SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - New details are emerging after a cold case suspect killed himself as Santa Clara sheriff’s deputies moved in to make an arrest. Officials say Stephen Crawford seemed to know justice would eventually catch up with him, especially since the advent of DNA testing technology.
Sheriff’s investigators spent the overnight hours, from Thursday into Friday, searching the South San Jose apartment of murder suspect Stephen Crawford. Inside, detectives recovered evidence including the cover to a book about serial killers, and a suicide note, dated two years prior.
“I think that probably coincides with time our detective talked to him. And maybe at that time he thought his time was up,” said Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.
She says 72-year-old Crawford had been in her department’s cross-hairs since 1974. Crawford was working as a security guard on the Stanford campus and found the body of Arlis Perry inside Memorial Church. The 19-year-old had been beaten, molested and murdered. But technological limits of the 70s prevented detectives from building a case against Crawford, until he advent of DNA testing.
“There’s a lot that’s happened in the last couple of decades,” said Alice Hilker, who has worked as a San Mateo County forensic criminalist for the past 13 year.
She says four decades ago analysts would use enzyme and protein typing to try and match a suspect to a crime. But the large samples were less likely to produce large amounts of useable information. In the 1980s, DNA testing moved to the forefront.
“The new technology called PCR allows us to take small pieces of the DNA and make copies of them or amplify them at certain genetic markers. And that dramatically changed the world of DNA,” said Hilker.
Smith says some of Perry’s DNA was found on Crawford’s clothing. Recent technological improvements provided enough evidence for a judge to sign-off on the search warrant.
“They were trying to get in and trying to talk to him. You could see them through the window trying to get in to open the door,” Del Coronado Apartments manager Laticia Gonzales told KTVU Thursday afternoon.
But Crawford shot and killed himself as deputies tried to arrest him.
“We look at this as closure. And we believe we had solid evidence to arrest and even convict Stephen Crawford for the murder of Arlis Perry,” said Sheriff Smith.
Hilker says continued improvements will lead to more cases – once thought too cold to crack – being solved.
“It just gets better and better. The Technology keeps improving. We can go smaller, we have more information,” said Hilker.
Investigators have impounded Crawford’s car and are going over it for clues. Sheriff smith says it’s uncertain what they’ll find by scrutinizing all of the evidence, but there were multiple serial killers in Northern California in the 1970s, and investigators want to make sure Stephen Crawford isn’t linked to other killings.