Delaware police identified the body of a woman who was found dead nearly 45 years ago as the wife of a cop who never reported her missing.
The body of Philadelphia resident Marie Petry Heiser, 50, was found in a wooded area off a road in June of 1977, New Castle County Police announced Tuesday. A teenager had discovered Heiser’s body while riding home on his bicycle. The woman had likely been there for weeks, a medical examiner had ruled, according to Delaware Online.
At the time, Heiser was married to William Heiser Sr., a member of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Highway Patrol during the 1950s and early 1960s. Heiser Sr. eventually worked as a truck driver while Heiser was a “homemaker” raising their two children, according to New Castle County Police.
“The children had been told by their father that their mother had packed her bags and left the residence in Philadelphia, leaving behind no information on where she had gone,” police stated. They determined Heiser was never reported missing by anyone. Heiser Sr. sold the family home in Dec. 1977 and moved to Florida, according to police. He died of cancer in 2006.
“We were told things weren’t good at the house,” Heiser’s son and retired police officer, Bill Heiser Jr., told Fox 29. “We never in a million years ever thought that it was foul play or something would happen to her.”
New Castle County Police and officials from the Delaware Medical Examiner’s Office launched an investigation in 1977, with the medical examiner ruling Heiser’s death a homicide. (RELATED: Missing 22-Year-Old That Sent Cryptic Text Before Disappearance Found Dead On Train Tracks)
At the time, officials were unable to identify the body through fingerprints and dental records. The case “grew cold,” police said.
However, information about the body and circumstances was eventually filed in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System in 2008. The University of North Texas Center for Human Identification tried to match the data but were unsuccessful in finding a match, police said.
A company based in Virginia that specializes in DNA phenotypic data also tried to identify the victim in 2017. The company managed to produce a digital image of Heiser and generate some genetic information that could be used to potentially create a family tree, according to police.
In 2019, Montgomery County Maryland Officer Steven Smugeresky took over the ancestry research of the victim’s DNA profile. Police then used the ancestry leads to obtain DNA samples from possible relatives, and they eventually found a match.
The case remains under investigation.