When Stacey Fifer arrived at the prison one day last September, she was carrying four old photos of women, strangers to one another but bound by terrifying memories of the same man.

The criminal investigator had strong suspicions Dwayne Wilson was that man. A letter from the state crime lab had linked Wilson's DNA to a sexual crime spree — including three rapes for which he'd never been charged and a fourth case that had been dropped, all in 34 months beginning in 1994.

He was now in the Grafton Correctional Institution on an unrelated sexual battery, but Fifer knew he was due to be released in 23 days.

Another deadline also loomed. DNA had linked Wilson to a November 1994 rape. Time was running out to charge him under Ohio's 20-year statute of limitations.

Fifer, part of a special Cuyahoga County task force, told Wilson his name had surfaced in some cold cases. One by one, she displayed driver's license photos of the four women taken around the time each was raped.

When asked, Wilson, 54, mumbled that he didn't recognize the women and doubted he'd had sex with them.

As Fifer prepared to leave, she told Wilson she'd see him again.

The next time, it was in a courtroom.

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Every Tuesday morning, a group of law enforcement officers revisits an ugly past.

The Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Task Force, a team of prosecutors, police, state agents and others, is building cases based on DNA results of thousands of newly tested rape kits that had, until recently, been languishing in storage.

The cold case unit is an outgrowth of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's Sexual Assault Kit Testing Initiative. Shortly after taking office in 2011, DeWine asked every law enforcement agency in Ohio to send its untested kits to the state crime lab.

As of May, about 7,200 of more than 9,600 unprocessed kits had been analyzed, according to DeWine's office. The result: nearly 2,700 "hits" or matches in CODIS, or the Combined DNA Index System, a national law enforcement database of DNA profiles.

In Cuyahoga County, nearly 3,800 of 4,800 kits have been tested.

In time, prosecutor Timothy McGinty expects to indict 1,000 rape suspects. So far, more than 300 men have been charged, resulting in 79 convictions and guilty pleas and seven acquittals.

Authorities say the expense of testing and technology — DNA wasn't used widely until the mid to late 1990s — contributed to these kits piling up.

One of the most disturbing revelations: about 30 percent of Cuyahoga County's cases are serial rapists.

"We always thought when we started this that we're going to find some guy who really did one rotten thing and he's been going to church ever since and praying for forgiveness," McGinty says. "I was dreaming. That guy doesn't exist."

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Before approaching Wilson, Fifer and a colleague began contacting the four women.

The first, now 54, had hazy memories of her rape and brutal beating nearly 20 years earlier. She'd tried to block it out her mind and couldn't identify Wilson among an array of six photos.

Fifer wasn't worried. "It doesn't make or break the case," she says

The second victim, now 58, had a flypaper memory of July 10, 1995. She'd been waiting for a bus, heading to work as a home health care aide when she accepted a ride from a stranger. He raped her twice.

The woman had identified her attacker's car and had even provided police his license plate number. A grand jury had declined to indict. It's unclear why. She says she never knew he'd even been arrested.

The third victim had been raped after getting in a man's car after agreeing to sell him a rock of crack.

This time, the law caught up with Dwayne Wilson — eight years later. The rape kit results were linked to his DNA in a criminal database. He was indicted, but the case was dismissed when the victim failed to appear after being subpoenaed. The woman thinks she might have been in jail at the time.

Seventeen years later, she instantly identified Wilson's photo.

So did the last victim, a 33-year-old mother who was just 16 when she was raped by a man who offered to drive her home while she was waiting for a bus after going to the movies.

All four women had been threatened with knives or boxcutters.

Twice, authorities had let Wilson slip from their grasp.

Two other times, they had his DNA, but it went untested while he preyed on others.

From 1998 to 2009, Wilson was in and out of prison after pleading guilty to sex crimes involving four women and girls. The youngest was 11.

On Oct. 9, Wilson was indicted — about a week before his scheduled release date.

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Mary Weston, the prosecutor, had two rape survivors who weren't eager to relive their horror. But they came to court.

The first testified that the DNA results were no comfort. "It took all these years to find the person and I forgot all about it," she said. "I didn't want to hear about it or look him in his face or anything. I just wanted to be left alone."

The second woman said the justice system had failed her long ago. She'd provided authorities all the information they'd used to nab Wilson, she said, "but nobody did anything."

The third victim, who'd been a drug user, cried as she described Wilson's deception in luring her into his car.

The last woman, who'd been a teen when she was attacked, was relieved. "Some justice finally served," she said. "Feels good."

Wilson's lawyer argued that DNA evidence does not equal guilt and each woman's story had inconsistencies.

The verdict came quickly: Guilty on all counts.

On April 1, Dwayne Wilson, balding with graying sideburns, stood in a 17th-floor courtroom, awaiting sentencing.

"Being accused of these crimes is just beyond my comprehension," he said. "A long time ago, I asked for help and I never got it. Their answer was to send me to prison, send me to prison, send me to prison. So it is what it is."

Weston dismissed Wilson's "insane proclamations of innocence." She urged a life sentence.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy McDonnell called Wilson the "worst of the worst" and sentenced him to 110 years.

Afterward, Weston said the streets are now safer, but four women "may never get over" what they've endured.

None of them was in court to see him escorted away in handcuffs.

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Sharon Cohen, a Chicago-based national writer, can be reached at scohen@ap.org. Mark Gillispie and Mike Householder contributed to this report.