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Man charged in Pennypack rapes has history of violence

Robert Palen, linked by cops to 2 rapes in Northeast Philly, pleaded guilty to another violent assault in Wisconsin.

Robert Palen when booked in Madison, Wisconsin
Robert Palen when booked in Madison, WisconsinRead moreDane County Sheriff's Office

"YOU COULD get hurt being out here, because there are a lot of weirdos out there."

Robert Palen allegedly gave that warning to a woman he approached on a late-summer night in 2010.

Not long after Palen offered that advice, the woman later told police, he allegedly raped her on a park bench in a secluded area.

Judging by his criminal record, Palen knows a lot about hurting women.

Palen, 38, was hauled back to Philly on Dec. 26 after rotting in a Wisconsin prison for more than a year, police sources told the Daily News last night.

He was charged Sunday with two counts of rape, aggravated assault, indecent exposure and related offenses in two brutal attacks on women in Pennypack Park, court records show.

And one of the main reasons local authorities were able to pin those crimes on him was his connection to a rape 900 miles away.

In June, Palen pleaded guilty to attempting to strangle and sexually assault a woman in Madison, Wis., whom he met through an online-dating website, a source in the Madison Police Department told the Daily News.

Months after Palen was arrested in the December 2013 assault in Madison - where he'd moved from Philly earlier that year - the detective working the case got a call from a Special Victims Unit detective in Philadelphia.

Turns out that when Philly investigators entered DNA gathered from one of those Pennypack Park rapes into a national database, they found a positive match with a condom that Madison police took from their crime scene.

Suddenly, to the cops, everything clicked.

The first "white-truck rape" - as investigators referred to the two assaults with which Palen is charged - was reported in August 2011, police said.

The victim, 24, told police that a man driving a white utility truck approached her as she was walking near a 7-Eleven on Torresdale Avenue near Longshore in Tacony and offered her a ride home.

The man, who called himself "Robert," drove her to a secluded section of Pennypack Park on Cresco Avenue near Stanwood Street and "started to become aggressive towards her," according to an affidavit filed in the case.

"Robert" forcibly pulled the woman out of his truck and into a wooded area, where he punched her in the face repeatedly, the document says.

He then pulled down her pants, exposed himself and said, "Suck my d---," the affidavit states.

After forcing the woman to perform oral sex, he raped her on a nearby park bench. And then, after pummeling her a few more times and stealing $20 from her, "Robert" ran.

In the aftermath of the savage assault, the woman was treated for serious facial injuries, including a broken nose, according to the affidavit. A tissue that "Robert" allegedly had discarded after the rape was collected and entered as evidence, the document says.

Police initiated a massive campaign to catch the rapist, including several news conferences held by Capt. John Darby, the head of Special Victims Unit.

The media blitz drew the attention of a woman who went through a chillingly similar encounter, one prefaced by an odd warning about getting hurt.

Almost exactly a year before the 24-year-old's encounter with "Robert," a 29-year-old woman had been walking near the same 7-Eleven when a man in a white utility truck called her over, according to the affidavit.

The story is almost identical from there: The man, who had ID cards in his truck that bore the name "Robert," drove the woman to Cresco Street and forced her into the woods, according to the affidavit.

When they reached a secluded park bench, he raped her, screaming at her to "shut the f--- up."

Four years after the attack, police contacted that victim again, informing her that they may have found "Robert."

She picked out Palen from a photo array as the man who allegedly had raped her. The 24-year-old victim also identified Palen as closely resembling her alleged rapist when shown his picture, according to the affidavit.

With that verification, the DNA link and other evidence - including the fact that Palen's address at the time of the two Pennypack rapes was on Frost Street near Walker, about a mile from that stretch of Cresco Avenue - police in Philly issued an order to extradite him from Wisconsin.

He remained in custody last night in lieu of 10 percent of $10 million bail, court records show.