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Naked Body Found In 1977 Has Been Identified As Mother Of 2, Wife Of Ex-Cop Who Said She'd Left Town

“We never in a million years ever, ever thought that it was foul play or something would happen to her," Marie Heiser’s son said after her remains were identified using DNA phenotyping.

By Dorian Geiger
How To Use DNA To Crack A Case

The body of a woman that turned up in Delaware nearly 45 years ago has been confirmed as Marie Petry Heiser, the wife of a deceased Philadelphia police officer who told their kids she had packed up and left, authorities and the family said this week.

Earlier this month, police confirmed Marie Petry Heiser's decomposed remains were identified via forensics. 

Marie Heiser, who was married to former highway patrolman William Heiser, was never reported missing back in 1977. In June of that year, her nude body was found by a teenage cyclist in a wooded area in Townsend, Delaware. She was 50 years old.

At the time, detectives canvassed the area for clues. Police, who “heavily relied” on fingerprints and dental records then, were unable to identify the woman. The case soon went cold.

In 2008, DNA collected from Heiser’s remains was entered into an FBI database but failed to turn up any matches. The efforts, however, yielded the first composite sketch of Heiser. Nine years later, DNA phenotyping pinpointed a possible family tree. Detectives then collected DNA samples from a number of individuals who were potential relatives of the deceased.

Marie Petry Heiser 1 Pd

The genetic profiles later matched the analysis of Heiser’s remains, and her identity was confirmed by Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Collins of the Delaware Division of Forensic Science.

Marie Heiser’s death had originally been ruled a homicide.

Heiser was a homemaker, authorities said, and prior to her death, the mother of two worked part-time at a local country club in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. Her husband, William Hesier, was employed by the Philadelphia Police Department’s Highway Patrol in the 1950s and 1960s.

The couple had been known for “performing thrill shows” at local stadiums, police said. 

Marie Petry Heiser 2 Pd

Heiser's children welcomed “some sense of closure" surrounding their mother’s disappearance. Her son recalled being told by his dad that their mother packed their bags and left.

"We were told things weren’t good at the house," Bill Heiser told WTXF. "She ended up packing up and leaving. We never in a million years ever, ever thought that it was foul play or something would happen to her."

Heiser also worked as a law enforcement officer while living in Florida, authorities said. In the late 1970s he sold the family’s house and moved to South Daytona, Florida.  After retiring from policing, he took a job as a truck driver. He died after a "short battle" cancer in 2006, according to the Delaware News Journal

Police have since asked for further public assistance in unraveling additional details behind Marie Heiser’s murder.

“The New Castle County Police are continuing their investigation into Marie Petry Heiser’s death,” the department said in a statement. “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 with information related to Heiser’s disappearance and murder is urged to 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.

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