SAN FRANCISCO, March 4 - The murder of genomic researcher Tanya Holzmayer by her former colleague Matthew Huang, who then took his own life, marked the end to what appeared to be a troubled time for the young genomics researcher.
Last Wednesday evening at around 8:45, Huang, 38, arranged for a pizza to be delivered to the Mountain View, Calif., home of his former boss, according to police reports. Officials say that when the 46-year-old Holzmayer, a former vice president at PPD Discovery, opened her front door to accept the pizza, Huang allegedly pushed the delivery person aside and shot and killed Holzmayer.
Huang then fled to neighboring Foster City where he called to tell his wife what he had done and that he was about to kill himself, the police said. Huang's wife notified Foster City police, who later discovered Huang's body.
"We are very confident that [Huang] is our suspect and feel that he acted alone," said Mountain View police spokesperson Jim Bennett. "We have not established a motive," though he said the homicide appears personally motivated. An investigation is ongoing.
Huang and Holzmayer worked together at PPD Discovery, a functional-genomics company in Menlo Park, Calif. Huang, who was director of molecular biology and bioinformatics, was fired in June 2001, according to sources. Holzmayer, vice president of genomic research, left the company six months later, said Nancy Zeleniak, spokesperson for PPS, PPD's parent company. Zeleniak would not give the circumstances for Holzmayer's departure.
Not happy with himself
In an e-mail sent to a GenomeWeb editor several weeks after his dismissal from PPD, Huang expressed extreme dismay at being fired.
"Out of [the] blue, I got a company letter [that] accused me of violating company policy by talking to [the] press," Huang wrote, referring to an article in the April 2001 issue of Genome Technology magazine in which he was quoted in his capacity as co-director of the Beijing Genomics Institute, a post he held prior to and during his affiliation with PPD.
"Despite of my explanation that my BGI affiliation is an academic honor title without any payment, and my affiliation [sic] is disclosed [sic] from day one that even featured on my company's website," Huang wrote in the e-mail. "Despite of my explanation that I have no connection with BGI's US company ... I was announced 'resigned' within 20 minutes, computers and emails took away immediately (so they don't need to pay any severance [sic])."
"I am still in shock and disbelief," he wrote. "Meanwhile I am trying hard to get on with my life --- I gave 200% to that PPD with all my heart and soul, building two departments from ground up."
PPD declined to answer questions about the nature of Huang's departure from the company.
According to Gane Wong, a former colleague and research scientist at the University of Washington Genome Center, Huang "wasn't happy in the last few years with the progress of his career."
"Whatever his perception was, maybe he wasn't happy with himself. He was very smart and very aggressive," said Wong. "He's always been very ambitious, and I don't think the private sector met his expectations, but it's hard to get back to academia" when you've been outside it and not publishing.
But "all of us are wondering what the hell happened," added Wong. "It doesn't make sense."
Huang is survived by a wife and daughter. He received his PhD in molecular biology in 1992 from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and later worked under Leroy Hood at the University of Washington. During his career, he had been a senior scientist at DoubleTwist, an executive deputy director of the Chinese National Human Genome Center at Shanghai, and a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, according to his resume.
Holzmayer is survived by her son, Alex Rozinov; her mother, Alexandra; her father, Andrew; and by Michael Rozinov, the father of her son. She is a co-holder of a patent for the use of genetic suppressor elements to counter the human immunodeficiency virus.