NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The man suspected of terrorizing women with sexual assaults from Virginia to Rhode Island over 12 years tried to hang himself in his cell Saturday, but survived and was treated at a hospital, police said.
Aaron Thomas, 39, was returned to jail after a brief hospital stay, New Haven police Officer Joe Avery said Saturday night. Thomas is scheduled to appear Monday in New Haven Superior Court.
Police said Saturday that DNA confirmed that the unemployed truck driver is the East Coast Rapist, suspected in attacks on at least 17 women.
Thomas could not be reached for comment.
“It’s just shocking to me,” said 15-year-old Dashawn Golding, who said his mother is Thomas’ girlfriend. “She’s crying a lot,” he said of his mother.
Lt. Julie Johnson said DNA was collected and subsequently matched by the state police forensic lab confirming Thomas was the East Coast Rapist. Investigators reportedly got Thomas’ DNA off a discarded cigarette.
Police have a warrant charging Thomas with first-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor and he was being held on $1 million bond, Johnson said. Authorities in Prince William County, Va., are charging him with being a fugitive as well as for rape and abduction charges and use of a firearm while committing a felony.
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.
Authorities recently put up electronic billboards in the states where the attacks occurred and neighboring states. U.S. Marshal Joe Faughnan said a tip from Prince William County directed them to Thomas.
A neighbor said Thomas was living with a woman in a house in a desirable neighborhood not far from where the mayor lives.
There was a heavy police presence Saturday as investigators searched the house, a yellow colonial with blue shutters and a security sign on the front lawn.
The neighbor, 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.
The woman said Thomas once punched her husband in the face after they got in an argument over his truck.