LAPD arrest man believed to have committed dozens of murders, rapes

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Los Angeles Police say they've arrested one of the most prolific serial killers in Southern California history. Police say DNA evidence led them to John Thomas Jr., the alleged Westside Rapist who terrorized neighborhoods from West L.A. to Claremont three decades ago - and maybe even well before that. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports.

Frank Stoltze: Police say one of Thomas's scores of victims was 80-year-old Maybelle Hudson – murdered inside her Inglewood home more than three decades ago. At a news conference in downtown Los Angeles, Bob Kistner fondly remembered his great aunt.

Bob Kistner: Maybelle Hudson was just the sweetest thing you'd ever want to see – a school teacher, an old-time school teacher, grew up with my grandmother in Sioux City, Iowa. Always had wanted me to become a teacher.

Stoltze: Kistner instead became a cop. He retired a few months ago from the Long Beach Police Department. Over the years, he'd occasionally call his colleagues at the LAPD asking about Hudson's case. The answer was always the same – no arrests.

Kistner: When detective Becerra called me the other day and told me he had some great news, I told him (chokes up) I had waited my entire career for that phone call.

Stoltze: Los Angeles police say they believe John Thomas Jr. is responsible for more than 25 murders and scores of rapes in south and west L.A. and in Claremont in the 1970s and '80s.

Like Maybelle Hudson, most of his victims were elderly women. He often strangled them. Witnesses sometimes gave conflicting descriptions of the assailant – and detectives couldn't come up with an arrest.

Charlie Beck: We strongly believe that Mr. Thomas is the Westside rapist that was hunted by detectives in the 1970s in the city of Los Angeles.

Stoltze: LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said Thomas – now 72-years-old – is a Los Angeles native who went to Manual Arts High School. Over the years, he reportedly worked as a social worker, hospital employee, and personal electronics salesmen. Police said Thomas probably hasn't committed a murder or rape since the late 1980s, when he got a job as a state insurance claims adjuster.

Beck credited Thomas's capture to tenacity and science. Last year, new state law required Thomas to provide a DNA sample because of a sexual assault conviction in the 1950s. His DNA matched DNA evidence from two murders. The department's cold case unit arrested Thomas March 30th.

Beck: We believe that Mr. Thomas may be responsible for cases that go as far back as the mid-'50s and we are going all the way back to those case,s and we will try to bring long sought after justice to the many victims that have been long dead at Mr. Thomas's hand.

Stoltze: Bob Kistner likes that idea, but he says the great aunt who allegedly died at the hands of Thomas may be more forgiving.

Kistner: I know my aunt – the very good Christian that she was – would be hoping for the salvation of his soul and looking for forgiveness. I come from the law enforcement side of it. I can't be as forgiving, I'm afraid.

Stoltze: Thomas will be arraigned on his first two counts of murder on May 20th. He's not eligible for the death penalty for those killings because they occurred when California did not have a death penalty statute.