The story behind the first rape kit

Rape evidence kits are stacked in storage at the Cleveland Police Department.

Story highlights

  • Rape kits keep making headlines, as they're discovered untested, backlogged and even destroyed
  • CNN finds the faces and forces behind the very first rape kit, which was created in Chicago in the 1970's
  • The rape kit was "life-altering" for survivors and helped prosecutors and law enforcement seek justice

(CNN)The first time Tristin Engels realized her grandpa was a big deal, she was about 8 and on the side of a road in Wisconsin. A flat tire interrupted a drive home from a family fishing trip, and the police officer who pulled over to help her grandfather became starstruck when he learned his name.

"Why does he know Papa?" she remembers asking her mother. The answer was vague. "He is well known," she thinks her mom said, leaving it at that. She was too young to hear more.
Fast-forward a couple of decades: Engels' boyfriend, a paramedic and registered nurse, spotted in her home a framed photograph of her Papa. He knew who the man was, assumed she was a closeted science nerd, but still asked: "Why do you have this?"
    "That's my grandpa," Engels answered, proudly.
    Louis Vitullo was a Chicago police sergeant who became the chief microanalyst in the city's crime lab. He worked on high-profile cases, like Richard Speck's mass murder of eight student nurses in 1966. In the black and white photo she had on her wall, he was inspecting Speck's knife.
    But Vitullo's biggest career legacy is this: He was credited with developing the nation's first rape kit, the standardized tool to gather forensic evidence after sexual assaults. In the beginning, in fact, the cardboard box that held instructions and items like swabs, slides and a small comb was known as the "Vitullo Evidence Collection Kit."
    First used in Illinois and then across the country, rape