SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — The daughter of a 38-year-old San Jose woman whose strangled body was found in a car wrapped in a homemade quilt in 1989 said her mother had taking college classes and “focusing on her well being” prior to her mysterious death.

Debbie Lawrence, now 39, was 14 on the morning of March 8, 1989 when her mother, Cathy Zimmer, dropped her and her brother off at school. It was the last time she saw her.

“She was going back to San Jose State (University) because she basically spent her 20s raising us,” Lawrence said. “She was sprouting her wings and going (to college), focusing on her well being.”

“I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to hurt her,” Lawrence said. “She was very well liked by all of the people she was around.”

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, which has reopened the quarter-century-old cold case, on Thursday released color photos of Zimmer and the home-made patchwork quilt in which her body was wrapped in hopes that someone might provide new leads to her murder.

After driving her daughter and son to school the day she went missing, Zimmer had lunch with a friend and attended two classes at San Jose State, but then missed an optometry appointment in Los Gatos set for 2:45 p.m. that afternoon, prosecutors said.

Lawrence said that she and her brother, then 18, “had a normal day and she just didn’t come home at night.”

Zimmer’s husband David, with whom she had been recently separated, and other family members joined investigators in a search and two days later located Zimmer’s blue 1986 Chrysler New Yorker in the short-term parking lot at the San Jose airport, Lawrence said.

San Jose police found her fully clothed body on the floor of the backseat wrapped in the quilt, Deputy District Attorney Ted Kajani said.

Zimmer had been strangled to death, Kajani said.

No one in the family recognized the quilt and they hope someone might identify it from the district attorney’s photo, Lawrence said.

David Zimmer was her stepfather at the time, and was sharing custody with Lawrence’s biological father, who had divorced her mother, Lawrence said.

Lawrence and her late grandmother dealt with six or seven homicide detectives over the years trying to find her mother’s killer, Lawrence said.

Following her grandmother’s death, “I assumed the role to poke the police department every so often” about the investigation,” Lawrence said.

She is now working with district attorney’s office investigator Michael Brown, who has some new angles on the case, Lawrence said.

The quilt, measuring about 4 feet by 6 feet, has an orange border and is filled with brightly colored patches, many with floral designs.

The San Jose Police Department never revealed the existence of the quilt during its probe of the homicide, Kajani said.

The district attorney’s office plans to do “a battery of tests” on the quilt for potential clues, Kajani said.

According to Brown, the quilt is homemade, based on the unique stitches used to put the patches together.

Anyone with information about the blanket or Zimmer’s death is urged to call Brown at the district attorney’s office at (408) 808-3760.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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