Arrest of Suspected Southland Strangler Serial Killer NR09209kr

April 29, 2009

Los Angeles:  Los Angeles Police Department Robbery Homicide Detectives have announced the arrest of a 72-year-old man who has been positively linked to two LAPD Cold Case homicides.  The suspect, John Floyd Thomas Jr., is also linked by DNA evidence to murders being investigated by the Inglewood Police Department and Los Angeles  County Sheriff’s Department. Additionally, he is suspected in as many as thirty murders and scores of rapes occurring in the Southland during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

                      1964                         1971                            1981            
During November 2001, under the guidance of Robbery-Homicide Division the Los Angeles Police Department created a Cold Case Homicide Unit.  Over the years, detectives assigned to this unit have been responsible for reviewing unsolved murder cases, assessing evidence from those cases, and identifying the potential for application of new forensic techniques, which includes, but is not limited to DNA testing.  

As part of the review process, detectives screened the unsolved murder of Ethel Sokoloff.  At the time of her tragic death in 1972, Sokoloff was 68 years old.  She was found in her home, beaten and strangled.  The apparent motive of the murder appeared to have been of a sexual nature.  The cold case detectives’ review of this case revealed that there was biological evidence within the victim’s Sexual Assault Evidence Kit, and that this evidence had never been analyzed for the presence of foreign DNA.  Subsequently, a request was made to Scientific Investigation Division.

Detectives also identified the unsolved murder of Elizabeth McKeown who was killed in 1976.  At the time of her death, McKeown was 67 years old.  A review of the investigative materials revealed that McKeown was attacked after parking her vehicle at her home.  She too had been brutally beaten and strangled.  Again, the apparent motive of this murder appeared to be of a sexual nature.  Similar to the Sokoloff case, it was believed that by using DNA analysis on the biological evidence obtained from within McKeown’s Sexual Assault Evidence Kit, it would potentially provide a direct lead to the suspect responsible for committing this senseless crime.  Detectives requested that Scientific Investigation Division examine the evidence for the presence of DNA.

A male DNA profile was developed in each of these independent cases and was uploaded into the California CODIS databank.  During 2004, a case-to-case DNA match was made linking the male DNA profile from the Sokoloff case to the male DNA profile identified in the McKeown murder.  Although the DNA profiles matched one another, the name of the offender was not identified in the database.

Between 2004 and 2009, cold case detectives worked diligently in an effort to identify this potential murder suspect.  While continuing their investigation, detectives frequently compared a potential suspects DNA profile to that recovered from the Sokoloff and McKeown sexual assault evidence kits. Approximately 14 DNA profiles were compared and eliminated, they were not connected.

In September 2004, detectives were notified that DNA case-to-case matches had been made to three unsolved murders that occurred between 1976 and 1986 in the City of Inglewood and Los Angeles County.  

On March 27, 2009, the California Department of Justice notified the Los Angeles Police Department that a CODIS DNA match had been made and the killer identified in the murders of Ethel Sokoloff and Elizabeth McKeown, and the victims in the cases being investigated by the Inglewood Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The offender has been identified as John Floyd Thomas.  He is now 72 years old and a resident of Los Angeles.  A review of Thomas’s criminal history revealed that he was arrested a number of times between 1955 and 1978.  His criminal convictions consist of multiple burglaries, many of which involved sexual assaults of his victims.  Other than an arrest for prostitution in 1993, Thomas has not had any other known law enforcement contact during recent years.

On March 31, 2009, detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department arrested John Floyd Thomas for the murders of Ethel Sokoloff and Elizabeth McKeown, and his bail was set at one million dollars.

On April 2, 2009, the LAPD’s case was presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Sex Crimes Unit.  Two counts of Murder with Special Circumstances have been filed against Thomas making him eligible for life without parole.  

Thomas is scheduled to be arraigned May 20th.  At that time, the Los Angeles County District Attorney will make a decision on filing on the additional cases in Inglewood and LA County.
LAPD cold case detectives are continuing their investigation and they are cooperating with detectives from the Inglewood Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.  Detectives believe Thomas is likely connected to many more sexually-motivated murders and will be reviewing numerous cases in an attempt to link or eliminate him in those cases.  Several factors lead detectives to suspect Thomas’s involvement.    

During the mid-1970s, many sexually-motivated murders and sexual assaults were occurring in the city of Los Angeles (the great majority of these were reported in the Hollywood, Wilshire and Rampart Areas).  The suspect in these cases was dubbed "The Westside Rapist.”  Because of Thomas’s criminal background, the close proximity of his homes to murder locations, similar victim descriptions (white elderly female) and other evidence that suggests the type of modus operandi (MO) used by the suspect, Detectives strongly believe Thomas is very likely the suspect in "The Westside Rapist” cases.

There are cases associated with "The Westside Rapist" investigation that also have partial DNA profiles and those partial profiles match Thomas’s DNA.  

Cold Case detectives will focus on connecting Thomas to additional cases during those years when he was not in custody for other crimes.  Detectives will begin in the mid-1950s when his criminal history began in the Los Angeles area.  The review will likely include cases occurring through the decade of the 1980s.  During that approximate 35-year span, Thomas was in custody for a total of roughly twelve years.       


November 2001   
LAPD creates the Cold Case Homicide Unit (CCHU).  Detectives identify   approximately 9,000 unsolved murders occurring between 1960 and 1996.  Detectives begin screening/prioritizing the cases based on a variety of solvability factors.

June 2002    
Detectives submit serology request to Scientific Investigation Division (SID) requesting to have biological evidence from the McKeown and Sokoloff cases analyzed for DNA.

October 2002        
Detectives are notified that a male DNA profile was deduced from McKeown’s evidence.

December 2003   
Detectives are notified that a male DNA profile was deduced from Sokoloff’s evidence.

September 2004   
Detectives are notified that the McKeown and Sokoloff cases are forensically linked to one another other.  Additionally, a 1976 Inglewood Police Department unsolved murder and a 1986 Los Angeles County Sheriff Department unsolved murder is forensically connected.  This was a case-to-case cold hit notification and the offender’s identity remained unknown.

2004 -2009   
Detectives consult the original detectives that handled the McKeown and Sokoloff murders; outside agencies, and the district attorney’s office.  Additionally, as detectives identified potential suspects, DNA reference samples were obtained and compared to the established offender’s profile.
(Approximately 14 suspects were developed; however their DNA profile excluded them from being a viable suspect).

October 22, 2008   
The suspect’s DNA sample is collected by LAPD Southwest Registration Enforcement and Compliance Team Officers.

March 27, 2009  
Detectives receive notification from California Department of Justice DNA Laboratory that an offender match is made in CODIS.  The offender is identified as John Floyd Thomas Jr. and his DNA matches the DNA profile deduced from evidence analyzed in Sokoloff murder.

A background check reveals that Thomas is a registered sex offender and pursuant to the legal requirement of 290 Registration, his DNA profile had been recently uploaded into CODIS.   It is further determined that Thomas is a resident of Los Angeles and not in custody.

March 31, 2009   
Detectives are notified by DOJ that in all, five unsolved murders are forensically linked to one another, and the DNA profile from each of these cases matches the profile belonging to John Floyd Thomas Jr.
Detectives from Robbery-Homicide Division (RHD) locate Thomas at his home in South LA and they closely monitor his activities.  Thomas is taken into custody and transported to RHD and is interviewed by Cold Case detectives.  

John Floyd Thomas is booked for Murder (California Penal Code Section 187 [a]).  He is processed at the Central Jail Facility; however, due to a preexisting medical condition, he is immediately transferred to the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, at Twin Towers.

April 2, 2009    
LAPD’s case is presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Sex Crimes Unit.  The DA files two counts of Murder with Special Circumstances on the LAPD cases, making Thomas eligible for life without parole.  If Thomas is later found guilty of a similar homicide, occurring after 1977, he would be eligible for the Death Penalty.  Thomas is scheduled to be arraigned May 20th.  At that time, the DA will make a decision on filing on the additional cases.

Southland Strangler Series Map