Santa Rosa man charged in 1974 murder of Southern California woman

DNA evidence links a 65-year-old former postal worker to the 1974 strangling death of an Orange County woman.|

A retired Santa Rosa postal worker was charged Tuesday in the 41-year-old cold-case murder of a Southern California woman.

Prosecutors said Larry Stephens, 65, was identified by DNA testing as the man suspected of strangling 30-year-old Patricia Ross in her Orange County apartment in 1974.

Stephens, who was 24 at the time, is suspected of killing the single woman during a break-in. Her body was found naked in the bedroom of her La Palma apartment.

Investigators were unable to find a suspect until March, when Stephens was arrested by Santa Rosa police on domestic violence charges, prosecutors said.

A DNA sample he gave matched samples collected at the old crime scene, according to a statement from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

He was arrested Monday by Orange County detectives outside his home at Sequoia Gardens mobile home park.

“I’m still totally in shock,” his wife of 11 years, Susan Stephens, said Wednesday.

Larry Stephens retired in 2009 after 30 years as a postal worker in the Santa Rosa area, she said. He moved north from Los Angeles in the 1970s after serving in the Army during the Vietnam War, she said.

He had a violent temper, especially when drinking, Susan Stephens said. The couple was evicted from another Santa Rosa mobile home park, Rincon Valley Mobile Home Estates, two years ago after neighbors complained about their loud fighting, she said.

“He didn’t like anyone,” she said of her husband’s relationships with neighbors. “As our marriage wore on, he didn’t like me.”

In March, she said, she called 911 after Stephens punched her in the face when she asked him to stop watching sports on TV.

He was free on bail when detectives identified him as a suspect and converged on their home.

His wife said she visited Stephens on Tuesday in the Sonoma County jail and questioned him about the murder allegations. He told her he didn’t know Patricia Ross but a couple of friends did, she said.

Susan Stephens said he had never spoken of the slaying before. She became his third wife after they met as neighbors at a Santa Rosa apartment complex, she said.

“I never had any clue in the world,” she said. “None.”

Prosecutors do not believe Stephens and the victim knew each other. Ross was planning to go on a double date in Huntington Beach the night of her slaying. When she didn’t show up, her friend’s date went to her apartment and found her body, prosecutors said.

Stephens was awaiting transport to Southern California for his arraignment. He faces life in prison if convicted.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or ?On Twitter @ppayne.

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