Found in a car trunk, rape victim shares story of courage and survival

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – “I felt this warmth run down my face which was blood and I heard this voice come at me that said if you scream I’ll use this, as he shoved the gun to my face.”

That was the beginning of the nightmare Fort Wayne native Michelle Corrao lived almost 25 years ago, as she was coming home from work the night of September 12, 1996.

“They began tying my hands behind my back and finding a cloth to gag me and cover my eyes with,” she said cringing remembering the ordeal. “They took my shoes off and proceeded to throw me over the fence and then threw me into the trunk of my car. I did get my hands free and I tried to search for a way out of the trunk and that’s when the car stopped. They opened the trunk and took me into a building and they proceeded to rip my clothes off and each one of them took turns beating and raping me in every way they could think of. I say I lost my life that night in the garage.”

But the nightmare didn’t end there. Corrao was then stuffed back into her car trunk. “I just prayed to God. I went unconscious and when I came to, I heard this voice and it was different this time.”

The voice Corrao heard was that of Fort Wayne Police Detective Arthur Billingsley. “I remember saying something like, I’ll get you out after I identified myself,” Billingsley recalled.

Full interview with Corrao and Billingsley

Billingsley had just gotten off work and was doing a routine check of his neighborhood when he came across a car in a field off Winchester road near a Bandidos restaurant.

“So I’m thinking this is a stolen vehicle,” he said. “The doors open and I got three guys running out of the car and I was able to make the apprehension and catch up with one of them and I brought him back to the vehicle and that’s when I heard a thumping sound from the vehicle.”

“I had been hearing voices, then they stopped,” said Corrao. “I took a chance and started kicking the trunk. Then I heard a voice say, “I’m Detective Billingsley with the Fort Wayne Police Department and I’m going to get you out.”

“I started telling him how to open the back of my car,” said Corrao. “He ended up pulling down my back seat and that’s where our eyes met.”

Other officers were called to the scene. Corrao was taken to a hospital. The following day the second suspect was caught. The third was apprehended the next day. Corrao’s rescue made headlines but her identity was never revealed. Her story became the top story on WANE 15 News and Officer Billingsley was hailed as a hero.

“I never thought l would be the top story for anything,” said Corrao, “Especially with something like this. No one wants to be the top story because it usually means something bad.” Years later Corrao decided to make WANE 15’s top story coverage, chapter one in a book she’s written about her ordeal. Found will be released February 9.

“I wrote it to show people what’s possible. I wrote it to inspire. Hope is within everybody’s reach. It took me a long time to realize that.”

Michelle corrao

The three men convicted in Corrao’s abduction and assault are still in prison. “They were serial rapists,” said Detective Billingsley. “They had done this to several other victims before.”

When WANE 15 asked Detective Billingsley if he saw himself as a hero, he shook his head. “No, I don’t. All the stuff that she went through, I can’t feel like a hero. I don’t feel that way. I wasn’t there in time to save her. She’s the hero, definitely.”

“I think we’ll be heroes together,” smiled Corrao in response. “Detective Art Billingsley is such a humble individual. I don’t know I’ve met anybody more humble. He is a true life hero.”

Before writing her book, this Fort Wayne native spent years sharing her story and being a voice for for victims of violent crimes in Indiana and around the nation. For her work to empower crime victims, she became the first recipient of the Distinguished Hoosier Award in 2010 and was presented the Courage Award in Washington D.C. from then Attorney General Eric Holder.

Now at 57, Corrao is the Director of the O’Connor House in Carmel, Indiana where she overseas programs to help single, pregnant and homeless women. She, her husband and children consider Detective Billingsley family. Their son even shares his name.

“Yes our son Christian has Arthur as his middle name,”said Corrao. “He calls Arthur, Uncle Art. He thinks it’s so cool to have an uncle who’s a police officer.”

Corrao’s husband and children work with her to help share her story of courage and survival. Even her mother serves on the Board of Greater Fort Wayne Crime Stoppers. She said her daughter’s ordeal was her motivation.

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