It was the night of Halloween 2009, when three teenagers out trick-or-treating were forced into a gold Chrysler by an unknown man carrying what appeared to be a gun. The girls had no idea that the gun was fake, or what the man had in store for them next. One by one they were shuffled down towards a steep ravine.
There behind a CVS pharmacy the man proceeded to rape two of the girls, but there was one thing he hadn’t counted on. One of his victims had a cellphone and while her captor was busy raping her friends she texted her mom for help. Police were quick to respond to the call and the man fled the scene.
It would be two years before investigators would nab the perp, but as detectives later learned, the events that transpired that Halloween night would end the spree of a serial rapist. A trail of DNA was able to pin the man, identified as Aaron Thomas, to 13 rapes along the east coast dating back to 1997.
Three years later Thomas would stand before a judge and plead guilty to the attacks on the three young trick-or-treaters. He compared himself to an animal, running on instinct. Inside Thomas was a deeply troubled child, who grew up to become an even more troubled adult.
In spite of the trouble that brewed within, Thomas was a paradox. A doting father, trusted friend, and (seemingly) faithful husband, but his bad side was as dark as it gets. Something as simple as a bad day at work would send Thomas sneaking off into the night to hunt down his latest victim. He didn’t know the women’s names and could scarcely remember their faces. To him they were nothing more than objects.
Thomas was the stranger lurking in the shadows that women around the country fear. He was the man standing across the parking lot that women are taught to fend off in self-defense classes. He was the reason women are told to mind their surroundings and never walk home alone at night. He was the quintessential boogieman.
In the aftermath Thomas said he did feel guilt about the attacks, sending him further into a dangerous spiral that all came to a grinding halt on the night of Halloween 2009.
He is now serving five life sentences, plus 80 years for the attacks. “The East Coast Rapist,” as the media later called him, is no longer a threat to society.
Though Thomas is off the streets, it’s hard to tell how many more Aaron Thomases are living around the country. With over 70,000 unprocessed rape kits in storage lockers nationwide, how many other monsters are out there masquerading as people, and will they ever be caught?