No memory of their faces
The rapes began when Thomas was a young man living in a burnt-out pet store in Forestville and became for him a joyless addiction, he said.
“There is no feeling. It’s just bad,” said Thomas, 41. He said he felt like an animal and simply didn’t care about anything. “There’s no happiness. . . . You’re going after something that in the end makes you feel like garbage.”
Thomas said he carried out the rapes without regard for his victims. He didn’t know them, and they didn’t know him. Several victims have said they no longer can feel safe in public and have a hard time trusting anyone.
Although the women remember the attacks in vivid and horrifying detail, Thomas doesn’t even remember their faces. He has a muddled sense of events and said there “was no thinking” involved in any of it.
But because Thomas was good at escaping after the rapes and had evaded police for decades — even as authorities got very close to him at times — he was able to strike repeatedly. Ultimately, after public awareness campaigns, high-tech data mining and an anonymous tip, police collected a Newport cigarette butt that Thomas discarded outside a courthouse in New Haven, Conn. They checked the DNA on the filter, and authorities said they had their man.
It wasn’t until a year after his arrest, at a preliminary hearing in Prince William, that Thomas said he realized all the harm he had caused. With his mother sitting nearby on a courtroom bench, Thomas pushed his forehead into the table in front of him, barely able to listen as the three young women described being forced to drop their bags of Halloween candy before two of them were raped in a wooded ravine as a cold rain fell.
“It was terrible,” Thomas said, recounting the first time he faced one of his victims. “I was melting in my seat. I was disgusted.”
Only Thomas knows the full extent of his crimes, and police say they are continuing to examine dozens of cases up and down the East Coast that could be his, dating to the early 1990s. Prince George’s County police confirmed this year that they have used DNA to link a July 2000 Hyattsville rape to Thomas — the 13th case with conclusive DNA evidence. Thomas said in interviews that there were at least a few attacks that predate the police timeline, which officially begins in 1997.
The first attack
The first one, Thomas said, was on a summer night in the early 1990s, perhaps 1992 or 1993. He doesn’t remember exactly. He was in his early 20s and had hit rock bottom.
He had been kicked out of his parents’ home in Fort Washington. Homeless, jobless, and penniless, Thomas was squatting in the pet store on Marlboro Pike. It was not far from his childhood home in Suitland, an area he knew well.
A fire had pushed the pet store out of business and left the small building next to Bishop McNamara High School vacant. Some cages and fish tanks remained inside, and Thomas barricaded a room for himself in what he called the “Bird House.” He said he felt rejected by everyone he knew.