Demeanor of rape suspect surprises detectives

A man who lived a Jekyll-and-Hyde lifestyle as he allegedly sexually assaulted women from Virginia to Rhode Island over 12 years asked, "Why haven't you picked me up sooner?" when he was arrested last week, a prosecutor said Monday in court. (March 7)
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 4:53 AM

The detectives who had been hunting the East Coast Rapist for 14 years finally walked into an interview room in Connecticut to confront their suspect late last week. They were ready to face a combative, ruthless predator.

What they found instead was a mild, passive, talkative and even weak man, according to several law enforcement officials. Serial rape suspect Aaron H. Thomas talked about "uncontrollable urges" that he said led him to commit the crimes but did not indicate any sense of responsibility for more than a dozen attacks allegedly linked to him by DNA he left behind, the officials said.

He told detectives he had been following media coverage of the case and suspected police were closing in. After his arrest Friday in New Haven, Conn., a prosecutor said in court, Thomas had asked, "Why haven't you picked me up sooner?"

"You're expecting this big confrontation," said Mark Pfeiffer, a Fairfax County detective who began working on the case in 1999 and interviewed Thomas after his arrest. "You always try to envision what he's going to be like. Then you see this weak person."

Thomas, 39, an out-of-work truck driver with ties to the Washington area, appears to have had few close relationships in his life, detectives said. Much about him remains unknown, but he was living with a girlfriend in Connecticut, has a young child and often visited family in Virginia.

Police say they have used DNA to link Thomas to 12 rapes and other attacks on women since 1997. The crimes spanned four states, including Virginia and Maryland. Most of the assaults occurred within a few miles of where Thomas lived at different points in his life.

Detectives said they think that Thomas could be responsible for many more attacks, including some that were never reported.

Authorities said Monday that they are tracing Thomas's travels during the past 14 years and examining records from Vermont to Georgia, where he is known to have worked as a long-haul trucker and deliveryman.

A combination of old-fashioned detective work, a high-tech police database culling millions of records and a tip from someone who knew Thomas in Prince George's County led to his arrest and could unveil more crimes.

"There's no doubt that an offender like this will have twice as many [victims] as he is usually linked to," said Fairfax Detective John Kelly, who led the task force that hunted the rapist. "Obviously, he didn't have boundaries in his crimes."

On Monday, Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer and other law enforcement officials asked those who know Thomas, or women who might have been victimized by him, to contact them.

"We are still seeking information about Mr. Thomas and any victims who wish to come forward," Rohrer said. But police did not release a photograph of Thomas, citing ongoing investigative efforts in Connecticut.

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