Elizabeth McKeown was 67 when she was sexually assaulted and strangled… (Associated Press )
By most available accounts, John Floyd Thomas Jr. spent the last two decades living a relatively quiet life.
In 1989, he got a job processing workers' compensation claims for the state. One co-worker described him as friendly and religious, known for sending out e-mails quoting Scriptures. Other sources said he quit smoking soon after landing the job, talked about setting long-term goals and adhering to his Christian faith.
At age 72, he was still working at the Glendale office of the State Compensation Insurance Fund and living with a son in South Los Angeles when police contacted him last year.
As part of an ongoing Los Angeles Police Department program to collect DNA evidence from convicted sex offenders, officers asked Thomas for a DNA swab.
From that random request, police allege they soon linked Thomas to two murders of older women in the 1970s. He is being held on those charges. Now, authorities say they have DNA evidence linking him to six slayings and believe he could be responsible for up to 30.
"He always had a smile on his face. He was placid, congenial and affable, a pleasant fellow who, if the allegations are true, may in fact be a monster," said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, an L.A. community activist who once worked with Thomas. "It almost takes your breath away."
As more details come to light about Thomas, a portrait of two different men is emerging: one of a hard-core criminal in his early life; another of a more low-key life after 50.
An L.A. native, Thomas received a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force, according to military records, and a short time later was arrested for burglary and attempted rape in Los Angeles. He was convicted and sentenced to six years in state prison in 1957. Two parole violations sent him back behind bars until 1966.
Authorities now allege that Thomas raped and killed older women during two cycles: in the 1970s in Los Angeles and in the 1980s in the Claremont area. Police continue to receive calls from family members of slain woman who believe he might be responsible.
At the office where he worked, red-eyed co-workers were stunned by the allegations. Many spent Thursday clustered in small groups, discussing the news and comforting each other, colleagues said.
Ofari-Hutchinson said Thomas kept to himself and was fond of citing Scripture. They talked about current events and politics -- but rarely about Thomas' personal life.
At Ofari-Hutchinson's invitation, Thomas attended a couple of community round-tables -- but his interest didn't last. "You could always sense there was a barrier there, that there was only so deep you could go with him," he said.