DNA has confirmed that a man arrested yesterday in Connecticut is the East Coast Rapist suspected of terrorising women with sexual assaults from Virginia to Rhode Island over 12 years.

Lt. Julie Johnson said DNA was collected and subsequently matched by the state police forensic lab confirming 39-year-old Aaron Thomas was the East Coast Rapist.

New Haven police have a warrant charging Thomas with first-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor and he was being held on $1 million bond, Johnson said.

Authorities in Virginia are charging him with being a fugitive as well as rape and abduction charges and use of a firearm while committing a felony.

The East Coast Rapist is wanted for 17 rapes and other attacks in Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island and Virginia that began in 1997. The cases were linked by DNA.

A neighbour said Thomas was dating a woman in a yellow colonial house in one of New Haven’s finest neighbourhoods. The woman, who refused to give her name, said Thomas is a truck driver and parked his tractor trailer in the residential neighbourhood, but he seemed to be unemployed and would offer to paint or rake leaves for neighbours.

Thomas was known to ride his bicycle around the neighbourhood. She said there were children at his girlfriend’s house.

A neighbour, 39-year-old Tom Chambers, said he often saw Thomas coming and going but he did not know him well.

“He was just normal,” Chambers said.

Thomas was not entirely unknown to law enforcement: He had been arrested in September in Woodbridge, Conn., on a larceny charge and was released on $1,000 bond, according to public records.

He had lived previously at addresses in Maryland and Virginia, according to public records.

The assailant eluded police even though the crimes were often committed outdoors, law enforcement officials say.

In some instances, the attacker wore a mask or hooded sweat shirt to conceal his face. He typically approached women outdoors on foot and threatened them with a knife, screwdriver or a handgun, investigators say.

The only attack in New Haven came on Jan. 10, 2007. Police said the suspect entered a 27-year-old woman’s bedroom through an open window and threatened to kill her sleeping infant son before assaulting her.

The last known attack occurred on Halloween night in 2009, when two teenagers on their way home from trick-or-treating in Woodbridge, Va., were raped, authorities say.

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