( New Castle, DE 19720) Today (Mar 23) The New Castle County Division of Police Criminal Investigations Unit, Cold Case Squad are announcing the identification of human remains that were discovered more than 40 years ago in the area of Townsend, Delaware.

In June 1977, the body of a female was located in the wooded area off Old Union Church Road (County Road 456) by an area teenager who was traveling home on his bicycle.  New Castle County Police as well as officials from the State of Delaware Medical Examiner’s Office responded to the scene to conduct an investigation. The Delaware Medical Examiner, at the time, determined the manner of the victim’s death to be homicide.  

Police conducted an extensive investigation into the woman’s murder but were not able to identify her or obtain any leads.  The case grew cold.   At the time, police relied heavily on fingerprints and dental records in hopes to identify human remains. 

In 2008, information regarding the discovery of the body and surrounding circumstances were reviewed for entry into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). As part of the case entry process, a DNA profile from the remains was extracted by University of North Texas for Human Identification and was entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). There were no matches found in the nationwide system.

In February 2017, New Castle County Police learned of the Virginia company called Parabon Nanolabs, which specializes in DNA phenotyping.  Phenotyping is a process of predicting physical traits and ancestry from DNA evidence.

Thom Shaw, IAI Certified Forensic Artist at Parabon Nanolabs, completed a sketch of the victim. The lab subsequently provided a Snapshot Phenotype Report to include a computerized composite of the victim (see images below). Parabon Nanolabs further submitted the genetic information to ancestry databases and provided genetic genealogy analysis which included a potential family tree for the victim.

New Castle County Police report that the breakthrough in this investigation occurred when Montgomery County Maryland Officer Steven Smugeresky became involved in the case.  Members of the Cold Case Squad consulted with Officer Smugeresky after he conducted a presentation at a Law Enforcement Cold Case Seminar. In 2019, Officer Smugeresky took over the ancestry researching of the victim’s DNA profile.  He worked tirelessly on potential family trees in an attempt to develop information on the identity of the remains.  New Castle County Police followed up on these leads and obtained DNA samples from possible relatives. 

The Delaware Division of Forensic Science DNA Laboratory expeditiously conducted analysis of the possible relative samples and extracted DNA profiles. The profiles were entered into CODIS and a positive comparison to the 1977 remains was received.  

Based on that analysis, the identity of Marie Petry Heiser was confirmed by Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Collins of the Delaware Division of Forensic Science. Dr. Collins concurred with the initial Pathologist, ruling Heiser’s manner of death to be homicide.

Marie Petry Heiser is formerly from the 6200 block of Crafton Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was determined that Marie Petry Heiser was 50 years old at the time of her death and had not been reported missing to any police agency.  

Heiser was the wife of William Heiser Sr.  who was a member of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Highway Patrol from the 1950’s until the early 1960’s.  They were known for performing thrill shows in area stadiums and arenas.  Heiser Sr.  had to leave the Police Force after being seriously injured while rehearsing for one of these shows. He then worked as a truck driver for an area transportation company.   William Heiser Sr. relocated to the area of South Daytona Beach Florida in the late 1970’s and subsequently died in 2006.

Marie Petry Heiser was a homemaker and parttime employee at the former Ashbourne Country Club in Cheltenham Pennsylvania in the 1970’s.    She was the mother of two children, a daughter who currently resides in California and a son who lives in Florida.   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.  Her son, William Heiser Jr. is a retired Police Officer from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Department in Florida. 

Heiser Jr stated that he appreciated all of the hard work by law enforcement in identifying his mother as it gave his family some sense of closure regarding her disappearance.   The New Castle County Police are continuing their investigation into Marie Petry Heiser’s death.  We are specifically interested in anyone who may have known the Heiser family, especially from the area of Crafton Street in Philadelphia or the former Ashbourne Country Club in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania as well as the greater South Daytona Beach area in Florida.

Anyone who has any information about this incident, please contact Detective Jeffrey Sendek at 302-395-8110 or via email at Jeffery.Sendek@newcastlede.gov or Lt Teresa Williams (RET) at 302-395-8110 or Teresa.Williams@new castlede.gov or by calling the New Castle County Division of Police non-emergency number at 302-573-2800.

Citizens can text a tip anonymously simply by texting the number 847411 keyword: NCCDE. You can also submit a tip via our website at http://www.nccpd.com. Tipsters may also call Crime Stoppers at (800) TIP-3333 or visit us on Facebook (IM) at New Castle County Division of Police.

Sketch by Thom Shaw IAI Certified Forensic Artist Parabon Nanolabs (left image)

Snapshot DNA Phenotyping  Composite Profile Parabon Nanolabs (right image)