By John Christoffersen
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – 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, police said Saturday.
Lt. Julie Johnson said DNA was collected and subsequently matched by the state police forensic lab confirming 39-year-old Aaron Thomas was the East Coast Rapist.
New Haven police have a warrant charging Thomas with first-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor and he was being held on $1 million bond, Johnson said. Authorities in Prince William County, Virginia, are charging him with being a fugitive as well as rape and abduction charges and use of a firearm while committing a felony.
The East Coast Rapist is wanted for 17 rapes and other attacks in Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island and Virginia that began in 1997. The cases were linked by DNA.
Authorities recently put up electronic billboards in the states where the attacks occurred and neighboring states. U.S. Marshal Joe Faughnan said a tip from Prince William County, Virginia, directed them to Thomas.
"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," Johnson said. "This was truly a joint collaboration on all levels. We are proud of our investigation and hope the arrest of Aaron Thomas brings some closure to our victims and our communities."
Thomas could not be reached for comment; it was not known if he had legal representation. Thomas is scheduled to appear Monday in New Haven Superior Court.
Johnson did not take questions during the brief news conference.
A neighbor said Thomas was dating a woman in a yellow colonial house in one of New Haven's finest neighborhoods. The woman, who refused to give her name, said Saturday that Thomas is a truck driver and parked his tractor trailer in the residential neighborhood, but he seemed to be unemployed and would offer to paint or rake leaves for neighbors.
Thomas was known to ride his bicycle around the neighborhood, the neighbor said. She said there were children at his girlfriend's house.
Police would not allow a reporter to knock on the door.
At a two-family house listed as Thomas' address, a police officer in uniform answered the door Friday night and said nobody wanted to make a statement. The house, in a densely populated New Haven neighborhood, has a large porch and a white picket fence with a sign warning the premises are protected by a security company.
A neighbor, 39-year-old Tom Chambers, said he often saw Thomas coming and going but he did not know him well.
"He was just normal," Chambers said.
Thomas was not entirely unknown to law enforcement: He had been arrested in September in Woodbridge, Conn., on a larceny charge and was released on $1,000 bond, according to public records.
He had lived previously at addresses in Maryland and Virginia, according to public records.
The assailant eluded police even though the crimes were often committed outdoors, law enforcement officials say.
In some instances, the attacker wore a mask or hooded sweat shirt to conceal his face. He typically approached women outdoors on foot and threatened them with a knife, screwdriver or a handgun, investigators say.
The only attack in New Haven came on Jan. 10, 2007. Police said the suspect entered a 27-year-old woman's bedroom through an open window and threatened to kill her sleeping infant son before assaulting her.
The last known attack occurred on Halloween night in 2009, when two teenagers on their way home from trick-or-treating in Woodbridge, Va., were raped, authorities say.
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Associated Press writer Michael Melia contributed to this story.