Los Angeles police believe they have caught a serial killer responsible for the rape and murders of up to 30 elderly women in two separate waves of rampages in the 1970s and 1980s.
John Thomas, 72, is being held in the city’s county jail after being linked through DNA samples to five killings. Police suspect him of being the notorious “West Side rapist” who spread terror over many years among lonely older women.
He was arrested last month and charged with the deaths of Ethel Sokoloff, 68, in 1972, and Elizabeth McKeown, 67, four years later. DNA tests have linked him to three other murders, but officers are interested in a further 25 killings that they think he may have perpetrated as well as dozens of rapes and sexual assaults.
“When all is said and done, Mr Thomas stands to be Los Angeles’ most prolific serial killer,” Richard Bengston of the LAPD told the Los Angeles Times.
Even at a time when LA had a reputation for violence, drugs and gangs, the spate of rapes and killings stood out as singularly grim and disturbing. The attacks were focused on the Wilshire area to the west of the city, just south of Hollywood and close to Thomas’s then home. Over a six-year period beginning around 1972 there were up to 19 murders and more than 20 other sexual assaults in the neighbourhood.