East Coast Rapist suspect charged in series of attacks
Saturday, March 5, 2011; 11:13 PM
Law enforcement officials say DNA from a discarded cigarette butt has linked Aaron H. Thomas, 39, to a series of rapes and other attacks on women spanning 13 years and four states, including Maryland and Virginia.
Authorities announced Saturday that Thomas has been charged with sex assault, burglary and risk of injury to a minor in connection with a January 2007 attack on a New Haven, Conn., woman that occurred in her apartment as her infant son slept in a crib nearby.
Thomas, who is being held on a $1 million bond, also is charged with two counts of rape, abduction and a firearm count in connection with a Halloween 2009 attack of three teenage girls in Prince William County, law enforcement officials said.
A law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said on Saturday that Thomas had been "very cooperative" and talked with detectives from Maryland and Virginia who traveled to New Haven on Friday.
At some point, however, he attempted suicide by hanging, said Officer Joe Avery, a New Haven police spokesman. Avery said Thomas was sent to a hospital for observation after the incident, then returned to the facility where he was being held.
At a news conference Saturday, New Haven police Lt. Julie Johnson said that "although the information and investigation of Thomas developed quickly over the last week or so . . . investigators worked tirelessly for years pursuing this case." Johnson said she hoped the arrest "brings some closure to our victims."
A Cranston, R.I., woman whose daughter saw the rapist poke his head through the partially open sliding glass door of their deck in November 2006, said she was relieved. Her daughter's screams chased the man but she had wondered where he was and whether he would return.
"You never knew," she said. "Now he's not able to rape or assault anyone else."
The breakthrough came last week, when police got a tip from an acquaintance of the suspect. Police had sponsored a media blitz, with composite sketches of the attacker on digital billboards along the East Coast and a Web site on the case.
Thomas was on a short list of suspects culled from hundreds. Police tracked him down at an unrelated court appearance Thursday in New Haven, where they recovered the cigarette butt.
Messages left Saturday at phone numbers listed for his relatives were not returned. Thomas attended a Prince George's County high school and often visited his mother in Clarke County, Va., according to law enforcement officials.
Police have long said the person responsible for the rapes likely lived or worked near where they occurred. Thomas's address history places him close to almost all of the rapes linked by DNA.
In the late 1990s, four Prince George's attacks took place within five miles of his District Heights home. One was as close as a mile.
An address listed for Thomas in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, where the rapes in 1999 occurred, was within four miles of three attacks along Route 1. It was three-quarters of a mile from a 2001 rape on Rolling Hills Avenue. An address listed for him in Prince William was two miles from the Halloween 2009 rape of two teenagers; his current address in New Haven is seven miles from the rape there.
Staff writers Martin Weil and Josh White contributed to this report.