When Cathy Zimmer went missing 25 years ago, her estranged husband piped up with a suggestion: Check the local airport.

Sure enough, police found her body in an airport lot under a quilt in her car, leaving them more than a little suspicious that her husband, David Zimmer, had something to do with her strangulation. Even so, the case remained unsolved for years.

It wasn't until David's brother, Robert Zimmer, was accused of another crime recently that the case regained momentum, winding up with both men being booked last month on murder charges and held without bail.

On Monday, new details like David's startling suggestion about the airport and his brother's recent arrest on child molestation charges surfaced when Robert implored a judge to set $100,000 bail so he can return home to Santa Clara.

Cathy Zimmer was strangled 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
Cathy Zimmer was strangled 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)

His lawyer, Steve DeFilippis, argued that the evidence is thin against Robert and that he is not a danger to the community because he suffers from a severe heart condition. Stooped over with white hair and a graying beard, the 70-year-old appeared physically frail.

But in a 18-page brief, Santa Clara County cold-case prosecutor Ted Kajani revealed what he called clear and convincing evidence of both men's guilt. They have denied the charges. Superior Court Judge Hector Ramon agreed and refused to set bail.

According to the brief, when Cathy Zimmer was killed in March 1989, David was having an affair with fellow Boeing engineer Alexis Flippen at NASA-Ames/Moffett Field, where they both worked. They were living together in Woodside, though Cathy apparently was unaware of the affair.


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David wanted a divorce, but continued to mislead Cathy about his plans, according to investigator Michael Brown, who submitted a written declaration. David also knew her schedule at San Jose State, where she was last seen in a marketing class on March 8, 1989, and the location of the lot where she usually parked, according to the brief.

The next day, Cathy's then-18-year-old son reported her missing, prompting a search that included the airport at David's suggestion. David also pointed police to the possibility Cathy had been a victim of a robbery, the declaration states. It turned out her diamond-and-emerald wedding ring was missing.

The prosecution alleges that David netted $409,000 from the sale of their house and insurance policies. He apparently also reneged on a promise to create a trust fund for Cathy's son and 14-year-old daughter, whom he had helped raise for 11 years.

David also told investigators in 1989 that Cathy's daughter had gone to live with her natural father at the father's request. But the father said it was David who called him and said he couldn't take care of the kids.

Despite disturbing signs that David may have been less than truthful with the cops, the case went cold until 2010, when Cathy's brother-in-law Robert was accused of molesting a teenage relative by kissing her in a sexual manner. He was initially charged with a felony but eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

A sample of Robert's DNA was eventually obtained in that case from a bloody tissue, and it was matched to a sample found on the zipper and button of the pants Cathy was wearing when she was strangled. Investigators then interviewed Robert without telling him about the match. He gave them what investigator Brown characterized as an "evasive" statement, insisting that he had no personal or sexual relationship with Cathy and couldn't remember if he'd ever been alone in a car with her.

Brown also claimed in his declaration that Robert may be better off in jail than at home in terms of his health. The investigator said he had seen Robert smoking cigarettes "numerous times" in 2013 and earlier this year. In contrast, inmates are not allowed to smoke.

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