Authorities believe they have a suspect in custody for a string of rapes along the East Coast dating back to 1997, and it was DNA on a discarded cigarette that helped break the case.
Law enforcement officials told NBC New York that police in Prince William County, Va., recently came up with a lead on a man in New Haven.
New Haven officers followed the man on Thursday, and when he threw a cigarette in the street, police and marshals picked it up and sent it for DNA testing.
Investigators say the DNA was a match and they made the arrest Friday. The man has not been charged.
The arrest less than a week after officials posted billboards in multiple states advertising their search for the man dubbed the "East Coast Rapist."
Investigators say he has been terrorizing women from Virginia to Rhode Island since 1997. Police have used billboards and a website to try to catch him.
The suspect attacked his first victim in February 1997 in Maryland, according to the FBI.
He was on a bicycle and approached a 25-year-old woman as she walked home from work. He began a conversation but then pulled a gun, forced the woman into nearby woods, and raped her, police said.
On Jan. 10, 2007, the same man attacked a woman on Smith Avenue in New Haven.
The man broke in through an unlocked apartment window just before 1:30 a.m. and entered the bedroom, where the woman slept and her 11-month-old son was resting in his crib.
He threatened to kill the baby, placed a pillow over the woman's face, raped her and then scolded her for leaving the window unlocked with a baby inside, authorities say.
According to legal analysts, this would be a major break in the case of a serial rapist who has eluded authorities for 14 years, attacking women who are black, white and Hispanic.
He often approached his victims outdoors and on foot and threatened them with a weapon -- usually a knife or a handgun, police said. On occasion he wore a black mask or hooded sweatshirt to conceal his face.
He made the women believe he’d been robbed and asked for money, but did not take money after the assault was over, police said.
New digital billboards that include composite sketches of the man are running in Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island and Virginia, as well as the neighboring states of New Jersey, New York and Delaware.
The attacks happened on:
- Feb. 19, 1997, in Forestville, Md.
- Aug. 20, 1997, in Suitland, Md.
- July 3, 1997, in Temple Hills, Md.
- Jun.19, 1999, in Alexandria, Va.
- Jan. 13, 2000, in Alexandria, Va.
- Nov. 20, 2000, , in Alexandria, Va.
- May 24, 2001, Leesburg, Va.
- Aug. 16, 2001, in Temple Hills, Md.
- Dec. 28, 2001, in Alexandria, Va.
- Nov. 28, 2006, in Cranston, R.I.
- Jan. 10, 2007, in New Haven, Conn.
- Oct. 31, 2009, in Woodbridge, Va.