the sexual battery victim could not pick Messel out of a line up. The women say the incidents happened late at night when it was very dark.

13 Investigates also learned police discovered a camera in Messel's console with video of himself asking girls for directions.

"I'm dying to know what was on that camera back in 2012," said Adams. "I don't think that evidence was collected," he added.

Prosecutor uncovers troubling revelations

Daniel Messel was convicted of murdering IU student Hannah Wilson in April 2015.
Daniel Messel was convicted of murdering IU student Hannah Wilson in April 2015.

Adams himself had wanted some of that information to help prosecute Messel for the murder of Hannah Wilson.

Early in the morning of April 24, 2015, a woman discovered Hannah's body in a Brown County field at State Road 45 and Plum Creek Road.

Adams believes Messel followed Hannah home from a bar and somehow got her into his SUV. Crime scene photos show Hannah put up a fight. Her hair and blood were found inside Messel's silver Kia. During the struggle his phone got knocked out of his pocket and landed beneath Hannah's feet. That's what led investigators straight to Messel.

A search warrant revealed disturbing pornography on Messel's computer.

"I think one of them being sex with drunk passed out girls, which clearly we wanted to get into at trial and we were not able to do so," Adams explained.

But based on what happened to the women who had previously reported Messel to police, Adams believes Messel had an attack zone in a four by five block area of Bloomington, stretching from 8th Street to Kirkwood and between Dunn and Walnut.

This is the area of Bloomington where Brown Co. Prosecutor Ted Adams believes Messel trolled for young women.
This is the area of Bloomington where Brown Co. Prosecutor Ted Adams believes Messel trolled for young women.

Harassment victim: "I suspected that he was up to no good"

“It just gives me the worst feeling. It makes my stomach drop.”

As Adams and his investigators were putting together their case, they contacted women who had filed complaints in the area where Messel was suspected of being in 2012. Most of them had moved on, some graduating from college.

The young woman who spoke anonymously to 13 Investigates recalls the shock of hearing that the suspicious man she reported was now a murder suspect.

"I just remember my dad saying 'Oh my God!'" she said, reliving her father's disbelief that she and her friends had had close encounters with a suspected killer. She can't believe it either.

She and four other women who all suspected Messel of intimidating and criminal behavior agreed to testify against him in his murder trial, but they were not called to the stand.

A judge ruled their testimony would be too prejudicial. Only the sexual battery victim was allowed to tell her story and only to the judge. The jury did not hear her story.

"It just gives me the worst feeling. It makes my stomach drop," said one harassment victim looking at Messel's mugshot. "I suspected that he was up to no good."

DNA finally tested; matches Messel

The day after Messel was convicted of Hannah's murder, I.U. Police got a chilling phone call from a woman living in Tennessee. She was the attempted rape victim from September 2012 and believed Messel was her attacker, too.

University Police requested Indiana State Police run the DNA sample previously collected from under her fingernails and compare it to Messel's profile.

"The sample came back, I think, one in one-million as a match to Daniel Messel's profile," Adams said.

It was a stunning development considering the DNA sat for four years because someone determined there was not a "sufficient quantity" of DNA back in 2012 to run through the Indiana and FBI databases.

The harassment victim who spoke to 13 Investigates wonders what could have happened if police had put the pieces together earlier.

"I don't know for sure if they could have prevented Hannah's death," she said. "But I think there are a lot of things they could have done differently to try to make campus safer."

The women are still rattled by what happened. They don't believe police took them seriously because they had been out drinking prior to their encounters.

Messel has been charged only in the attempted rape case from September 2012. He is seeking to have his trial moved out of Monroe County citing "public hostility" against him.

Police decline to respond

Indiana State Police and Bloomington Police declined to speak with Eyewitness News about Messel's DNA and the timeline of reports because of the Messel's pending charges. In a statement, Captain Steven Kellams with the Bloomington Police Department wrote:

"At the request of the Monroe County Prosecutor's Office, no specific statement can be made regarding Daniel Messel due to the fact that there are pending criminal proceedings, including Motion for Change of Venue. To do so has the potential to taint a future jury pool and deny due process guaranteed to all."

Meanwhile, the victim in the sexual battery case has since submitted evidence for her case.

The Indiana Supreme Court also upheld Messel's conviction in the Hannah Wilson case.

Prosecutor Ted Adams confirms that Bloomington Police have reviewed the Hannah Wilson murder case files. He says Messel remains a person of interest in the disappearance of Lauren Spierer.