“I felt like an animal,” he said. “I didn’t care.”
Thomas said he returned to his makeshift home in the pet store and went to sleep. When he awoke the next morning, he felt horrible. Sad. Scared. Ashamed. It was a feeling, Thomas said, that accompanied each attack.
Police on the East Coast Rapist task force said Thomas described himself as living as a survivalist in those days. They said Thomas told detectives after his arrest that he targeted prostitutes in the early years, victims who were relatively easy targets and were unlikely to report such a crime.
“He knew right from wrong,” said 1st Sgt. Liam Burke of the Prince William police. “He admitted it was something he couldn’t shake.”
Thomas said there were at least three more rapes before 1997. Prince George’s police said they have reinvestigated “dozens and dozens” of rape cases during Thomas’s time in the county and have used DNA evidence to definitively link five of them to Thomas, all between 1997 and 2001.
“It’s quite possible that Thomas’s memory is not so clear, and there could be cases out there that have never been reported,” said Maj. Mike Straughan, head of Prince George’s police’s criminal investigations division. “There are always going to be parts of the puzzle that are unknown.”
What police do know is that they have 13 attacks with DNA evidence and 13 rapes from those attacks. Two attacks were thwarted sexual assaults, and two involved two rape victims each.
Police say Thomas’s DNA first appeared at a crime scene in the same patch of woods across from the abandoned Forestville pet store on Feb. 19, 1997, when a 25-year-old woman was attacked about 12:45 a.m. She reported that a man approached her on a 10-speed bicycle, started a conversation and then forced her into the woods with what appeared to be a gun.
Thomas said he never actually used a firearm in any of the attacks, instead employing things that looked like a gun, such as the hard plastic handle of an umbrella or a replica pistol, to scare the women. Often he would back off if a woman put up a fight. He said he had no idea how many possible attacks he didn’t go through with.
Constant turmoil at home
Aaron Hajj-Malik Thomas was born in August 1971; his father was a D.C. police officer and his mother a career Geico employee. His middle name honored Malcolm X. He grew up with a half brother and a half sister, but he was the only biological son of Donald B. Thomas, whom most everyone called “Big Don.”
Big Don and his son had a particularly rough relationship, according to relatives. Thomas recalls beatings with a thick police-uniform belt and his father slamming him into walls. Family members described screaming matches and constant turmoil.