DNA Helps Nab L.A.'s Suspected Westside Rapist

LOS ANGELES - Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced today that accused Westside Rapist John Floyd Thomas, Jr., who is scheduled to appear in a Los Angeles courtroom today, was apprehended in pursuit of DNA evidence in the Grim Sleeper serial murder case.

Thomas is accused of murdering seven women in Los Angeles and is a suspect in as many as two dozen other murders.

"DNA analysis by the state lab provided the key that unlocked the mystery of the Westside Rapist's murders of women over two decades," Brown said. "A suspect is in custody today because our forensic scientists were able to link his DNA to multiple crime scenes."

Starting in 1972, a killer preyed late at night on older women in the mid-Wilshire area on the west side of Los Angeles. He also struck in Inglewood and Lennox. After raping and strangling his victims to death, he left their faces covered with a blanket or pillow. Most of them were in their 60s, 70s or 80s.

A decade later, a similar skein of rape-murders occurred in Claremont, east of Los Angeles.

The killings stopped in 1989. For years, police were unable to solve any of the cases.

Twenty years later, frustrated by their inability to catch the Grim Sleeper, who was believed to have killed as many as 10 people in south Los Angeles, LAPD officers tried a new tack. In the fall of 2008, they fanned out across the city to collect DNA from 92 registered L.A. sex offenders whose DNA was not already in the state databank.

Thomas was one of them. He had been convicted of a sexual assault in 1978 in which he snapped a 78-year-old woman's ankle during an attack in Pasadena. She survived, a neighbor identified a license plate, and Thomas served five years in prison.

In the 2008 dragnet, Police doggedly pursued Thomas and the other offenders. Finally, Thomas agreed to come in for testing. Dressed for work as an insurance adjuster in slacks and a long-sleeved red dress shirt, Thomas reported to the LAPD Southwest Community station, where a DNA sample was taken from the inside of his cheek.

In March 2009, officials at the Department of Justice forensics lab that maintains the state DNA database notified Los Angeles detectives there was a DNA match between Thomas and unsolved murders - but not the Grim Sleeper cases police had set out to solve.

Thomas' DNA matched genetic evidence found at the scene of a 1972 homicide of a 68-year-old woman in the mid-Wilshire area, one of the first of the Westside Rapist cases. His DNA was also linked to DNA collected at other Westside Rapist slayings.

Thomas, 74, is currently being held without bail in Los Angeles County Jail on seven counts of murder. He is scheduled to appear today in Department 30 on the fifth floor of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles to set a date for his preliminary hearing.

Ultimately, the state DNA lab also played a critical role in the Grim Sleeper case. At the behest of the Los Angeles Police Department in 2008 and 2010, the lab searched its DNA databank for family members of the suspect. One convicted felon's genetic blueprint showed he was almost certainly the suspect's son. After further investigation, police on July 7 of this year arrested Lonnie David Franklin Jr. and charged him with multiple counts of murder in that case.