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La Palma’s Oldest Unsolved Murder Solved after DNA Match

A 65-year-old Northern California man who submitted DNA after a recent domestic violence arrest has been linked to La Palma’s oldest unsolved homicide, authorities said.

Larry Stephens of Santa Rosa was charged Tuesday with the killing of 30-year-old Patricia “Annie” Ross, who was strangled in her La Palma apartment on the night of Dec. 11, 1974.

Authorities said Ross had plans to meet friends for a double date in Huntington Beach that night but never arrived. Her nude body was later found in her bedroom and police discovered her small dog, unharmed, inside a drawer.

Investigators suspect the dog may have bitten the killer because there were tiny smears of blood left behind, Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin said.

But with few leads, the case went cold. La Palma police Chief Eric Nunez said the city’s oldest unsolved homicide has weighed on the minds of detectives for decades.

“It’s one of those cases where I think probably every detective in our bureau over the years has looked at it and tried to solve it,” Nunez said.

La Palma police officially reopened the case in 2008 with help from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the Orange County Cold Case Homicide Task Force.

Authorities linked DNA collected from the crime scene to Stephens after he was arrested in Sonoma County in March on suspicion of domestic violence and submitted a DNA sample, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors said Stephens, then 24 years old and a stranger to Ross, entered her apartment and killed her in her bedroom.

At the time of her death, Ross was in the process of selling her plant store business to take a job at Hughes Aircraft, Yellen said.

Stephens was being held at the Sonoma County Jail and an arraignment date is pending, prosecutors said.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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