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Pennypack Park slashings suspect named person of interest in "Fairmount Park Rapist" cold case: Philadelphia police

How DNA evidence helped link a suspect with "Fairmount rapist" crimes
How DNA evidence helped link a suspect with "Fairmount rapist" crimes 03:04

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The man arrested in the Pennypack Park trail slashings has been named a person of interest in the 2003 "Fairmount Park Rapist" cold case, Philadelphia police said Tuesday. 

Elias Diaz, 46, was arrested Sunday for a string of assaults on the Pennypack Park trail last month. Two days later, police said they uncovered DNA from Diaz that showed he was involved or a person of interest in the murder of Rebecca Park in July 2003. 

"Everything we have at this point leads us to believe that Mr. Diaz is also involved or a person of interest in the murder of Rebecca Park, which occurred in July 2003, as well as two or three other sexual assaults that occurred in Fairmount Park over a period of time," interim Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Stanford said during a news conference Tuesday.


John Darby, a retired Philadelphia police captain who worked the "Fairmont Park Rapist" case from its inception, was stunned by the announcement.

"When you get cases like this, they haunt you," Darby said. "Investigators will tell you the last thing they think about at night, the first thing they think about in the morning is cases like these."

What are the charges?

Diaz was officially charged Wednesday with murder, rape and multiple other counts in connection to Park's death.

How did they connect the Pennypack and Fairmount cases? 

Frank Vanore, the first deputy commissioner of Philadelphia Police Department, said a lot of help from the community and years of detective work went into connecting the Pennypack Park and "Fairmount Park Rapist" cases.

Police interviews over the years described the suspect in the "Fairmount Park Rapist" cases to be an "apex predator."

The first incident at Fairmount Park in the series of attacks happened on April 30, 2003, police said. A 21-year-old woman said she was attacked by a man at 10:30 p.m. on Kelly and Fountain Green Drive while she was out jogging.

A few months later on July 16, Philadelphia detectives took a report of a missing woman, later identified as Park, who was living in the area and attending college as a medical student. Her body was eventually found after she was raped and strangled to death in dense woods along Conshohocken Avenue.

On Oct. 25, 2003, another woman said she was dragged out to the river by a man at Fairmount Park at West River Drive. She was injured during the attack, police said, and she fought the attacker off.

Timeline: When the alleged Fairmount Park crimes occurred 02:20

Four years later in 2007, a woman in her 20s was sexually assaulted not too far from the Pennypack Park slashings in the 8th District, police said.

Vanore said in each of these cases, the victims described a purple, metallic 10-speed bicycle used by the offender. In three of the four attacks, DNA was collected as evidence and used years later to connect the attacks to Diaz.

Vanore said they used the same genealogy databases that helped them crack the "Boy in the Box" cold case earlier this year. He added they also got help from the FBI and Special Victims Unit, which led them to more investigative leads, including locating more than a thousand of Diaz's distant family members in the United States and Puerto Rico.

RELATED: "The Boy in the Box" identified as Joseph Augustus Zarelli

Vanore said Diaz only had one prior incident with the police and authorities had zero DNA on file for the suspect.

"These cases were all matched together and we knew that we had a pattern of DNA, and we knew had the same offender in these cases," Vanore said.

Police believe Diaz was living in an encampment in Pennypack Park before his arrest.

"We were able to find an area today that we believe he was using as a shelter and we served a search warrant and collected evidence from there," Stanford said.

DA asks other victims to come forward

If any other victims were allegedly harmed or assaulted by Diaz, District Attorney Larry Krasner is asking them to come forward.

Krasner said victims or witnesses can contact 911 or Women Organized Against Rape at 215-985-3333. 

"It is extremely important that we get justice for everyone who has been affected by such a predator and such a concerning danger to the community," Krasner said. 

Police provide update on slashings suspect being connected to "Fairmount Park Rapist" 29:17

Krasner also took part of his time during the news conference to pitch to Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker's incoming administration to provide more funding for forensic science in Philly to help them crack more cases like the "Fairmount Park Rapist."

RELATED: Philadelphia Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker names "intergovernmental roundtable"

"This kind of an effort to locate a guy who is living off the grid, doesn't have much of a criminal record and just keeps delivering harm to -- almost exclusively to women -- but just keeps delivering harm to people, something happened," Krasner said. "Science outran this guy's bicycle, science got him, and that is a beautiful thing."

Pennypack Park slashings

The alleged slashings at Pennypack Park in Northeast Philadelphia happened in late November. Police claim the victims were all exercising on the trail. Diaz allegedly wielded a knife and was riding a bike during the incidents.

One incident happened on the 2800 block of Holme Avenue around 8:15 a.m. on Nov. 22. Police allege Diaz cut a man who was running on the trail multiple times. The victim was treated at Nazareth Hospital.

Two days later, around 9 a.m. on Nov. 24, police claim Diaz attacked another person in the 2800 block of Winchester Avenue on the trail. Diaz allegedly attacked a man who was walking on the trail with a knife. The victim suffered wounds to his right arm and hands, and he was treated at Jefferson Torresdale Hospital.

Police said a woman reported in early December an incident involving Diaz that took place on Nov. 25. According to police, the woman came across Diaz around 8:30 a.m. She reported seeing a man riding a black BMX-style bike who began yelling at her. Police claim the man attempted to get something from her, but she was able to escape unharmed.

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