SAN JOSE -- A colorful patchwork quilt found 25 years ago wrapped around the body of a strangled San Jose woman may be the key to solving her cold-case murder, authorities said Thursday.
Revealing for the first time that the blanket may be a significant clue in the unsolved case, prosecutors now are asking for the public's help in identifying the handmade quilt, hoping it will lead them to whoever strangled 38-year-old Cathy Zimmer.
"Cathy Zimmer was slain two and a half decades ago, but her family has never forgotten her," said prosecutor Ted Kajani, head of the cold-case unit for the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.
"We, too, have never forgotten her. We, too, have never given up. We are asking the public to take a look at this quilt and call us if you know anything about it."
Police found Zimmer's body in the back seat of her dark blue Chrysler New Yorker on March 10, 1989, in a short-term parking lot at San Jose's airport two days after she disappeared.
The six-by-four-foot quilt is composed of predominantly blue and red irregularly shaped, flowered squares, and trimmed with a mustard yellow-orange border.
Zimmer's daughter, Debbie Lawrence, now 39, was a teen when her mother vanished. Over the years, the family has been contacted by six or seven different detectives, she said. But they haven't lost hope.
She praised the cold-case unit for taking up the case at a time when police resources are stretched thin. The unit had been cut before District Attorney Jeff Rosen was elected in 2010, but he re-established it the following year when he took office.
"It's wonderful," said Lawrence, who lives in the East Bay. "I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that somebody might remember something."
Asked why police never before reached out to the public before about the quilt, Kajani and Investigator Michael Brown said detectives at the time wanted to hold back some information that only the killer would know about, including the method of strangulation and the quilt. Also, Kajani noted, the photo will now be seen by a much bigger audience via social media.
Kajani said it doesn't appear as if Zimmer was sexually assaulted. The mother of two was taking business classes at San Jose State and working part-time at a real estate office when she disappeared on March 8, 1989. That day, she had dropped her kids off at school, had lunch with a friend and attended two college classes.
But she never showed up that day for her 2:25 p.m. appointment with an eye doctor in Los Gatos. She also missed a motivational class similar to the once-popular Est program called The Forum.
Zimmer and her second husband, David Zimmer, were separated at the time, Brown said.
Zimmer's daughter and son were worried when she didn't show up at home that Wednesday night. They contacted police and began hunting for her themselves. Newspaper reports at the time said David Zimmer was out of town with Zimmer's daughter -- Lawrence -- and son when she disappeared, but Lawrence said they were all in San Jose.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Investigator Michael Brown at 408-808-3760.
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport