A man accused of carrying out a series of recent knife attacks on a Philadelphia trail while riding a bicycle has been formally charged in connection with a cold-case rape and murder that occurred over two decades ago. Elias Diaz, aged 46, faced arraignment on Wednesday, where he was charged with murder, rape, and other counts in the 2003 slaying of medical student Rebecca Park. He is being held without bail pending a preliminary hearing scheduled for January 8. Diaz was previously in custody on charges related to the recent knife attacks that took place in late November and early December on the Pennypack Park trail in northeast Philadelphia, where he allegedly used a machete-type knife against victims.
The Defender Association of Philadelphia, listed as representing Diaz in both the 2003 case and the recent attacks, declined to comment on the charges.
Interim Police Commissioner John Stanford Jr. stated that Diaz’s DNA appears to connect him to the 2003 strangulation killing of Rebecca Park, as well as potentially to other sexual assaults in the sprawling Fairmount Park. Park, a 30-year-old medical student from Olney, Maryland, disappeared in July 2003 after going for a run in the park. Her body was discovered buried beneath wood and leaves on a steep hillside in the park, approximately 200 feet off the road.
Authorities believe that this crime is linked to the rape of a 21-year-old jogger in the park in April 2003 and an attempted rape on a 37-year-old woman in the same year. Additionally, in 2007, a 29-year-old woman was sexually assaulted and robbed while walking on a path in Pennypack Park. However, no charges have been filed in those cases to date.
In 2021, DNA analysis led to the creation of composite sketches of the suspected assailant responsible for the assaults. Genealogy databases revealed a connection to a man named Elias Diaz, but his whereabouts were unknown. Officials noted that the recently arrested suspect had prior interactions with law enforcement, but his DNA was not on record until his arrest in connection with the recent assaults.
Stanford expressed that the unsolved cases from two decades ago had left a lasting impact on the community and the police department.