A man arrested in Philadelphia machete attacks may be linked to a 2003 murder and assault

By | December 20, 2023

A man arrested in Philadelphia on Sunday in connection with three machete attacks or attempted machete attacks is also a person of interest in the 2003 murder of a jogger and several past sex crimes, the city’s police chief said Tuesday.

Elias Diaz, 46, is charged only in connection with a Nov. 24 attack in which two people walking on a trail were slashed with a machete, interim Police Chief John Stanford said at a news conference.

But after DNA and other evidence was collected following his arrest Sunday, police believe Diaz also committed the earlier crimes 20 years ago, Stanford said.

As police continued to search for information about the sexual assaults years after the fact, they became known in Philadelphia as the “Fairmount Park Rapists” cases.

“Everything we have at this time 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 possibly two or three other sexual assaults that took place in Fairmount Park for a period of time,” Stanford said.

machete attack attacker police newser (NBC10 Philadelphia)

machete attack attacker police newser (NBC10 Philadelphia)

Police are waiting for confirmation of DNA tests, he added.

The first of the machete attacks occurred on Nov. 22 on a trail when a cyclist shouted that he was planning to pass someone else, the police chief said. As the cyclist passed, the attacker slashed his hands and arms with a machete, Stanford said.

The other two people, a man and a woman, were attacked on Nov. 24 as they walked along a path in Pennypack Park around 9 a.m., Stanford said. The next day, a man with a machete tried to attack a woman, but she escaped and was not injured, according to Stanford.

That most recent attempted attack wasn’t reported until Dec. 6, and on Sunday Diaz was arrested after someone reported to police that a man was riding a bicycle with a machete attached to it, the police chief said.

The crimes in 2003 and 2007 involved two sexual assaults, one attempted sexual assault, and the assault and murder of Park, a 30-year-old student who went missing in July 2003 and whose body was later found buried under dirt and sand. leaves in a wooded area, police said.

The first of these crimes occurred on April 30, 2003, First Deputy Police Commissioner Frank Vanore said at a news conference on Tuesday.

  • April 30, 2003: A 21-year-old woman said she was jogging around 10:30 p.m. when someone attacked her. She gave police a description and police collected DNA and entered it into a database.

  • July 16, 2003: Rebecca Park, who disappeared but left all her belongings, car keys and cell phone in her apartment, is reported missing. Investigators believe she had gone jogging. Her body was later found in a wooded area covered in dirt, leaves and rocks after someone reported hearing a person screaming in the area. DNA was also collected and put in a database.

  • October 25, 2003: A 37-year-old woman said she was attacked near the Falls Bridge over the Schuylkill River around 6:15 p.m. by an assailant who tried to drag her to the river’s edge. The woman stopped him and gave a detailed description that matched the earlier description. “There really was no DNA in that case, but we felt it fit the pattern because of the description,” Vanore said.

  • August 11, 2007: A man sexually assaulted a woman while walking in Pennypack Park. The location of this attack was not far from where the machete attacks took place, Vanore said. DNA was collected and entered into a database, he said.

All of the surviving victims described someone riding a metallic purple bicycle with a 10-speed transmission, Vanore said.

“At some point these cases were all compared and we knew we had a DNA pattern,” Vanore said. “And we knew we had the same perpetrator in these cases.”

A few years ago, police submitted the information to a private genealogy company and a DNA analyst, leading to investigative leads that “led directly to an individual with this name,” Vanore said.

The FBI earlier this year limited family contacts to one branch of a large family tree and began eliminating people, he said. Investigators found a hiding place in a park where Diaz may have recently lived, but Vanore said he did not know his whereabouts for the past 20 years.

Diaz has not been charged in the 2003 or 2007 cases, but Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said more charges in the killing are likely to follow.

“I fully expect to charge Elias Diaz with murder and related crimes in connection with the killing of Rebecca Park,” she said. The DNA results could come back as soon as Tuesday evening, she said.

Park’s father died last year, but police contacted a sibling to inform them of the development, Vanore said. At least two of the other victims have also been contacted, he said.

Online court records show Diaz is represented by a public defender. The public defender’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.

Stanford, the interim police commissioner, praised the dedication of the police officer who arrested Sunday, “as well as all the hard investigative work that has gone into these cases over the past 20 years.”

The matter is still under investigation, he said. Police are awaiting confirmation of DNA testing and officials said Tuesday that anyone who may have been a victim in the past or who has information should contact police.

Now-retired Philadelphia police Capt. John Darby, who was commander of the department’s Special Victims Unit when the cases occurred in 2003 and 2007, called Tuesday “an important day.”

“When you get these kinds of cases, they come after you,” he said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Researchers will tell you that when 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, are these types of cases.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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