Yearslong investigation into reported assault, kidnapping leads to arrest of registered sexual predator, deputies say

Man is suspected in 2 additional sexual assault cases, Nassau County Sheriff’s Office says

A 2019 investigation into a report of a kidnapping and sexual assault has led to the capture of a man that the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office identified as a suspect in two other sexual assault cases.

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla.Disclaimer: Some may find the details included in this report to be graphic in nature. Discretion advised.

A 2019 investigation into a report of a kidnapping and sexual assault has led to the capture of a man that the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office identified as a suspect in two other sexual assault cases.

According to an arrest warrant that was filed on July 7, Thomas Jay Cole, 42, is suspected of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a woman who was stranded on the side of a road.

The warrant states that in late July 2019, a deputy was called to a home on County Road 121 in Bryceville to investigate a 911 call about kidnapping and sexual assault. The deputy noted in the warrant that when he arrived at the home, there was a dark-colored Chevy Impala near the driveway and that the rear passenger tire was flat.

The warrant states that the deputy noticed tire impressions in mud just north of the disabled Impala and that the impressions did not match the tires on the Impala. Next to the tire impressions, the warrant states, was a partially smoked cigarette and a BB container, which were both collected as evidence.

According to the warrant, the deputy then went to the abandoned home where the victim -- who deputies said was a woman -- was crying and visibly upset. The deputy noted in the warrant that there were visible red marks, bruises and swelling on the victim’s face, arms and chest.

The arrest warrant states that the victim had left a friend’s home on the Southside of Jacksonville and was traveling to a home on the Westside when the victim got lost and eventually ended up in the Bryceville area.

According to the warrant, while the victim was traveling along County Road 121, a male driver of another vehicle pulled up from behind and continually flashed the headlights to warn the victim that something was wrong with the rear passenger tire. The victim and the other driver pulled off the road. According to the warrant, the other driver told the victim that he lived in the area and would help the victim get a new tire, and the victim used a cellphone to call a relative, letting them know there was a problem with a tire and that someone was there to help.

The warrant states that the man spoke to the victim’s parent on the phone and told the parent he would take the victim to get a new tire.

According to the warrant, the man and the victim drove one mile down the road and crossed a bridge that was later identified as Stokes Road Bridge. After crossing the bridge, the pair drove down an isolated dirt road where the man’s truck came to a stop.

According to the warrant, the man got out of the truck, pulled the victim out and sexually assaulted the victim by force. The warrant states the man drove the victim back to the disabled car, but took the victim’s keys, cellphone and underwear.

The warrant states that after being dropped off and left stranded, the victim walked to a nearby home on County Road 121 and had the homeowner call 911. The victim told deputies the attacker was between 30 to 40 years of age, and between 5-feet 7-inches and 5-feet 10-inches in height with dark hair and dark facial hair. The warrant notes the victim told investigators the attacker drove a white pickup truck with an extended cab.

Investigators said they knew of a registered sexual predator named Thomas Jay Cole who lived in the area and drove a white truck with an extended cab. When deputies ran his name through a license database, investigators said, it came back with his driver’s license picture showing Cole with dark hair and dark facial hair. A search of his name also came back with an arrest warrant out of Jacksonville on charges of sexual battery.

Investigators called the victim’s cellphone, which pinged to a location near Cole’s home on Horseshoe Circle in Bryceville. When deputies arrived at the home, they said they found an extended cab Ford Ranger parked in the front with multiple BBs in plain view of the passenger floorboard. According to investigators, the tire tread on the truck appeared to be consistent with the tire tread near the victim’s car.

After receiving written consent to search Cole’s home, investigators said they found a pack of 305 brand cigarettes that appeared to match the partially smoked cigarette found near the victim’s car. Deputies said they later found the victim’s partially damaged cellphone on Horseshoe Circle, just a short distance from Cole’s home.

According to the warrant, Cole’s relatives told deputies that he arrived home a short time after 911 dispatch received a call about a kidnapping and sexual assault. Cole’s girlfriend, the warrant states, told deputies that he was working the evening the victim was kidnapped and assaulted, but when investigators called Cole’s employer, they were told he did not work on the evening of the alleged incident.

Cole’s cigarettes, cellphone and truck were seized as evidence.

When investigators went to the Stokes Road Bridge that connects Nassau County, Florida, to Charlton County, Georgia, they determined the alleged sexual assault happened in Georgia while the alleged kidnapping took place in Florida.

Cole was transported to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on the outstanding warrant for sexual battery. While at JSO headquarters, Cole was interviewed via phone by Charlton County investigators and GBI agents. According to the warrant, he repeatedly denied stopping to assist a motorist or having contact with anyone on County Road 121.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab technicians said they analyzed the tires on Cole’s truck and determined the tires could possibly have made impressions near the victim’s car, but it was not conclusive. But investigators said a DNA profile on the cigarette found near the victim’s car matched Cole’s DNA on file.

Court records show that Cole is a registered sexual predator who was convicted in Duval County back in 2003 on charges of attempted kidnapping. Court records show he was accused of attempting to kidnap an 11-year-old girl from a Westside Jacksonville Walmart by threatening to shoot the girl if she didn’t leave with him.

Cole currently faces two counts of sexual battery in Duval County after investigators said a woman was kidnapped, beaten and sexually assaulted in a secluded area on the Westside before being pushed into a ditch. Investigators said that the woman identified Cole as her attacker through a photo lineup.

News4JAX also found another open case in Duval County in which Cole is facing three counts of sexual battery and one count of kidnapping. In that case, court documents show, he stands accused of sexually assaulting a woman three times at three different locations while threatening the woman with boxcutters. The victim in that case, investigators said, also identified Cole through a photo lineup.

The two open cases in Jacksonville, along with the case in Nassau County and Charlton County, all appear to have happened within days of each other.

A Nassau County judge set Cole’s bond at $750,000.

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