A man suspected of raping at least 25 women in three states has been arrested in a 1973 rape after DNA tests on the victim's underwear linked him to the attack, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Clarence Williams (search), 58, was connected this month to the 1973 rape of a Manhattan woman and to strings of attacks in Maryland and New Jersey after the federal DNA database matched a sample from him to genetic evidence left in many of those attacks, said District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

"This case shows the importance of the federal database," Morgenthau said. "It will send a chill through defendants to know that you can still test for DNA after 32 years."

Williams had been charged with rape, sexual abuse, robbery, criminal possession of a weapon and several lesser crimes in the Manhattan rape. His 1974 trial ended with a hung jury. A conviction for a separate rape in Queens was reversed in 1976, Morgenthau said.

Williams was released on bail pending retrial on the two cases, but fled in 1978 and arrest warrants were issued. He was caught last year in Georgia after he tried to buy a shotgun and the warrants came up during a background check, Morgenthau said.

This month, cold case prosecutors submitted the Manhattan rape victim's underwear for testing and the results were successfully matched against a federal DNA database (search).

Williams could face about 16 to 50 years in prison if convicted in the Manhattan rape.

Morgenthau would not comment on possible charges against Williams in the other attacks in New York, Maryland and New Jersey.

Williams' lawyer could not be reached immediately for comment on Tuesday, his office said.