The prime suspect in a decades-old murder case killed himself on Thursday as deputies attempted to serve him a search warrant related to the crime.
Stephen Blake Crawford, 72, was pronounced dead at his San Jose, California apartment around 9 a.m., according to the Palo Alto Weekly. Deputies spoke with him through the door, entered the apartment and saw that he had a gun, and immediately backed away. They then heard a single gunshot. Newly discovered DNA evidence - much like the kind that nabbed the suspected Golden State Killer - linked Crawford to the crime, and deputies wanted to search Crawford's apartment for evidence.
Crawford was the main suspect in the 1974 murder of Arlis Perry, 19, at the Stanford Memorial Church, but there was never enough evidence to convict him, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said in a press conference on Thursday.
Crawford, a former Memorial Church night watchman, was the one that found Perry's body and told police. She was found laid out in a strange, ritualistic way. She was spread out with her head to the left and her right arm underneath her body, and she was nude from below the waist. She died from a single wound - an ice pick through her brain, and she had a candle inside her. Another candle was forced into her chest, according to the Palo Alto Weekly, and there were strangulation wounds on her neck.
"I cannot understate the efforts of our detectives. They've done an exceptional job," Sheriff Smith said. "Many cold case homicide detectives have worked on this for years. We followed all the leads and unraveled the entanglement of the evidence associated with the murder of Arlis Perry."
Perry and her husband Bruce were walking on the Stanford campus on Oct. 12, 1974, and got into a fight, according to the Palo Alto Weekly. She went to the church to pray around 11 p.m., and witnesses said they saw her there half an hour later, when Crawford said it would soon be time to close. He told police he didn't see her when he locked up or at 2 a.m. when he did a security check.
Crawford told police he found her body the next morning when he opened up the church, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Even though he previously told police the doors were locked, he claimed that one door was ajar when he arrived in the morning at 5:45 a.m.
Police found two objects containing DNA, according to the Palo Alto Weekly - a pillow near Perry that had some semen on it and a handprint on one of the candles. They took DNA samples from both Perry's husband and Crawford.
Recent testing implicated Crawford, Sheriff Smith said, and they were at his apartment to collect evidence. The case was personal to her, she said, because she had just started working for the department when the murder happened.
"It's difficult for her family. It's difficult for the department," she said. "But we finally have closure on this case."
[Photo: Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, Getty]