The saga of John Floyd Thomas Jr. continues

Reporter Nathan McIntire writes:

John Floyd Thomas Jr., the alleged Westside Rapist, does not appear to match the descriptions of any suspects from decades-old cold cases but the Pasadena Police Department is reviewing DNA evidence just to be sure.

Thomas was arrested earlier this month in connection with two Los Angeles killings and is now a suspect in more than two dozen other open cases. He was arrested on suspicion of raping a 78-year-old Pasadena woman in 1978 but was later convicted of lesser charges.
Thomas’s DNA was found at a total of three other crime scenes in West Los Angeles in the 1970s and Claremont in the 1980s, according to authorities.

Pasadena Police compared Thomas’ description to several open rape and murder cases from the 1970s and 80s but he does not match the description of any suspects, Lt. John Dewar said.

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John Floyd Thomas Jr. and the hunt for the Grim Sleeper

From find.thegrimsleeper.com:

Until his April 2 arrest, John Floyd Thomas Jr was a Los Angeles insurance adjuster. Police now call him the “Southland Strangler” — named for the geographical section of Los Angeles County where they suspect he killed at least 30 women and raped many more. Thomas is also in the frame for a spate of crimes police say were committed by the “Westside Rapist”.

On first glance this suspect doesn’t fit the profile of the Grim Sleeper. Reports suggest he targets much older females who live alone and are white. This is a direct opposite of the Grim Sleeper’s known victims – young and black. However there are some striking similarities that are worth mentioning.

Many of Thomas’ victims were strangled and beaten and at least one victim was killed in a location other than her home which suggests Thomas’ MO is markedly varied. The LA times is quoted as saying “On the 17 who were killed, he placed pillows or blankets over their faces.” This is also a signature of the Grim Sleeper who is known to have placed items over the faces of some of his victims.

.Perhaps one of the most startling similarities is the time span and ‘gaps’ that separate Thomas’ crimes. The first wave of slayings took place in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. There followed a decade of ‘Sleep?’ until 1983 when Thomas was released from prison. He committed rape and murder over the next 6 years until 1989.

The site also has an interesting map, developed with the help of a profiler who notes that

“the Grim Sleeper attacks women within one mile from his home, and works to blend into the neighborhood.”

Here’s the map:

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The Westside Rapist and suspect John Floyd Thomas Jr.

The LA Times follow up on the John Floyd Thomas arrest contains a summary paragraph that pretty much says it all:

DNA leads detectives to John Thomas Jr., 72. He is held in two slayings, but police suspect he may have killed up to 30 elderly Westside and Claremont women a decade apart.

The story also contains some interesting background including a tidbit about Thomas’ job as an insurance adjuster in Glendale:

Thomas had been working as an adjuster handling workers’ compensation claims since 1989 — the year the killings stopped. He resigned after his arrest March 31.

Jennifer Vargen, a spokeswoman for the State Compensation Insurance Fund, would not comment on whether the employer was aware of Thomas’ criminal record, saying it was a personnel matter.

Co-workers at his office in Glendale described Thomas as quiet but friendly. They said his job mostly involved paperwork.

His steady employment masked a troubled past.

Thomas was born in Los Angeles. His mother died when he was 12 and he was raised by his aunt and a godmother. Thomas attended public schools, including Manual Arts Senior High School.

He briefly joined the U.S. Air Force in 1956. At Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, a superior described Thomas as often late and slovenly. He received a dishonorable discharge, according to his military records, and was arrested for burglary and attempted rape in Los Angeles. He was convicted and sentenced to six years in state prison in 1957. Two parole violations sent him back behind bars until 1966.


Meanwhile Pasadena Police are cracking what cold case files they may have left, according PD spokeswoman Janet Pope Givens:

Since Thomas had a prior arrest in Pasadena, detectives are looking into whether any unsolved cases may fit the same description.


“The cold case unit is taking a look at it in terms of some of the other unsolved homicides that may have taken place prior to and after, to see if there is any relation,” said Police Department Spokesperson Janet Pope Givens.


Specifically, they are looking into cases involving women who were killed around that time period.


Thomas was originally arrested in Pasadena in 1978 on suspicion of rape, but was convicted of lesser charges, she said.


The file on his arrest, which is more than 30 years old, is no longer available, she said.

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Details from LAPD’s John Floyd Thomas investigation begin to emerge

This from the LAPD

 

Los Angeles:  Los Angeles Police Department Robbery Homicide Detectives have announced the arrest of a 72-year-old man who has been positively linked to two LAPD Cold Case homicides.  The suspect, John Floyd Thomas Jr., is also linked by DNA evidence to murders being investigated by the Inglewood Police Department and Los County Sheriff’s Department. Additionally, he is suspected in as many as thirty murders and scores of rapes occurring in the Southland during the 1970′s and 1980′s.

 

During November 2001, under the guidance of Robbery-Homicide Division the Los Angeles Police Department created a Cold Case Homicide Unit.  Over the years, detectives assigned to this unit have been responsible for reviewing unsolved murder cases, assessing evidence from those cases, and identifying the potential for application of new forensic techniques, which includes, but is not limited to DNA testing. 

 

As part of the review process, detectives screened the unsolved murder of Ethel Sokoloff.  At the time of her tragic death in 1972, Sokoloff was 68 years old.  She was found in her home, beaten and strangled.  The apparent motive of the murder appeared to have been of a sexual nature.  The cold case detectives’ review of this case revealed that there was biological evidence within the victim’s Sexual Assault Evidence Kit, and that this evidence had never been analyzed for the presence of foreign DNA.  Subsequently, a request was made to Scientific Investigation Division.

 

Detectives also identified the unsolved murder of Elizabeth McKeown who was killed in 1976.  At the time of her death, McKeown was 67 years old.  A review of the investigative materials revealed that McKeown was attacked after parking her vehicle at her home.  She too had been brutally beaten and strangled.  Again, the apparent motive of this murder appeared to be of a sexual nature.  Similar to the Sokoloff case, it was believed that by using DNA analysis on the biological evidence obtained from within McKeown’s Sexual Assault Evidence Kit, it would potentially provide a direct lead to the suspect responsible for committing this senseless crime.  Detectives requested that Scientific Investigation Division examine the evidence for the presence of DNA.

 

A male DNA profile was developed in each of these independent cases and was uploaded into the California CODIS databank.  During 2004, a case-to-case DNA match was made linking the male DNA profile from the Sokoloff case to the male DNA profile identified in the McKeown murder.  Although the DNA profiles matched one another, the name of the offender was not identified in the database.

 

Between 2004 and 2009, cold case detectives worked diligently in an effort to identify this potential murder suspect.  While continuing their investigation, detectives frequently compared a potential suspects DNA profile to that recovered from the Sokoloff and McKeown sexual assault evidence kits.  Approximately 14 DNA profiles were compared and eliminated, they were not connected.

 

In September 2004, detectives were notified that DNA case-to-case matches had been made to three unsolved murders that occurred between 1976 and 1986 in the City of Inglewood and Los Angeles County. 

 

On March 27, 2009, the California Department of Justice notified the Los Angeles Police Department that a CODIS DNA match had been made and the killer identified in the murders of Ethel Sokoloff and Elizabeth McKeown, and the victims in the cases being investigated by the Inglewood Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

 

The offender has been identified as John Floyd Thomas.  He is now 72 years old and a resident of Los Angeles.  A review of Thomas’s criminal history revealed that he was arrested a number of times between 1955 and 1978.  His criminal convictions consist of multiple burglaries, many of which involved sexual assaults of his victims.  Other than an arrest for prostitution in 1993, Thomas has not had any other known law enforcement contact during recent years.

 

On March 31, 2009, detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department arrested John Floyd Thomas for the murders of Ethel Sokoloff and Elizabeth McKeown, and his bail was set at one million dollars.

 

Cold Case detectives will focus on connecting Thomas to additional cases during those years when he was not in custody for other crimes.  Detectives will begin in the mid-1950s when his criminal history began in the Los Angeles area.  The review will likely include cases occurring through the decade of the 1980s.  During that approximate 35-year span, Thomas was in custody for a total of roughly twelve years.      

 

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Pasadena PD looks at possible cold case ties to John Floyd Thomas, Jr.

The Pasadena PD is examining the possibility that John Floyd Thomas, Jr. may be responsible for homicides there in the late 1970s, officials said Thursday.

Thomas, a onetime resident of Pasadena, was arrested there in the late 70s, officials said.

Thomas, the suspected “Westside Rapist” may be responsible for the deaths of as many as 25 elderly women in Los Angeles County in the 70s and 80s. An LAPD homicide detective dubbed him “prolific.”

We’ll have a story up later today. We’re also looking at Thomas’ connections in Pomona and Chino where he worked and lived, and his connection to at least on homicide in Claremont in 1986.

 

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John Floyd Thomas Jr: “Los Angeles’ most prolific serial killer” *

From the Associated Press:

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LOS ANGELES – Police believe a 72-year-old man charged with two cold-case murders is tied to two decades-old waves of Southern California serial killings and as many as 25 victims.

DNA matching former insurance adjuster John Floyd Thomas Jr. was found at five crime scenes spanning the killing-and-rape rampages in west Los Angeles in the 1970s and Claremont in the 1980s, said LAPD Robbery-Homicide Cold Case Detective Richard Bengston.

“When all is said and done, Mr. Thomas stands to be Los Angeles’ most prolific serial killer,” Bengston told the Los Angeles Times.

Police planned to reveal details of the case at a Thursday news conference.

In the first wave of killings in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, a man police dubbed “The Westside Rapist” entered the homes of elderly women who lived alone, raped them and choked them until they passed out or died. The 17 who were killed were found with pillows or blankets over their faces.

A decade later and 40 miles to the east, five elderly women in Claremont were found raped and killed, also with blankets or pillows over their faces.

Despite some 20 survivors of similar attacks, detectives said they didn’t solve either set of cases nor connect the two. They blamed conflicting descriptions from victims, lack of communication between agencies and a past absence of DNA technology.

LA Times map of Westside crime spree.

*LAPD press release on the jump

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