Kenneth Bowen III aspired to be a police officer. The 24-year-old joined the Clayton County Police Academy in Georgia in June 2018 and spent three months with the department before he was ousted, officials say.

Now, nearly one year later, police say Bowen’s unceremonious stint as a recruit helped investigators identify him as the prime suspect in a string of rapes that have tormented the northern Georgia community since 2015.

“Had he not attempted to join the ranks of the Clayton County Police Department, it’s questionable as to when we would have apprehended him,” Kevin Roberts, the department’s chief, said at an Aug. 28 news conference.

Bowen was arrested Aug. 27 on seven counts of rape and one count of sexual battery, according to jail records. Police obtained a search warrant when Bowen’s DNA was found to be a forensic match in all eight cases, many of which took place within a two-mile radius of his home. Police had worked for more than three years to identify a suspect and finally made headway when investigators reviewed 911 calls related to suspicious people near the areas where the assaults occurred.

A call from 2016 revealed Bowen’s name and birthday, and investigators observed similarities between photos of him and a police sketch made from victims’ descriptions. Lt. Thomas Reimers, a criminal investigator in Clayton County, told reporters that further digging led to more clues, including witness accounts, that all traced back to Bowen.

His social media profiles revealed a relative who once worked with Clayton County police, Reimers said. Investigators soon realized that Bowen had his own ties to the department.

Roberts emphasized that Bowen never became a certified police officer. He was removed from the academy last year — a few months after joining — after he showed up hours late to training one morning in September. When confronted, Bowen reportedly gave conflicting, mendacious statements that Roberts determined were “reason to remove him from my academy.”

“During an internal investigation, he was untruthful, which caused me to separate him from this agency, and we’re better for it in this agency and better for it in this county,” the chief added.

None of the assaults Bowen is charged with took place during his stint with the academy, Roberts said. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that five of the rapes took place between July 2015 and May 2017, and the most recent assault linked to Bowen took place in March of this year.

Police previously said the man targeted black women between the ages of 19 and 39, the newspaper reported. Officials said last week that the arrest would not have been possible without the aid of the victims, who bravely came forward and provided details that helped form the composite sketch.

Reimers said Bowen’s alleged victims were “ecstatic” upon learning of his arrest last Tuesday at the hands of U.S. marshals. Speaking to the Clayton News-Daily, one of the women said what she found “most disturbing” was that Bowen “lived in walking distance to some victims.”

“Just think if he stayed with the police department,” the unnamed woman told the outlet. “He could’ve had more access to victims and more power to hurt or even kill someone.”

The Washington Post does not generally name victims of sexual assault.

It was not clear whether Bowen had retained an attorney, and police say he declined to speak with investigators. He remained in custody at the Clayton County Jail on Tuesday and will return to court Sept. 24, according to the News-Daily.

Opening last week’s news conference, Roberts likened the spate of sexual assaults in the community to a dark cloud that had enveloped Clayton County.

“Today, it’s my pleasure to remove that cloud,” he said.

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