Detective Diaries is investigating the 1974 murder of Patricia “Annie” Ross, who was murdered in her apartment in La Palma, California, by Larry Stephens.
Stephens managed to avoid justice for over 40 years before DNA evidence finally revealed he was the killer, and the cops were able to put him behind bars.
On December 11, 1974, 30-year-old Ross failed to show up for a meeting with friends. One of the friends was a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy named Rod Walthers, and he went to investigate Ross’s apartment.
Walthers discovered that Ross had been attacked in her home; she had been sodomized with an unknown object and strangled to death. It’s thought that the killer entered the apartment through a patio door, which the victim used to leave open for her pet dog to wander in and out.
The small dog was found stuffed into a drawer. This dog had bitten the attacker causing him to bleed; years later, these blood samples would identify Stephens as the killer.
However, the initial investigation floundered with a lack of usable evidence and a series of dead ends. The case grew cold.
The case was reopened in 1996 just as DNA forensic science was starting to make massive strides forward. The cops fed the blood samples into the database, but unfortunately, there wasn’t a match.
In 2007, the police took another look at the case, and it was at this time that Stephens became a major suspect. The detectives learned that at the time of the murder, Stephens had been staying at an apartment with one of Ross’s neighbors.
The neighbor had been interviewed and dismissed from the original investigation, but somehow Stephens had slipped through their net. He had been staying with the friend because he was going through a messy divorce, and he was apparently not taking it well.
When the cops talked to his ex-wife, she said that Stephens had a quick temper and that it was worse when he had been drinking. The detectives also learned that he had two arrests for domestic violence between 2007 and 2008. But unfortunately, they couldn’t tie him to the Ross murder yet.
DNA evidence led to Larry Stephens’s conviction for murder
In 2015, Stephens was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence, which allowed the police to take his DNA. It matched the blood samples. Just to be sure, the cops also tested his DNA against genetic material found under Ross’s fingernails (she had fought her attacker hard), and that too was a match.
Stephens further incriminated himself while in custody awaiting his trial; in a letter to his wife, he wrote: “I know I’m a monster and that in some ways this may be for the best.”
In 2018, Stephens was convicted of first-degree murder and was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. He was 68 years old at the time of sentence and had been 25 when he committed murder.
More from Investigation Discovery
Follow the links to read about more murders and horrific crimes profiled on ID.
Previously on Detective Diaries, the murder of Gwendolyn Moore went unpunished for 33 years until a dedicated police chief finally arrested her husband, Marshall Moore, for the crime. However, Moore passed away before he could stand trial.
Scott Pettigrew’s behavior made his landlady Anita Cowen’s life a misery, but then, one day, he murdered her by beating her and pushing her into a swimming pool.
Detective Diaries airs in two parts from 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.