NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Aaron Thomas, who was arrested Friday in connection with rapes in four states over 12 years, is scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court Monday.
Thomas, 39, is being held, with bail set at $1 million, at the Union Avenue jail, suspected in crimes police attributed to the "East Coast rapist," police spokesman Joseph Avery said.
Before his arrest, Thomas appeared to live a quiet life in a two-story home in New Haven that he shared with his girlfriend, often parking his tractor-trailer in front of the house, rarely bothering his neighbors.
He even owed money to the federal government.
But as the IRS pursued him in the past year for failing to pay more than $11,000 in taxes, a different set of federal agents set their sights on him over the past week. After receiving a tip from Virginia that Thomas might be the East Coast rapist, a task force of U.S. marshals and local police followed him around, looking for a chance to collect his DNA.
On Thursday, as Thomas waited outside a New Haven courthouse where he was to appear on a fourth-degree larceny charge in the theft of a bicycle in Woodbridge, he flipped a cigarette butt onto the ground, according to police.
Police and federal agents watching Thomas pounced, grabbing the cigarette butt and sending it to the state police forensic laboratory. Fast-tracked testing revealed that Thomas' DNA matched samples left at the scene of 12 rapes from Rhode Island to Virginia over a 12-year period, police said. He is a suspect in a total of 17 rapes.
He "is the East Coast rapist," Lt. Julie Johnson, spokeswoman for the New Haven Police Department, said at a brief news conference Saturday.
Thomas, whose last known address is 120 Pendleton St. in New Haven, was arrested at 2:15 p.m. Friday. He has been charged with first-degree sexual assault, first-degree burglary and risk of injury to a minor in connection with a 2007 rape in New Haven.
He also was charged by police in Prince William County, Va., as a fugitive from justice, and faces two counts of rape, abduction and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in that state, Johnson said.
He is suspected of rapes in Maryland and Rhode Island, but has not been charged by authorities there.
"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 in a press conference Saturday, noting the recent efforts to generate new leads through a billboard campaign and website.
"We are proud of our investigation and hope the arrest of Aaron Thomas brings some closure to our victims and our communities."
"I'm hanging in there," said Thomas' sister, Tara, when she was contacted at her New Haven home Saturday. She declined to comment further.
Authorities from New Haven, Maryland and Virginia, brought in to question Thomas Friday evening, provided no further information at the news conference. They did not take any questions.
Aside from the description on wanted posters, little is known about the man who police suspect of raping and terrorizing women for more than a decade. Authorities believe he was working as a truck driver in Clarke County, Va., when he was cited for multiple traffic violations in 2005. Additional traffic violations documented in Fairfax County District Court in Virginia show that Thomas lived in the areas of Woodbridge and Berryville, Va. His mother still lives in Clarke County, according to public records.
The East Coast rapist's first attack was recorded just over 14 years ago, early in the morning of Feb. 19, 1997. A man wearing a ski mask rode a bicycle along the Marlboro Pike in Forestville, Va. Shortly after midnight, he approached a 25-year-old woman walking alone and started talking to her. Then he pulled out a gun and attacked, police said.
That rape was the first time the man's DNA would be entered into a criminal database. That summer, the same man raped a woman in Prince William County, but instead of a gun he used a knife. He is suspected in 10 more rapes throughout Virginia, Maryland, Rhode Island and Connecticut, as well as several other assaults.
In each case, victims reported similar details. The man would often approach a woman outdoors and threaten her with a weapon before raping her. Police said the suspect wore a black ski mask or hooded sweat shirt to conceal his face. After approaching the victim, the suspect would ask for money, giving the victim the impression that she was being robbed, but the man would not take anything after the assault, police said.
In the winter of 2007, Thomas reportedly made his way toward New Haven. Police said that on Jan. 10, a man entered a 27-year-old woman's bedroom through an open window around 1 a.m. He raped her while her 11-month-old son slept in a crib nearby, then fled, police said.
Avery said it is possible Thomas may be linked to more rapes around the region. Police have not released a mug shot yet in order not to prejudice other victims who want to come forward, Avery said.