New Haven: A man suspected of terrorizing women with sexual assaults from Virginia to Rhode Island over a span of 12 years as the so-called East Coast Rapist has been arrested in Connecticut, federal and local authorities said.
The suspect, 39-year-old Aaron Thomas, was facing questioning by investigators following his arrest Friday at his home in New Haven, police spokesman Joseph Avery said.
US Marshal Joe Faughnan said a tip from Prince William County, Virginia, directed them to Thomas. Authorities planned a news conference Saturday to provide further details on the investigation.
Thomas was not formally charged and was being held by police for questioning, Avery said. But "he has been identified as the East Coast Rapist," Avery said.
Thomas could not be reached for comment; it was not known if he had legal representation.
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.
A woman in another New Haven neighborhood said Thomas was dating a woman who lives next door to her in a yellow colonial house. 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 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 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. Investigators said they have cleared more than 700 other suspects.
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 sweatshirt 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.