By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press
Federal and local authorities said they arrested a suspect Friday in the so-called East Coast Rapist case for attacks on at least 17 women in Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island and Virginia.
Members of the U.S. Marshal’s Fugitive Task Force arrested Aaron Thomas, 39, “without incident” at his home in New Haven, police spokesman Joseph Avery said.
U.S. Marshal Joe Faughnan said a lead from authorities in Virginia directed them to Thomas. He did not elaborate.
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.
The attacks began in 1997. The cases were linked by DNA. Investigators said they have cleared more than 700 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 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.
At a two-family house Friday night listed as Thomas’ address, a police officer in uniform answered the door and said nobody wanted to make 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.
In a recent effort to generate new leads, authorities posted sketches of the suspect on electronic billboards in states where attacks occurred and in neighboring states.
Police also set up a website about the case at eastcoastrapist.com. Detective John Kelly in Fairfax County, Va., said the website generated 44,000 hits in 12 hours after it was launched late last month.
New Haven police and other agencies involved in the investigation have scheduled a press conference for Saturday morning.
Associated Press writers Michael Melia in Hartford, Conn., and Rodrique Ngowi in Boston contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)