Police release new sketch of person of interest in 1990 Bay Area murder

Using new technology, East Bay Regional Park District police released a composite sketch Thursday of a person of interest in the murder of 32-year-old Maria Jane Weidhofer in Tilden Regional Park in the East Bay hills nearly 27 years ago.

Weidhofer, 32, a native of Claremont in Los Angeles County who graduated from University of California at Davis with honors in studio art and worked for a macrobiotic bakery in Emeryville, was killed on the morning of Nov. 15, 1990, during one of her regular jogs on the Nimitz Way Trail.

The trail is adjacent to the scenic Inspiration Way parking lot and is a site popular with runners, walkers and bicyclists.

A pathologist determined that Weidhofer died from strangulation and that she had been sexually assaulted, according to authorities.

East Bay parks police said her body was found along the trail about one mile north of Inspiration Point.

Police said their investigation disclosed that the suspect had lain in wait on a bench near the entrance to the trail.

Witnesses described a suspicious man who was “Italian” or European in appearance who was about 25 to 30 years old and had a slender build with broad shoulders, short dark hair that was neatly-groomed, and a moustache, police said.

Although DNA was collected at the murder scene, it has yet to result in a match in the FBI’s DNA database, according to police.

In the many years since Weidhofer was killed, investigators have been able to eliminate potential persons of interest from further inquiry but have been unable to determine a prime suspect, police said.

They recently sought the services of Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia that specializes in DNA phenotyping, which is the process of predicting physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence.

Police said law enforcement agencies use the company’s “Snapshot DNA Phenotyping Service” to narrow suspect lists and generate leads in criminal investigations.

The Snapshot service produced trait predictions for an “associated person of interest” in Weidhofer’s murder that made individual predictions for the suspect’s ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling and face shape, according to police.

By combining those attributes of appearance, a Snapshot composite was produced depicting what the person of interest may have looked like at 25 years old and with an average body-mass index of 22. Those default values were used because age and BMI cannot be determined from DNA, police said.

Police said important to note that Snapshot composites are scientific approximations of appearance based on DNA, and are not likely to be exact replicas of a person’s appearance.

Environmental factors such as smoking, drinking, diet, and others such as facial hair, hairstyle and scars can’t be predicted by DNA analysis and may cause further variation between the subject’s predicted and actual appearances, according to police.

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