March 7, 2011 / 7:22 PM / 6 years ago

East Coast rapist may have dozen more victims

MANASSAS, Virginia (Reuters) - The so-called East Coast Rapist may have as many as a dozen more victims than those in 17 attacks authorities have already said they believe he committed, Virginia police said on Monday.

Aaron Thomas, 39, of New Haven, Connecticut -- who police say they suspect is the East Coast Rapist -- was arraigned on Monday in Connecticut on charges of sexual assault, burglary and risk of injury to a minor.

The charges stem from a 2007 rape in Thomas's hometown in which he threatened to kill his victim's baby, sleeping in the room, if she made noise, according to a police affidavit.

Suspected in the rampage along the Eastern seaboard that began in 1997, Thomas will be prosecuted first in Connecticut, authorities said.

In Virginia, police said their belief that Thomas was involved in even more attacks was based on the FBI profile of a serial sexual offender.

"It could be as much as a dozen more," said Detective John Kelly of Fairfax County Police. He said serial criminals typically have twice as many victims as have been reported.

Authorities said the 14-year-long crime spree by the East Coast rapist could have been cut short if Virginia had approved a controversial forensic tool known as familial DNA, which identifies possible suspects from the DNA of blood relatives.

Before some of the rapes occurred, a family member of Thomas had been arrested on an unrelated charge in Connecticut and his DNA was in a national database, said Paul Ebert, Commonwealth Attorney for Prince William County, Virginia.

However, only Colorado and California use familial DNA, which has been long debated but not adopted in Virginia.

Authorities urged anyone with information on possible related attacks to contact police through the website www.eastcoastrapist.com.

The website, which displayed a composite sketch of the elusive rapist, got 51,000 hits after it was activated in recent weeks in conjunction with a billboard campaign over a 400-mile stretch from rural Virginia through New England.

The effort triggered a tip from Prince George's County, Maryland, and led police to identify Thomas from a short list of possible suspects. They tracked him to Connecticut and collected a DNA sample from a cigarette butt that he tossed after a court hearing on an unrelated charge, Virginia police said. He was arrested a short time later.

"It was a week when the predator became the prey," said Ronald Hosko, special agent in charge, criminal division at the FBI's Washington field office.

Twelve victims of the East Coast rapist were linked through DNA evidence, authorities said. Altogether, there were 17 attacks in Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Victims responded to news of the arrest with tears of relief, Detective Kelly said.

"They are just extremely happy to have accountability," he said.

Reporting by Susan Schept; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune

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