More than 40 years after a woman was brutally strangled to death in her La Palma apartment, her killer was convicted Tuesday, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
Larry Clark Stephens, 68, was convicted in the 1974 cold case murder of 30-year-old Patricia Ross, prosecutors said. The evening of the killing, Ross was planning on going on a double date, prosecutors said.
She was alone in her apartment, getting ready, when then 24-year-old Stephens came into the home and strangled Ross, according to the DA’s office. The two did not know each other.
Ross was supposed to meet her date and another couple at the couple’s home later in the night, so when she didn’t show up, her friend visited her apartment to check up on her, prosecutors said. There, inside Ross’ bedroom, the friend found her naked with her body facing down.
Ross, who had owned a plant shop in town, was planning to move to Los Angeles County for a new job just three days before she was killed, the Orange County Register reported.
Prosecutors said when La Palma police were called to the scene, they discovered a small dog owned by Ross inside of a drawer in her bedroom, unharmed. Blood and other forensic evidence was also collected at the scene.
Authorities had been investigating the case some time after the La Palma Police Department started working with the O.C. DA’s office through the county’s Cold Case Homicide Task Force. In March 2015, law enforcement officials caught a lucky break when Stephens was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and had to submit a DNA sample.
That sample matched the DNA evidence collected at the scene of Ross’ killing decades earlier, prosecutors said.
As a cold case that’s been around for over 40 years, detectives and law enforcement officials were relieved to finally get justice, as one told the Register after Stephens was charged with murder in 2015.
“This case has pretty much haunted every single detective here, because for years there was just nothing,” Capt. Jim Engen, who worked on the case for at least 10 years, told the Register.
No further information was released by the DA’s office.