He always had a ready smile, tossed out a pleasant, even complimentary quip or two, and would often banter with me on the few occasions I bumped into him about the current events and issues of the day. The impression I had of John Floyd Thomas Jr. during the near decade he worked in the state agency I worked at was one of a seemingly engaged, curious even aware guy about issues. So interested, that he turned up once or twice at the weekly Los Angeles Urban Roundtable forum that I host. The roundtable brings together community leaders, activists, business leaders and elected officials to discuss hot button local and national issues. Thomas never said much, mostly listened and observed, and then was gone.
This doubled the shock I felt at the news that the outwardly, placid, non-descript Thomas could be the worst serial murderer in L.A. history. Thomas is charged with two murders and likely will be charged with others thanks to a DNA match. The grotesque, sorry, and tragic saga of Thomas once more points up the time tested painful truism, that a seemingly benign, flaccid and even seemingly upstanding family man, can be a monster who commits heinous, despicable crimes that stir fear and terror in communities and that wreak emotional trauma and havoc on the dozens of families, friends and acquaintances of his victims. The horrific and hellish nightmare they create and the deep wounds from their bloodlust sprees never fully heal. Thomas may well be the latest monster to create those searing wounds.
Thomas also points up the painful fact that serial killers can come in all shapes, sizes, and, of course, colors. Men like Thomas shatter the myth that serial killers are young, whacked out white males. It is easy to believe that. In the rash of Hollywood slasher, horror, and maniacal thrill kill films, serial killers are routinely depicted as deranged white males.
The obsessive media attention on serial killers such as Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and the Unabomber also reinforce the notion that serial killers are loopy white males. There was the horde of police, profiling experts, and psychologists that paraded endlessly across the TV screen a few years ago when the Beltway serial sniper killers John Allen Muhammad and his teen deranged side kick John Malvo cold-bloodedly gunned down a dozen persons, and terrorized the Washington D.C. area. The experts reflexively bought into the racial stereotype about who the killers were and why they killed.
They were all embarrassingly and wildly wrong in their assumptions. All the old profiles and theories about who mass killers were had to be scrapped. Since then studies on serial killers that specifically looked at the race of the killers have found that blacks make up about 15 percent of America's rogue's gallery of mass murderers.
Their ghastly killings still strike fear, dread and disgust in the communities they pillaged. During the 1980s, Wayne Williams was convicted of multiple murders in Atlanta and authorities think he may have killed even more. Coral Watts claimed that he killed 13 women in several states. In the early 1990s, Cleophus Prince Jr. stabbed six women in San Diego, and authorities in East St. Louis strongly suspect a black man is responsible for a string of still unsolved killings of prostitutes in the area.
The victims of serial murderers almost always are other poor, or lower income, often single women, and in the case of the accused Thomas's victims, elderly women. They are the most defenseless and vulnerable. They are easy prey for the sick, demented, and cowardly minds of serial killers. Beneath the outwardly innocent smile of these men beat not only the heart of a monster, but our breathing stealth dirty bomb that can be planted any and everywhere and that shatters and destroy lives. For me, it's a case of serial killings that come too painfully close to home.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, "The Hutchinson Report" can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on blogtalkradio.com