Tricounty News

Neb. man charged in Watkins assaults

Last week Paul Hilsgen, a 58-year-old Nebraskan, originally from Watkins, confessed to raping four vulnerable women in his adult foster homes in rural Watkins more than 13 years ago.

Until the confession, authorities were unaware of the crimes. All four women, one of whom has since died, are severely mentally impaired and cannot speak. They were between the age of 40 and 60 at the time of the assaults in around 1997, according to Norlin.

Meeker County Sheriff Jeff Norlin said Hilsgen admitted to the assaults in a detailed letter "to get it off his chest." Hilsgen revealed his alleged crimes to the Meeker County director of social services in a meeting last week, and told the sheriff investigators the same thing.

Norlin is reported to have said Hilsgen was surprised when he was arrested Aug. 10, that he may not have been ready to face the consequences of his statements.

In Minnesota, the statute of limitations on criminal sexual assault is nine years from when the crime is committed. However, if the victim fails to report the crime within these nine years Ð and these four women were unable to communicate that a crime had been committed Ð then prosecution must begin within three years of the reporting of that crime.

Because the victims were incapable of reporting the crime, the three-year statute of limitations begins as of his confession last week.

Hilsgen is currently in the Meeker County jail awaiting his next court appearance. He has been charged with four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. His next court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 1.

Hilsgen and his wife operated as many as three foster homes in between 1992 and 2001 in rural Watkins. They moved to Nebraska in 2001.

Norlin said that none of the victims' families had heard about the alleged rapes, but all have now been informed.

Authorities are investigating whether there may be other victims. Anyone with any information in this case should call the Meeker County Sheriff's Office at (320) 693-5400.