Of the approximately 30 middle-aged white women police believe were raped, strangled or both by L.A. County resident John Floyd Thomas, Jr., now 74, in the 1970s and '80s, seven victims saw justice today when the notoriously prolific "Westside rapist" pleaded guilty to their murders.
LA Weekly crime-ophile Christine Pelisek followed the elaborate trail that led cops to Thomas back in 2009, laid out in her July serial-killer epic "How LAPD's "Closers" Nabbed the Westside Rapist."
His capture was almost accidental, writes Pelisek -- a lucky mishap in the fervent search for one of L.A.'s other biggest names in serial rape-homicide: The Grim Sleeper.
From the July 2009 piece:
When [LAPD Detective Diane] Webb ordered her massive manhunt last fall for the 92 unswabbed men who might include the Grim Sleeper, she couldn't have known that hers was the final act in a series of decisions by detectives stretching over three decades, in what amounts to one of the longest-running manhunts in L.A. history. ...
Last October 22, Thomas, a gregarious state workers' compensation fund insurance adjuster, strolled into LAPD's Southwest Division wearing a red, long-sleeve dress shirt and slacks, to be tested for DNA as part of Webb's 92-man sweep. The one indication on Thomas' rap sheet that he deserved a far closer look was his single rape conviction for brutally assaulting the elderly Mrs. Stellern (her first name has never been released) in Pasadena in 1978; in his fury, he had snapped her ankle to the bone.
Thomas was instructed to scrape the inside of his mouth four times, front to back, and drop the swab in an envelope. The meeting was uneventful, says Officer Robert Lanigan. "It was pretty boring, really." ...
Five months later, that cheek swab was matched to five killings and rapes from the 1970s and '80s that featured the same, relatively odd, MO -- all the victims were elderly white women, raped and then strangled. The cops had in their hands a rare, multiple DNA hit that strongly suggested an undetected serial killer.
Over two years later, Thomas' twisted legacy is anything but undetected. Here are the seven victims he admitted to murdering today:
Ethel Sokoloff, 68 years old (Mid-Wilshire, 1972)
Elizabeth McKeown, 67 years old (Westchester, 1972)
Cora Perry (Lennox, 1975)
Maybelle Hudson, 80 years old (Inglewood, 1976)
Miriam McKinley, 65 years old (Inglewood, 1976)
Evalyn Bunner, 56 years old (Inglewood, 1976)
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Here's a snippet from the courtroom today, as reported by City News Service:
The defendant, shackled and wearing a dirty orange jumpsuit, gazed impassively during an emotional statement delivered by Tracy Michaels, the great-niece of McKeown, a retired school administrator whose body was found in her car near her Westchester apartment.
"She was beloved -- her life mattered to many people -- and this man came along and stalked her and preyed upon her,'' Michaels said. ``He viciously attacked her, he brutally raped her and then he put his hands around her neck... and put her body in the trunk of her car and walked away for 35 years.''
The judge immediately served the Thomas with seven life sentences, one without the opportunity for parole. Needless to say, he's locked up for good.