A Georgia police department searched for years for a serial rapist.
Then they found their suspect among their own past police recruits.
Kenneth Thomas Bowen III, 24, was connected through DNA evidence to seven rapes and one sexual battery of women in Jonesboro, about 17 miles south of Atlanta, Clayton County Police Department Chief Kevin Roberts said Wednesday at a news conference.
All of the assaults occurred in an area that has a two-mile radius and is where Bowen lives.
Investigators believe he could be responsible for other similar sexual attacks in the same area but have not forensically linked him to those crimes, according to police.
Since 2015, "our agency has been investigating a series of sexual assaults and rapes that have been a cloud over our community," Roberts said. "Today it’s my pleasure to remove that cloud."
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Bowen joined the Clayton County Police Academy in June 2018 and was fired in September of that year. Roberts said he fired the recruit because he showed up hours late for training one day and lied about his whereabouts. "Upon arriving, he gave multiple statements that differed as to where he was and who he was with. And I found that to be untruthful and a reason to remove him from our academy," Roberts said.
The police chief said none of the assaults Bowen is charged with occurred during the nearly three months he was in the academy.
Lt. Thomas Reimers of the Clayton County Police Criminal Investigation Division said that some of the information Bowen provided when he applied for the academy was used to identify him as the suspected serial rapist.
"In actuality, had he not attempted to join the ranks of the Clayton County Police Department, it’s questionable as to when we would have apprehended him," Roberts said.
Investigators also relied on accounts and descriptions from witnesses and victims as they tried to track Bowen down. At least three sketches based on those descriptions matched with Bowen's appearance, Reimers said.
The victims were "true survivors," Reimers said. "Without them coming forward to the police department to provide details of the assaults in intimate detail ... we would not have been able to get a sketch of this individual or sketches of this individual."
Investigators also sifted through old 911 calls to try to connect a suspect to the areas where the sexual assaults had happened. That's when they kept coming across Bowen's name, which led them to examine cellphone tower records to further nail down his whereabouts. They also perused Bowen's social media profiles, which led them to determine he was related to someone else who used to work for the Clayton County Police Department.
Along with police, the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab and the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office had identified seven other suspects over the years, but ruled them out based on DNA evidence.
"We have a team that has been working very hard over the past several years to solve this case," Reimers said.
A warrant for Bowen's DNA was obtained last week, and it matched the eight assaults Tuesday. He was arrested by U.S. Marshals at his job on the same day.
Bowen was "calm" as he was arrested, but he has declined to speak with authorities, Reimers said. He had his first court appearance on Wednesday morning, and is being held at the Clayton County Jail on seven counts of rape and one count of sexual battery. It was not immediately clear if Bowen has an attorney.
Reimers said the victims who have been told of Bowen's arrest are "ecstatic."
Elisha Fieldstadt is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.