April 30, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- Thirty years after dozens of elderly women were raped and murdered in their homes, police today announced the arrest of the man they believe to be the "Westside Rapist."
Police have arrested an elderly man they are calling the "most prolific serial killer" the city has ever seen.
John Thomas, Jr., 72, is charged with two murders, but is suspected in the sexual assault- slayings of 30 women during the 1970s and 1980s.
Thomas was arrested on March 31 and is being held without bail, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
He is scheduled to appear in court on May 20.
The break in the cold case came when Thomas gave a DNA sample to police as part of an effort to build an offender database.
The sample matches DNA found at numerous crimes scenes, according to investigators.
On April 2, Thomas was charged with murder in connection with the deaths of 68-year-old Ethel Sokoloff and 67-year-old Elizabeth McKeown.
Sokoloff was killed in the Mid-Wilshire area in 1972 and McKeown was murdered in Westchester in 1976.
DNA tied Thomas to the Sokoloff and McKeown cases and three other homicides -- one in Lennox in 1975, one in Inglewood in 1976 and one in Claremont in 1986, according to LAPD Cold Case Detective Richard Bengston.
Now, they said, DNA testing has linked Thomas to a sixth case: the slaying of Miriam McKinley, 65, who was beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled in her home in June 1976, said Inglewood Police Capt. Eve Irvine.
Authorities are continuing to analyze evidence in 24 other killings they suspect might be linked to Thomas.
When all is said and done, Mr. Thomas stands to be Los Angeles' most prolific serial killer,'' Bengston said.
The slayings began in the mid-1970s when a killer who came to be known as the "Westside Rapist'' slipped into homes from Hollywood to Inglewood at night, first raping his victims and then squeezing their necks until they passed out or died.
Police said the suspect placed pillows or blankets over the faces of 17 women ranging in age from their 50s to their 90s.
A second spree of attacks began a decade later in Claremont, where five older women were raped and strangled in the same fashion.
At least 20 women survived the attacks, but -- in the pre-DNA era -- police were unable to connect the crimes because of conflicting descriptions of the assailant and a lack of communication between police jurisdictions.
Thomas's criminal history includes two convictions for sexual assaults. He was sentenced to six years in state prison in 1957 for an attempted rape in Los Angeles.
Two parole violations sent him back to prison until 1966.
In 1978, a witness took down Thomas' license plate after he raped a woman in Pasadena, and he served time for that crime until 1983.
Born in Los Angeles, Thomas was raised by his aunt and godmother after his mother died, when he was 12.
He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1956 and, according to his military records, soon received a dishonorable discharge.
Thomas most recently worked as an insurance claims adjuster for the state workers' compensation agency in Glendale.
Tags: police, arrest, most, prolific, serial killer, los angeles
Location: Los Angeles, California, United States (load item map)
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