NEW YORK (Reuters) – Police on Saturday identified the East Coast Rapist, accused in 17 attacks over more than a decade, as Aaron Thomas, 39, of New Haven, Connecticut, where one of the attacks took place.
Thomas’s arrest on Friday was the result of a sudden turn last week in the investigation which has been ongoing for years, New Haven Police Lieutenant Julie Johnson said.
Federal authorities recently launched a billboard campaign with sketches of the suspect and a website with information about the attacks in an effort to generate tips to help in the manhunt.
The elusive rapist has been hunted since the rampage began in 1997. DNA evidence connected the attacks on at least 17 women in Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
“Recent information was developed in this case, DNA was collected and subsequently matched by the Connecticut State Forensic Science lab, confirming that Thomas was the East Coast Rapist,” Johnson said at a news conference.
Thomas was arrested without incident while walking near his home on Friday by the U.S. Marshal’s Fugitive Task Force in a joint investigation with the New Haven Police, said Police Officer Joe Avery.
He was charged with sexual assault, burglary and risk of injury to a minor in connection with the Connecticut attack. He was also charged as a fugitive from justice in Virginia, where he was sought for two counts of rape, abduction and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Thomas is being held on $1 million bail.
Authorities have said the attacker preyed on victims when they were vulnerable, such as when they were home alone with children or failed to lock windows or doors.
(Reporting by Ted Lorson; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Ellen Wulfhorst)