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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)

Prince George's Capt. Michael Straughan said the arrest is hardly the end of the case. Detectives will try to determine whether there are unsolved attacks that could be linked to Thomas. "We have a lot more work to do," Straughan said.

Detectives described Thomas as more slight and less menacing than they had expected - he is listed in court documents as being 5-foot-6 and weighing 175 pounds. But they noted that the East Coast Rapist surprised his victims and used a weapon. And police said he probably changed his appearance numerous times over the past decade and a half.

They said Thomas was keenly aware of media coverage of the East Coast Rapist and left Northern Virginia for New England sometime last year after reading an investigative report in The Washington Post that detailed the series of crimes. The most recent rape attributed to Thomas was on Halloween in 2009, when three teenage trick-or-treaters were forced into a woods in Prince William County and two of them were sexually assaulted.

Police also said Thomas had visited, a Web site they launched last week.

They said he felt the pressure as police closed in. "He was tired of being on the run," said Fairfax 2nd Lt. Bryan Holland.

Kelly said Thomas told authorities that he worried years ago that he would be arrested when police released a composite sketch made after two teenage girls were attacked in Prince George's in 1998. Thomas, who grew up in Prince George's, had an address near the attack.

"He thought it was only a matter of time. He thought somebody would make the connection," Kelly said.

Nonetheless, the attacks continued. Detectives said Thomas purposefully changed his methods, including using a fake Caribbean accent and a variety of weapons.

Law enforcement officials scoffed at the idea that Thomas had sudden "urges" to commit the crimes. They said it appears the East Coast Rapist carefully scoped out locations and, in some cases, specific victims. Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert said that the crimes were carried out with intent and that Thomas stalked his victims.

It wasn't until last week, when police launched a massive media campaign that included highway billboards and a Web site devoted to the case, that someone who knew Thomas called in a tip. That tip, police said, came through Prince George's Crime Solvers and could lead to a $25,000 reward.

The tipster said Thomas had admitted to committing an attack in Forestville and said he had been riding a bicycle when he attacked, according to court papers filed in Connecticut.

Detectives said some victims were elated to learn that a suspect had been arrested, and others were overcome by emotion at the prospect of putting a face and name to the man who changed the course of their lives.

"Those victims and what they endured is not lost on us. We were awake at night trying to find another way to go at this guy," said Fairfax Detective Paul O'Neill. "Catching this guy doesn't take away what happened to these women."

Staff writer Caitlin Gibson contributed to this report.

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