Nearly 25 years after police found Cathy Zimmer's body under a quilt in her car at San Jose airport, prosecutors Friday announced the arrests of her second husband and his brother for her murder.

The breakthrough came just weeks after Santa Clara County prosecutors revealed the existence of the colorful patchwork quilt for the first time, hoping somebody would recognize it and lead them to whoever strangled the 38-year-old mother of two.

Instead, it appears DNA evidence found on an "intimate area" of Cathy Zimmer's clothing helped lead investigators to her brother-in-law Robert Zimmer, 69, of Santa Clara. He was arrested last week and is being held without bail on a murder charge, according to a brief court document. His next court date is April 18, prosecutors said.

Cathy Zimmer was strangled to death and her body was left in her Chrysler New Yorker at the San Jose Airport on March 10, 1989. Courtesy of the Santa Clara
Cathy Zimmer was strangled to death and her body was left in her Chrysler New Yorker at the San Jose Airport on March 10, 1989. Courtesy of the Santa Clara District Attorney's office ( Courtesy of the Santa Clara Dist )

Cathy Zimmer's husband, David Zimmer, 66, of Half Moon Bay, was arrested Friday. The Zimmers were in the midst of a separation when she was killed March 10, 1989. He is expected to be arraigned next week.

Family members were unavailable for comment after prosecutors announced the charges Friday afternoon.

David Zimmer profited financially from his wife's death, according to the District Attorney's Office. Within a month of her slaying, he had sold their home for more than $225,000 and collected proceeds from two life insurance policies totaling $183,000, according to the District Attorney's Office.

But citing an ongoing investigation, prosecutor Ted Kajani declined to provide many other details of how the cold-case unit he runs solved the case almost 25 years to the day of Zimmer's death.


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For instance, Kajani would not explain the reference in the court document to Robert Zimmer's DNA being found on an "intimate area" of Cathy Zimmer's clothing. In February, the prosecutor had said it didn't appear as if Zimmer was sexually assaulted.

The DNA from the unidentified item of clothing was apparently matched to a sample of Robert Zimmer's DNA in the crime lab's database, according to the court document. Robert Zimmer's DNA could have been on file because he was arrested in Santa Clara County in fall 2010, according to a court record. It was not immediately clear what he was arrested for then.

Other evidence links Robert Zimmer to the case. In 2010, his daughter Paula Zimmer told a San Jose detective that her father had told her the day Cathy Zimmer was killed that he was worried about her and concerned his fingerprints would be found in her dark blue Chrysler New Yorker, which was found in a short-term parking lot at San Jose's airport two days after she disappeared.

In January, investigators for the District Attorney's Office met with Robert Zimmer, who told them he had no personal or sexual relationship with the victim. But when asked if he was ever alone in a car with her, he stated that he "did not recall," according to the court document.

Restored in 2011 by District Attorney Jeff Rosen, the cold case unit has now helped solve five major cases.

"When I reinstated the cold case unit to assist county law enforcement with the investigation of unsolved homicides and sexual assaults, it was these kinds of arrests that I had in mind," Rosen said in a statement. "We do not forget victims, nor do we ever give up on justice."

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport