OMAHA - Roughly 20 years ago, a girl, then age 7 or 8, begged her mother to take her to Hitchcock Pool to go swimming. A family friend known as the “bicycle guy” offered to take her.
That day, she alleges, the man raped her in the basement of the South Omaha home where he lived.
The girl apparently suppressed the memory until 2005, when she recalled the attack in counseling. She reported it to Omaha police, who put out a notice to local law enforcement in order to find the man and speak with him.
That didn’t happen until December 2018, when the man came in contact with Bellevue authorities, who notified Omaha police.
Omaha detectives Ryan Kilawee and Marissa Boyce dug into the case — watching an old VHS tape of the girl’s interview with police and speaking to the now-28-year-old woman and corroborating details of the home with current and former residents. They later secured an arrest.
Joseph L. Pierce, 54, has been charged with first-degree sexual assault of a minor and is being held in Douglas County Jail on $150,000 bail. He was arrested in Indiana after a warrant was issued for him April 11.
Pierce has faced previous charges of sexual assault of a juvenile — one in 1981 in Minnesota and another in 1983 in Omaha, said Omaha Police Capt. Anna Colon.
That history and the fact that Pierce has lived in four other states since 2005 leads Colon to suspect that other children may have been targeted.
Pierce was known in the South Omaha neighborhood as “Joe the bicycle guy,” Colon said. Everyone took their bike to Pierce, who then had long red hair, to get it repaired, she said.
Pierce lived in various homes and apartments, but in 1997 or 1998, he lived in the basement of his foster family’s home near 22nd and O Streets, police said.
Pierce was a patient at the Bellevue Medical Center on Dec. 5, 2018, when Bellevue officers realized there still was a pending bulletin from 2005 to locate Pierce. They spoke to Kilawee, who saw that the bulletin was connected to a juvenile sexual assault case.
Kilawee spoke to Pierce and asked him about the girl. Pierce said he didn’t remember.
Kilawee watched the 2005 interview with the young woman, then tracked her down to interview her again. Her interview was detailed and matched her previous story, Colon said.
To find the house where the alleged assault occurred, Kilawee took the woman in December 2018 to five different properties where Pierce had lived in the late 1990s. The woman said the home at 22nd and O Streets was “a possibility” and ruled out the others. She had reported in 2005 that it could have happened near 40th and W Streets, but in 2018 said the memories were “coming back to her,” according to a court affidavit.
The woman told police that on the day Pierce took her to the pool, she stayed there for only a short time before Pierce took her to the basement. She said she wanted to go home and was trying to get out of the situation so she told him she had to use the bathroom, according to the affidavit. She said he watched her while she used the toilet, and she remembered there wasn’t a door to the bathroom, the affidavit said.
Pierce then put her on his bed, put his hand over her mouth and said it wasn’t going to hurt, according to the affidavit. The woman told police he touched her chest and “bottom area” with his fingers and raped her vaginally.
Afterward, according to the affidavit, he told her not to tell anyone because she would get in trouble.
Kilawee spoke to the current owner of the home, who described what the layout of the basement looked like before it was remodeled. He also found the family who lived in the home when Pierce lived in the basement.
All remembered that there weren’t doors on the hinges in the basement where Pierce lived, and they drew floor plans that matched the woman’s description.
Colon said the woman is glad to have some closure as Pierce awaits trial. If convicted, he would face up to 50 years in prison.
“She didn’t think that anything was going to come out of it. She didn’t think anyone would believe her,” Colon said. “When (kids) do tell someone, we’re going to do anything we can to protect them and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”