Elias Diaz is charged in the death of Rebecca Park in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park

Matt Rourke/AP

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, at the podium, speaks alongside projected images of suspect Elias Diaz during a news conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday.



CNN

A man has been charged with the rape and murder of a woman in 2003 after being arrested following a recent spate of machete attacks, according to Philadelphia authorities, who say DNA evidence links him to the unsolved case.

Elias Diaz, 46, has been charged in the 20-year-old death of Rebecca Park in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, officials said this week.

He was arrested on Sunday in connection with the machete attacks that took place last month, First Deputy Police Commissioner John Stanford said at a news conference on Tuesday. The attacker was riding a bicycle on a trail in Pennypack Park, authorities said.

Diaz declined to give his name when he was arrested, but was identified through his fingerprints, officials said. Police also took DNA from him.

Investigators now believe DNA and other evidence links him to the 2003 murder, authorities said this week. Diaz is now charged with murder, rape, aggravated indecent assault and possession of an instrument of crime, among other allegations, in Park’s slaying, prosecutors said Wednesday in a statement.

Diaz also faces charges including aggravated assault in connection with two alleged machete attacks in November.

CNN sought comment from the Philadelphia Public Defenders Association, which represents Diaz.

Park, 30, a college student, disappeared after going jogging in 2003, police said. Her body was found in a wooded area, buried under rings of leaves and rocks, in Fairmount Park. Police collected DNA evidence.

Jacqueline Larma/AP

Philadelphia police enter the area of ​​Fairmount Park where Rebecca Park’s body was found in 2003.

Two other women who were assaulted during the same six-month period gave matching descriptions of their attacker, according to police. A woman was attacked in April 2003 by a Spanish man on a bicycle. Police were able to collect DNA from that incident. Another woman attacked in October 2003 gave a very similar description of her attacker, Philadelphia police said Tuesday.

Another attack in 2007, sexually assaulting a 25-year-old woman, took place near where the recent machete attacks took place, police said. The woman gave the same description of a man on a bicycle. Police were able to collect DNA from that incident.

Police said Diaz could face other assault charges.

All the DNA from the various crimes was entered into a database and they matched, said Frank Vanore, first deputy commissioner of police field operations.

“We knew we had a DNA pattern and we knew we had the same offender in these cases,” even though they couldn’t identify who he was, Vanore said.

In 2021, police created a composite sketch using the unknown man’s DNA.

Investigators sent the DNA to a genealogy lab and used publicly available genealogical databases, police said, finding more than 1,000 family members.

“It was a very large tree,” said Philadelphia forensics lab chief Ryan Gallagher, with connections across the country, including Puerto Rico. “There were no clear associations with the Philadelphia area.”

Gallagher said police worked with multiple law enforcement partners and were able to narrow the tree down to one branch of the family. Elias Diaz has been identified as a potential person of interest.

“This case goes back to 2003,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner. “This suspect was riding a bike and has been on the run ever since.”

Krasner said DNA techniques had advanced to the point where investigators were finally able to identify Diaz.

“Science got ahead of this guy’s bike,” Krasner said, comparing it to how the Golden State Killer was caught in California. “Science got it.”

A preliminary hearing in the November machete attacks is set for Jan. 3, and a preliminary hearing in the 2003 slaying is set for Jan. 8, online court records show.

CNN’s Laura Dolan contributed to this report.

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