DNA taken from a man arrested in Connecticut Friday allegedly confirms that he is the "East Coast Rapist" who has been terrorizing women with sexual assaults from Virginia to Rhode Island for over 12 years, police said.
Aaron Thomas, 39, was arrested by New Haven police on charges of first-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor, and he is being held on $1 million bond, Lt. Julie Johnson said.
At a press conference today, officials praised the decade-long efforts of police to capture the serial rape suspect, which were stepped up early this week with a new website and billboard ad campaign.
"Although the information and investigation of Thomas developed quickly over the last week or so, we should point out that investigators worked tirelessly for years pursuing this case. This was truly a joint collaboration on all levels," a police official said at a press conference in New Haven today. "We are proud of our investigation and hope the arrest of Aaron Thomas brings some closure to our victims in our communities."
Johnson said DNA was collected and subsequently matched by the state police forensic lab confirming that Thomas was the "East Coast Rapist."
In Prince William County, Virginia authorities are charging him with being a fugitive from justice as well as rape and abduction.
His most recent alleged crimes took place in October 2009, when three girls coming home from trick-or-treating were abducted and two were raped.
The "East Coast Rapist" was wanted for 17 rapes and other attacks in Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island and Virginia since 1997.
According to the New Haven Register, Thomas was caught after authorities trailed him for several days, having received a tip about a man who had a court appearance this past Thursday on an unrelated matter.
Waiting for an opportunity to grab a sample of his DNA, authorities were able to obtain a cigarette butt Thomas discarded. The DNA retrieved was a positive match to the DNA profile of the "East Coast Rapist," police said
Neighbors in the Westville section of New Haven said Thomas had lived in the area for five years.
All of the attacks associated with the "East Coast Rapist" occurred at night, near major highways. They began in Maryland, moved into Virginia, then up to Connecticut, Rhode Island and back to Virginia.
Authorities say he stalked and studied his victims, apparently attacking them in neighborhoods he knew well. He knew when they were most vulnerable, like when they are home alone with their children or when they failed to lock windows or doors, investigators said.
Thomas has family in and around Clarke County, Va. He grew up in Berryville, Va. and attended high school in Prince George's County, according to the Washington Post.