« March 2009 | Main | May 2009 »

Arrest of Suspected Southland Strangler Serial Killer

Cold Case West Side Rapist podcast

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

Chief’s Message – April 2009

As one of the world’s finest law enforcement agencies, the Los Angeles Police Department is constantly evolving and striving to improve its capabilities and expertise as we seek to become a recognized leader in establishing and promulgating best practices.  This month as part of our continuing 140th anniversary celebration, we not only celebrate our past achievements, but we are proud of new advances that will enhance the future of policing in our Department and around the world.

As we move forward in our yearlong celebration of the Department’s 140th anniversary, during the month of April, we celebrate Asian and Pacific Islanders (API) in the LAPD.  In 1913 Lung Yip became the first API officer in the Department’s history, continuing with Stanley Ono in 1947 and Joyce Kano in 1967.  Throughout our history, Asian and Pacific Islanders have proven to be an important part of the LAPD family.  Throughout April, we will be celebrating their accomplishments, including those of Deputy Chief Terry Hara, the LAPD’s highest ranking API officer.  We will also remember the valiant heroes, such as Gary Murakami, the first API officer to die in the line of duty in the Department’s history.  We commend our Asian and Pacific Islander trailblazers for their contributions and thank them for their dedication to duty.   

A significant part of the Federal Consent Decree has been the design and implementation of the Teams II initiative and its many complex systems.
The central component of TEAMS II is the Risk Management Information System (RMIS).  RMIS consolidates information from more than a dozen Department systems, including arrests, crimes, stops, citations, and complaints, uses of force, commendations and officer training.   RMIS makes this consolidated information directly available to individual officers through the TEAMS Report and to management for use in activities such as personnel evaluations, promotional and transfer reviews, and RMIS Action Item analysis.
Each evening, the RMIS Action Item process notifies supervisors of personnel whose activity requires further review.  Supervisors then are able to combine their direct observations of those employees with data provided by TEAMS II to determine a response, which may include no-action required, a commendation or an intervention activity such as additional training.  Each action item should then be discussed with the affected employee and documented.  
In addition, the RMIS Action Item allows supervisors to record narrative observations of exemplary performance.  RMIS Action Items have resulted in more than 110 commendations in bureaus across the Department.   A recent review revealed many positive comments from supervisors.
As RMIS and the other TEAMS II systems have been rolled out across the Department, you have voiced many suggestions for improvements and we have been listening.  Under the command of Police Administrator Maggie Goodrich, the TEAMS II Development Bureau has undertaken a program of continuous system improvements to enhance both the effectiveness and usability of the systems in a concerted effort to make it more user friendly.  For example, the Bureau recently was able to significantly reduce the number of data fields captured on FDRs.  The new process for capturing data is currently being piloted in Operations Central Bureau, and will be deployed Department-wide this spring.   
Another part of the continuous improvement of TEAMS II lies with each of you.  I encourage you to regularly review your own TEAMS Report.  If you have any concerns about its contents, immediately report them using the Data Correction process located on the TEAMS II web site.  Properly utilized, TEAMS II can prove to be a valuable and innovative information tool for you, your supervisors and the Department.

Multi Assault Counter Terrorism Action Capabilities (MACTAC)

Terrorism is a reality of 21st century policing.  We, as a Department, must continually seek to improve our abilities and capabilities to respond to any type of terrorist attack, including multiple assaults similar to the recent attacks in Mumbai.  We must constantly assess and learn from events that shape the way local law enforcement prevents or responds to acts of terrorism.  As part of that effort our Department is developing a Multi Assault Counter Terrorism Action Capabilities (MACTAC) Doctrine to improve our readiness to respond to, and defend the City from attacks similar to that recently experienced in Mumbai.  

Under the leadership of Deputy Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur, the development phase of this project is currently underway and includes both internal and external experts in the area of tactics, weapons and intelligence.  Special Operations, Counter Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence, Detective, Incident Management and Training, Professional Standards Bureaus and Office of Operations personnel are all part of this effort.  The MACTAC project also involves officers and supervisors with special weapons expertise, counter terrorism tactics experience and several military personnel who have recently returned from tours in the Middle East.  In addition, the Police Protective League will be included in the process.  

Ultimately, we must design a counterterrorism force response that’s appropriate to our region and its particular needs.  The response should also include collaboration with other police agencies, such as the Sheriff’s Department and the other 45 cities in our region to handle large scale and multiple incidents of terrorism.  In the future, the committee will incorporate other City Departments, various county and regional agencies, as well as national partners.

The three primary goals of the plan are:
1)     Identifying state of the art equipment, tools and weapons for law enforcement response  
2)    Designing flexible, innovative, cutting edge tactics to swiftly resolve such an attack
3)    Developing Department-wide training to prepare everyone, from our officers in black and white patrol cars, to our Special Weapons and Tactics teams, to respond to such an incident

It is the expectation of our City leaders, our residents and visitors to Los Angeles,    that when a multiple assault event occurs, the Department will immediately switch from our community policing patrol-ready mind set to a rapid response-ready capability in a matter of minutes, not hours.  We have learned from our New York counterparts and those across the globe that minutes save lives during such events.  We are also acutely aware preparation and training allows you, the men and women of this Department; to do what you do best, protect the City from all threats and hazards, foreign or domestic.

The initial plan will soon be released and I fully expect the MACTAC doctrine will include an expansion of our Urban Police Rifle program, improve tactics allowing for a rapid response to react and neutralize simultaneous incidents.  Working side by side with our city, county, state and federal partners, we are working hard to ensure that we are in a position to respond, contain and eliminate any Mumbai type of assault in our region.

As I reaffirmed at a recent news conference, the Los Angeles Police Department is committed to designing initiatives and equipment that lead American policing and will become best practices for national models of police response.  We are a Department with a proud tradition of creativity and excellence and over the last several years, have significantly expanded our ‘suite of excellence and best practices.’  For 140 years, the LAPD has forged the way for modern day policing, emerging as a leader in the law enforcement community in its creativity, expertise and partnership efforts.  We should all expect nothing less from a Department that is second to none and continues to work together in furtherance of that goal.

Toughest Cadet Alive

In a test of endurance, speed, agility, and toughness, the Toughest Cadet Alive competition was held on the campus of Mulholland Middle School.  The physical abilities challenge pits students from the six Department Magnet schools against each other in a day long competition.  The schools included were Monroe, Reseda, Dorsey, San Pedro, and Wilson High Schools along with Mulholland Middle School. 

Students competed in strength events like pull-ups/chin-ups, push-ups and sit-ups; endurance events like jump rope, the mile run and the obstacle course; and speed events like the 100-yard dash.  Participants also had to show academic excellence in their classes and compose an essay in order to participate.  Winners are awarded medals for individual and team performance and the student with the highest average score is awarded with the envious title of Toughest Cadet Alive.

The police magnet program offers a rigorous curriculum geared toward preparing students for a career in law enforcement.  In addition to the basic high school requirements, magnet programs offer students specialized coursework, training, mentoring, work and volunteer opportunities.  There are approximately 750 students currently enrolled in the six area magnet programs. 
Picture 011 Picture 014 Picture 023

Victim Shot Dead, then Robbed

Los Angeles:  Two suspects are wanted for the shooting death of an unidentified man, whom they robbed as he lay dying in the street.

On Monday, April 27, 2009, at around 11:50 a.m., an unidentified man, John Doe, was confronted by two suspects as he stood on 53rd Street east of Vermont Avenue.  During the encounter one of the suspects pulled out a gun and pointed it at Doe.

Doe tried to run away from the suspects, but only made it a short distance before one of the suspects fired multiple shots, striking Doe in the back.  Doe fell between two parked cars.  As he lay dying, the suspect who shot Doe then proceeded to search his pockets and rob him, while a second suspect stood watch at the corner.  Both suspects were last seen running northbound through an alley east of Vermont Avenue, then east on 52nd Street.

Doe was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.  He is a Hispanic man, approximately 25-years of age.  He had no identification on him and the Coroner is in the process of making a positive identification.

Suspect #1 is as a male, Black, 20-30 years of age, 5 ft. 10 in. to 6 ft. tall, 170 lbs. and was wearing a black, white and red shirt tank top and blue jeans.  

Suspect #2 is a also a male, Black, 15-17 years of age, 5 ft. to 5 ft. 3 in., 140-160 lbs and was wearing a grey sweat shirt.

Detectives believe the motive for the shooting was robbery.

Anyone with information is asked to call Criminal Gang Homicide Group, 77th Homicide Squad, Detectives Colin Braudrick and Stephanie Hale at 213-485-1383.  During off-hours, calls may be directed to a 24-hour, toll-free number at1-877-LAPD-24-7 (527-3247).  Callers may also text “Crimes” with a cell phone or log on to www.lapdonline.org and click on Web tips. When using a cell phone, all messages should begin with “LAPD.”  Tipsters may remain anonymous.

$50,000 Reward Offered in Christmas Day Hit & Run

Los Angeles:  The Los Angeles Police Department is seeking the public’s help in finding a car used in a hit-and-run that struck a pedestrian and left the scene.

On December 25, 2008 at about 5:10 a.m., a car traveling north on Reseda Boulevard crossed the southbound lanes and hit a pedestrian walking westbound on Reseda south of Devonshire Boulevard.  The victim is a 33-year-old female that is now paralyzed because of her injuries from the hit-and-run.

The car that hit the victim left the front bumper at the scene and is believed to be a dark green 1995-1997 Mercury Grand Marquis. A picture of what Detectives believe the hit-and-run vehicle looks like is attached.

The Los Angeles City council has approved a $50,000 reward for information leading to the identification, apprehension and conviction of the person or persons responsible for this crime.

Los Angeles Police Department Valley Traffic Division detectives are handling the investigation.  Anyone with information about the incident is encouraged to contact Detective William Bustos at 818-644-8021 or Officer Arturo Covarrubias at 818-644-8025. During off-hours, calls may be directed to a 24-hour, toll-free number at 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (527-3247).  Callers may also text “Crimes” with a cell phone or log on to www.lapdonline.org and click on Web tips. When using a cell phone, all messages should begin with “LAPD.”  Tipsters may remain anonymous.

COMPSTAT Citywide Profile

Crime Statistics April 25, 2009

VIOLENT CRIMES                2009**           2008**          % Chg

Homicide                             89*                130           -31.5%
Rape                                  237                 250             -5.2%
Robbery                            3969               3993            -0.6%
Agg Assaults **                  3518               3776             -6.8%
Total Violent Crimes       7,813             8,149           -4.1%


Burglary                               5682              5992            5.2%
BTFV                                   9283               9588          -3.2%
Personal/Other Theft          8222               8612           -4.5%
Auto Theft                         5689               6941          -18.0%
Total Property Crimes     28,876         31,133          -7.2%
Total Part I Crimes          36,689         39,282          -6.6%

* Numbers reflects a change in reclassification for Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) guidelines and numbers are adjusted accordingly.

** Prior to 2005, Aggravated Assaults included Child/Spousal Simple Assaults

North Hollywood Detectives Arrest Sexual Assault Suspect

Los Angeles: A Fingerprint investigation has lead to the identification and arrest of a sexual assault suspect.

On March 26, 2009, an unidentified man was reported to have kidnapped a 24-year-old North Hollywood woman by hiding in the back of her unlocked vehicle, parked in the area of Kittridge Street and Lankershim Boulevard.  He then drove her to an abandoned apartment in the area of Kester Avenue and Sherman Way where he sexually assaulted her several times.  

North Hollywood Area detectives began an extensive investigation to identify the suspect.  The Los Angeles Police Department’s Scientific Investigation Division processed the crime scenes and extracted latent finger prints.  
On April 15, 2009, 26-year-old Edgar Alonzo Velasquez, a North Hollywood resident, was positively identified through a forensic print comparison.  On April 16, 2009, Velasquez was arrested and multiple felony counts were filed, including kidnapping, sexual assault and  residential burglary.  

Detectives are seeking the public’s help in locating other possible victims in this investigation, and a photo of the suspect is being provided in the dissemination of this release.

Anyone with information regarding this investigation is asked to contact Los Angeles Police Department North Hollywood Detectives Crawford or Clifford at 818-623-4090.  During off-hours, calls may be directed to a 24-hour, toll-free number at 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (527-3247).  Callers may also text “Crimes” with a cell phone or log on to www.lapdonline.org and click on Web tips. When using a cell phone, all messages should begin with “LAPD.”  Tipsters may remain anonymous.

Dog Thief Caught on Video

Los Angeles:  Los Angeles detectives are asking the public’s help in identifying a suspect seen stealing a dog from a department store.

On April 23, 2009, at around 4 p.m., victim went shopping at Target Department store located at 3535 South La Cienega Boulevard.  The victim had secured her dog to a bench located in the front of the store and when she returned about 30 minutes later, she found the dog missing.

Detectives’ investigation revealed that a male Black suspect sat on the bench, removed the dog and entered his car.  The suspect then drove off in an unknown direction.

The suspect was about 50 years of age, 6 feet tall and weighs 175 pounds.  He was last seen wearing a dark hooded jacket.  His vehicle was described as 4-door white car.

The victim’s dog is 1 ½ years old half Havanese/ShihTzu.  The dog is about 15 pounds and brown in color.

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective James Hampton at 213-485-6795 during normal business hours.  After hours and on weekends, phone 1-877-LAPD 24-7 (527-3247).  Persons can also send anonymous tips by texting CRIMES (274637) and typing LAPD to start the message.


Burglary Targeting Computer Equipment In Woodland Hills

Los Angeles:  The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding a business burglary.

On April 24, 2009, during late night hours and through early Saturday morning, a business building located in the 20500 block of Ventura Boulevard was burglarized.  The office building has approximately 75 businesses operating in its 60 interior offices.  The preliminary investigation indicates that as many as 26 of these businesses were the victims of this burglary.  The thieves focused on computer equipment, and in many instances removed stand alone computers from these offices.  

Los Angeles Police Department Topanga Division Detectives are handling the investigation.  Anyone with information about the incident is encouraged to contact Detective Teresa Gordon at 818-756-5842.  During off-hours, calls may be directed to a 24-hour, toll-free number at1-877-LAPD-24-7 (527-3247).  Callers may also text “Crimes” with a cell phone or log on to www.lapdonline.org and click on Web tips. When using a cell phone, all messages should begin with “LAPD.”  Tipsters may remain anonymous.

Armed Robbery, Caught on Camera

Los Angeles:  detectives are asking the public’s help in identifying three men seen robbing a downtown computer supply store yesterday, April 23, 2009.

“These guys are quite bold and dangerous,” said Lt. Paul Vernon, head of detectives for the Central Police Station.  “They tied up eight persons and really took their time inside.  It looks like they were mainly after blank DVD media, probably for use in making illegal DVD for sale on the black market.”

Just after 1 PM, two Hispanic men walked into the Blank Media and Supplies store, at 1359 S. Hope Street, in downtown Los Angeles.  One man was tall with a baseball cap and the other was thin with a distinctive white crooner’s hat.  He was carrying a camouflage athletic bag.  After posing as customers for a bit, the two robbers pulled guns, barked orders in Spanish, and herded customers and employees into a back room.  

A third, heavyset Hispanic man joined the pair and all three suspects tied the victims’ wrists with plastic zip ties after demanding cell phones and money from each person.  The trio donned gloves and spent the next 26 minutes loading blank DVDs and big screen TVs into two vans that belonged to the business.  However, the suspects had to leave most of the loot behind when neither of the vans would start.  They moved more merchandise into a van the belonged to a customer then drove away.  Police found the abandoned van two hours later on 103rd Street in South Los Angeles.

“Anyone who knows these suspects should be able to recognize them from the video,” Vernon added.  Detectives believe the robbery crew had a lookout in the street and were talking to him throughout the robbery.  One suspect called the lookout by the name “Ulises.”

Anyone with information is asked to call Det. Bennie Batac at 213-972-1246 during normal business hours.  After hours and on weekends, phone 1-877-LAPD 24-7 (527-3247).  Persons can also send anonymous tips by texting CRIMES (274637) and typing LAPD to start the message.

Lt. Vernon is available for interviews at the Central Police Station, 251 E. Sixth Street, Los Angeles  90014, TODAY between 1 PM and 3 PM.  Outlets may record video from a screen at the police station.