NATIONAL NEWS

DNA may link Philadelphia man accused of slashing people on trail to a cold-case murder, police say

Dec 19, 2023, 3:40 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Authorities say a man accused of slashing people with a large knife while riding a bicycle on a trail in Philadelphia in recent weeks is now a person of interest in the cold-case murder of a medical student that occurred among a series of high-profile sexual assaults in a large city park two decades ago.

Elias Diaz, 46, is charged with aggravated assault and other counts in the attacks or attempted attacks in late November and early December, where police say he used a machete-type knife against people on the Pennypack Park Trail in northeast Philadelphia.

Interim Police Commissioner John Stanford Jr. said Diaz’s DNA appeared to connect him to the 2003 strangulation murder of a medical student in the city’s sprawling Fairmount Park and perhaps to several other sexual attacks there. Stanford said Diaz is now a person of interest and charges were pending final confirmation of the DNA link.

Rebecca Park, 30, a fourth-year student at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine from Olney, Maryland, vanished after going running in the park in July 2003. Her body was found buried under wood and leaves in a steep hillside in the park, about 200 feet (60 meters) off the road, authorities said.

Police said that crime was linked to the April 2003 rape of a 21-year-old jogger in the park, and in October of that year a 37-year-old woman managed to fight off a man who tried to rape her. In 2007, a 29-year-old woman walking on a path in Pennypack Park was sexually assaulted and robbed, police said.

In 2021, a DNA analysis helped create a series of composite sketches of the man believed responsible for the assaults, and genealogy databases yielded a link to a man named Elias Diaz but he couldn’t be found. Officials said the suspect just arrested had previous contact with police but authorities didn’t have his DNA until his arrest in the recent assaults.

The Defender Association of Philadelphia, which is listed in court documents as representing Diaz in the recent cases, declined comment before the news conference on those charges and any potential new ones.

Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore, chief of homicide in the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, said she expected final DNA results before the end of the day and “fully” anticipated charging Elias Diaz with murder and related offenses in Park’s death.

Stanford said the Fairmount Park assault cases and Park’s slaying had “haunted” the community and the department, pointing to the presence of retired Capt. John Darby, who had just assumed command of the special victims unit when the assaults began.

“This was important enough for him today to come back,” he said. “These are the type of cases that haunt you until you’re able to bring some closure to it.”

Darby echoed his words, saying “Investigators will tell you, they go home, the last thing they think about before they go to bed at night, the first thing they think about when they wake up in the morning, is cases like these.”

National News

Associated Press

Widespread power outages from deadly Houston storm raise new risk: hot weather

HOUSTON (AP) — As the Houston area works to clean up and restore power to thousands after deadly storms, it will do so Saturday under a smog warning and as all of southern Texas starts to feel the heat. The National Weather Service in Houston warned that with temperatures hitting around 90 degrees (32.2 C) […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Man shoots his 6-month-old baby multiple times at home near Phoenix, but child expected to survive

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — A man shot his 6-month-old baby multiple times Friday at a home northwest of Phoenix after taking the infant and its mother captive, but the mother escaped with minor injuries and the child was expected to survive, authorities said. They said the status of the suspect remained unknown after a fire […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Missouri candidate with ties to the KKK can stay on the Republican ballot, judge rules

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A longshot Missouri gubernatorial candidat e with ties to the Ku Klux Klan will stay on the Republican ticket, a judge ruled Friday. Cole County Circuit Court Judge Cotton Walker denied a request by the Missouri GOP to kick Darrell McClanahan out of the August Republican primary. McClanahan is running […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

UN experts say South Sudan is close to securing a $13 billion oil-backed loan from a UAE company

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. experts say South Sudan is close to securing a $13 billion loan from a company in the United Arab Emirates, despite the oil-rich country’s difficulties in managing debts backed by its oil reserves. The panel of experts said in a report to the U.N. Security Council that loan documents it […]

11 hours ago

Associated Press

A murderous romance or frame job? Things to know about Boston’s Karen Read murder trial

BOSTON (AP) — A highly anticipated trial in Massachusetts involving a woman accused of striking her Boston police officer boyfriend with her SUV and leaving him for dead in a snowbank is finishing its third week on Friday. The case has garnered national attention because the defense alleges that state and local law enforcement officials […]

11 hours ago

Associated Press

US security alert warns Americans overseas of potential attacks on LGBTQ events

WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department renewed a global security warning Friday for Americans overseas, adding to it that LGBTQ people and events in particular face an “increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence.” The alert is a standard renewal of travel advice telling Americans to exercise increased caution against possible attacks by violent extremist […]

11 hours ago

DNA may link Philadelphia man accused of slashing people on trail to a cold-case murder, police say