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Philadelphia Police announced Tuesday that a man charged in a series of machete attacks last month is also believed to be responsible for a 2003 murder and multiple sexual assaults.
46-year-old Elias Diaz was arrested earlier this week for the November attacks on the Pennypack Trail, where he allegedly slashed multiple people before fleeing on a bike. On Tuesday, investigators also said evidence linked him to the July 13, 2003 killing of Rebecca Park while she was running in Fairmount Park, as well as at least two other attacks that occurred in Fairmount Park back in 2003 and an additional rape in Pennypack Park in 2007.
Investigators said it was actually earlier in the year that they came to believe Diaz was the “Fairmount Park rapist,” but authorities were unable to locate him. First Deputy Commissioner Frank Vanore said officers spoke with dozens of family members scattered across the U.S., many of whom reported being estranged from Diaz.
“There was information given to us when we started to search for him and they started to search for him, that he was in the area of Kensington. Somebody said he overdosed, no one [had] seen him for a time, so we had no idea where to find him or if he was living at a residence or was unsheltered at that point. We could not find him,” Vanore said.
Police said DNA technology connected Diaz to the crimes earlier this year.
District Attorney Larry Krasner said Diaz emerging as the prime suspect is the result of “excellent police work,” noting the advancements in technology since the case began nearly two decades ago.
“Something happened recently when DNA [technology] had advanced to the point where this kind of an effort to locate the guy who’s living off the grid, doesn’t have much of a criminal record, and just keeps delivering harm, almost exclusively to women… something happened,” Krasner said. “Science outran this guy’s bicycle. Science got him.”
The DA’s Office said it intends to charge Diaz with Park’s murder as soon as Wednesday. Krasner said any other victims or witnesses related to Diaz’s alleged attacks should contact the Women Against Abuse Legal Center by calling 215-686-7082, or WOAR Philadelphia at 215-985-3333.
Retired Police Captain John Darby was present for Tuesday’s announcement. He was the commanding officer of the Special Victims Unit during the initial investigation into Park’s murder.
“I can tell you the interviews of the victims, they were sobering,” Darby said. “When you get cases like this, they haunt you. 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.”
Interim Police Commissioner John Stanford said Diaz’s arrest should bring “some level of closure” to those who may have been a victim of his alleged crimes.
“It doesn’t bring back Rebecca Park,” Stanford said. “It doesn’t undo the incidents and the trauma that those victims had to incur, but what it does is it gives them some sense of knowing that there was somebody working along the way the entire time.”
In 2021, police used a DNA sample to create composite images of the alleged “Fairmount Park rapist” to inch closer to solving the crime.
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