A sock left at the scene of a brutal stranger rape has led investigators to a suspect 16 years after the crime, thanks to advances in DNA technology.

William T. Jackson, 54, currently locked up in Nebraska for a different crime, has been identified as the man who allegedly broke into a south Minneapolis home in 1998 to sexually assault a woman he then left bound and gagged.

"What happened is we finally got a hit on the DNA when Jackson was arrested in Nebraska, and that then got the investigation rolling again up here," said Chuck Laszewski, spokesman for the Hennepin County attorney's office.

This case is among hundreds that Minneapolis police and county investigators and prosecutors — armed with scientific advances that now allow the most minute traces of evidence to be tested — are pursuing with new vigor.

The work began in 2009, after the county received a $500,000 Department of Justice grant that allowed authorities to sift through thousands of old rape and murder case files looking for evidence they could submit for DNA testing.

To date, investigators believe they have solved at least two murders and uncovered three serial rapists as the extraordinary detective work unfolds. They have won 33 convictions, mostly in rape cases, and over the next year, prosecutors hope to file charges in another 20 or so cases.

Jackson, of Minneapolis, has been charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct and first-degree burglary in connection with the Sept. 20, 1998, attack in the 4300 block of Park Avenue S.

He is in federal custody in Nebraska awaiting sentencing on June 9 for embezzling about $5,700 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

It was that federal case, filed in November 2013, that allowed Minnesota authorities to take their DNA evidence and match it with the DNA sample Jackson surrendered in connection with his trouble in Nebraska, said Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder.

A horrific attack

The complaint filed in Hennepin County outlined the woman's account to police of the several minutes of terror that unfolded while her son and his girlfriend slept in another room:

The woman awoke and saw a stranger crouching by her bed. Jackson told her to keep her mouth shut or "I'll blow your head off. Where's your money?"

When the woman failed to give him "sufficient money," Jackson straddled her on the bed, put one hand on her throat and the other over her mouth, leaving her gasping for air.

Jackson continued to demand more money, but she said she had none. That enraged Jackson, who forced her to perform oral sex on him.

He tied up the woman with a strap from her purse and again had her perform the same sex act.

Before he fled, he put a sock in her mouth and left her tied up by her arms and legs.The most damning of the fingerprints Jackson left behind was found on a screen that he damaged while entering the home. With newer, enhanced abilities to analyze fingerprints, a match to Jackson's right middle finger was confirmed, Elder said.

Police also recovered semen from items at the scene, including the sock. DNA testing by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension led to a recently made match with Jackson's DNA profile from the Nebraska case that was filed in law enforcement data bases.

Jackson's criminal history in Minnesota includes convictions from 1991 to 1996 for crack cocaine possession, first-degree burglary and aggravated forgery.

He's also been arrested, booked and fingerprinted several other times in the state since the alleged sexual assault for offenses including illicit narcotics, pawning someone else's property and "aggressive solicitation" and trespassing. The most recent of those arrests — all of which occurred in Minneapolis or bordering suburbs — came in July 2011.