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Los Angeles police examine case of suspected serial killer

Video by Rachel MARUSAK

Latest update : 2009-05-02

Los Angeles detectives are examining the case of a 72-year-old man believed to be the notorious 'Westside rapist' and serial killer who terrorised the area in the 1970s and '80s. John Thomas Jr. was arrested in March following a 2008 DNA test.

AFP - Los Angeles detectives were combing through cold case files on Friday following the arrest of a 72-year-old man suspected of being the city's worst serial killer.
  
Police believe that John Thomas Jr, an insurance claims adjuster with two previous convictions for sexual assault, is responsible for as many as 30 murders dating back to the 1970s and 1980s.
  
Thomas was arrested on March 31 when police linked a DNA sample taken from him to the crime scenes of two women murdered four years apart in 1972 and 1976. Evidence linking him to three other murders has also been found.
  
"Thomas, at this time -- and we think this is probably going to expand -- is also suspected in as many as 25 other murders that occurred in the Southland in the 1970s and 1980s," Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton said Thursday.
  
However LAPD deputy chief Charlie Beck meanwhile acknowledged that a full picture of Thomas's alleged crimes was only just emerging.
  
"We have not yet reached the depth of what he's done," Beck said.
  
Thomas has so far been charged with killing 68-year-old Ethel Sokoloff in November 1972, and Elizabeth McKeown, 67, in February 1976.
  
Because California did not have the death penalty at the time the crimes were committed, Thomas faces life without parole if convicted.
  
Police said that it was only after DNA testing in 2004 that the LAPD's cold case unit was able to link the Sokoloff and McKeown murders.
  
The three other killings that DNA evidence has linked Thomas to all occurred in the suburb of Inglewood in 1976.
  
The victims -- Maybelle Hudson, 80, Miriam McKinley, 65 and Evalyn Bunner, 56 -- were all attacked, assaulted and strangled as they arrived home.
  
The great-nephew of Hudson said he always hoped DNA testing would help crack open the mystery surrounding the woman's murder.
  
"I know my aunt, the very good Christian that she was, would be hoping for salvation for this soul and looking for forgiveness," said Robert Kistner, a retired police officer.
  
"I come from the law enforcement side of it. I can't be quite as forgiving, I'm afraid, so I'm looking very forward to this progressing through the courts."
  
Thomas may be responsible for as many as 25 murders and rapes, according to police, who are now combing through unsolved burglary and rape cases that took place from 1955 to 1978.
  
In 17 of the murders -- which involved women ranging in age from their 50s to their 90s -- pillows or blankets were placed over the victim.
  
The crime spree stopped in 1978 -- the same year Thomas was jailed for the rape of a woman in the suburb of Pasadena.
  
After being released from prison, in 1983, Thomas moved to Chino, east of Los Angeles, where a second spree of attacks took place.
  
Five women in the nearby town of Claremont were also killed. In those cases the murderer also used blankets or pillows to smother his victims.
  
At least 20 women survived the attacks but police were unable to connect the crimes decades apart because of conflicting descriptions of the assailant and a lack of communication between police jurisdictions.

Date created : 2009-05-02

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