Police trace suspect's movements in East Coast rape case

New Haven police say DNA confirmed that a man arrested Friday in Connecticut is the East Coast Rapist suspected of terrorizing women with sexual assaults from Virginia to Rhode Island over 12 years. (March 5)
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 7, 2011; 2:02 PM

Police investigating the suspected East Coast Rapist on Monday said they are beginning to piece together the man's movements over the past 14 years and asked women who think they may have been victimized by him to come forward.

Aaron H. Thomas, 39, who was arrested Friday in Connecticut, has been linked by DNA to 12 rapes and other attacks on women since 1997 that spanned four states, including Virginia and Maryland.

On Monday morning, Fairfax County Police Chief David M. Rohrer and other law enforcement officials asked those who know Thomas, or women who may have been victimized by him, to contact them. Detectives said there are likely attacks they don't yet know about, and they have questions about Thomas's past and his travels.

"We are still seeking information about Mr. Thomas and any victims who wish to come forward," Rohrer said.

Police have not yet released a photograph of Thomas, citing ongoing investigative efforts in Connecticut. They described him as a black male who generally fit the descriptions victims provided.

Law enforcement officials said Thomas, an unemployed truck driver who was arraigned Monday morning in New Haven, Conn., has cooperated with detectives from several jurisdictions. Thomas asked "Why haven't you picked me up sooner?" in court after he was arrested last week, according to a prosecutor cited by the Associated Press.

Prosecutor David Strollo said Thomas described himself as having "a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" personality with women.

Thomas currently faces charges in two states and officials expect additional charges will follow. Thomas is charged with sex assault, burglary and risk of injury to a minor in connection with a January 2007 attack of a New Haven woman that occurred as the victim's infant son slept in a crib nearby.

In Virginia, Thomas is charged with two counts of rape, abduction and a firearm count in connection with a Halloween 2009 attack on three teenage girls in Prince William County.

Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert said he believes Connecticut authorities could proceed with their case against Thomas before he is extradited to Virginia, where he currently faces five charges that carry maximum punishments of life in prison.

Ebert said last week's arrest of Thomas was a significant moment in a law enforcement career that has spanned four decades.

"I don't think I've had a case more satisfying than to hear Aaron Thomas was arrested," Ebert said, comparing it to the arrest of Washington-area snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo. "It was music to my ears to hear he had been arrested. Hopefully the public is more at ease."

Detectives had worked on the case for years, but investigations had led to a dead end. A 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. DNA from the cigarette butt matched that collected from several crime scenes.

A New Haven Superior Court judge on Monday set Thomas's bail at $1.5 million.

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