Before police had a suspect, he was known simply as the East Coast Rapist. Aaron Thomas, 39, of Connecticut, is accused of raping more than a dozen women in four states. The tip that led to his capture came from the same place where police said his crime spree began: Prince George's County, Md.
After 14 years of investigation, a break came from an anonymous call to Prince George's County Crime Solvers.
Thomas was arrested on March 4 in New Haven, Conn. He was accused of 12 attacks on 17 victims in Virginia, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maryland beginning in Prince George's County in 1997. That's also where it began to end.
Prince George’s County Crime Solvers coordinator Zel Windsor took a call from someone who said they knew something about the mysterious sexual assaults that spanned 400 miles of eastern seaboard.
"The tipster for the East Coast Rapist provided information that was overheard, and the people involved in the conversation that was overheard is what the person provided," Windsor said.
The tipster told them Thomas had taken credit for the first-known attack in Forestville in 1997.
Getting information from that caller, and most others, wasn't easy, Windsor said.
"We have to reassure the person that they're going to remain anonymous and the info they're providing is confidential," Windsor said.
Crime Solvers uses an 800-number, texting and the Internet. No caller ID. No recording. No tracking.
Convincing the caller they'd remain anonymous, even down to their gender, led to several calls initiated by the tipster. That gave Windsor a chance to relay detectives' questions.
"From the time the initial call came in to the time an arrest was made in that case was a week," Windsor said.
Still, police will never know exactly who lead them to Thomas, how they knew what they knew or even where they called from. And that's just how Crime Solvers is supposed to work.
Last year, the tip line took 1,400 calls, helped close 33 cases and gave out more than $44,000 in reward money.
"Sometimes the smallest thing is what could break the case for a detective,” Windsor said.
Thomas will likely face trial in Connecticut, where he was arrested, before a trial in our region.