May 4th, 2009
05:00 PM ET

DNA leads to suspect in 1970s Los Angeles serial killings

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/04/30/westside.killings/art.mugshots.lapd.jpg caption="John Floyd Thomas Jr. may have begun his killings as far back as 1955. "]

Alan Duke

A man who Los Angeles police believe raped and murdered dozens of women decades ago was arrested by cold case investigators this month after a computer matched his DNA to evidence from two killings in the 1970s.

John Floyd Thomas Jr., 72, may have begun his killings as far back as 1955 and he could be one of the worst serial killers in United States history, according to Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton.

"We have yet to reach the depths of what he has done," Bratton said Thursday.

Until his April 2 arrest, Thomas 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, who sits in a Los Angeles jail, has been charged with two killings - in 1972 and 1976 - but prosecutors will likely add more cases when he faces arraignment on May 20, Bratton said.

While Thomas was arrested "a number of times between 1955 and 1978" for sex crimes and burglaries, detectives did not have the technology to identify him as a suspect when the region was terrorized by a series of killings then blamed on the "Westside Rapist," Bratton said.

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