Leslie Long had told her family she was proud to be working a “man's job” as a gas station attendant.
The gregarious 20-year-old had taken the job at a Chevron station in Palmdale to pay for a new bedroom suite in the house she shared with her three young children and her husband, her high school sweetheart.
On Dec. 3, 1978, Long was working a closing shift alone at the station at Palmdale Boulevard and Division Street when two men kidnapped her at gunpoint, raped her and shot her multiple times.
Nearly four decades later, two men linked to the crime by DNA have been charged in her death.
Terry Moses, 59, and Neal Antoine Matthews, 58, were charged Tuesday with murder and several special circumstance allegations that make them eligible for the death penalty, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
The allegations include murder during a robbery, murder during a kidnapping and murder during a rape, prosecutors said. At the time of Long's killing, both men were active gang members, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said.
Just after Long was kidnapped, a motorist trying to buy gas found lights on at the station but no attendant. The floor safe was open, coins strewn across the room. Long's purse had been left behind; her car was parked out back.
Three days later, a Los Angeles County sheriff's helicopter crew spotted Long's body at the base of a hill near the 14 Freeway at Soledad Canyon Road in Acton, eight miles south of the gas station. She was still wearing her clerk's uniform.
An autopsy showed that she had been sexually assaulted, according to the Sheriff's Department.
Suspicion fell on two inmates who had escaped a Northern California prison three days before Long was kidnapped, authorities said. They were recaptured, but there was not enough evidence to link them to Long's death. The case went cold.
Although many people had thought for years that the men were involved, DNA evidence in 2011 excluded them as suspects.
The district attorney's office and the Sheriff's Department declined to provide details about the investigation other than to say that DNA testing connected Matthews and Moses to the crime.
“Hopefully justice will prevail,” said Sheriff's Det. Steve Lankford, who investigated the case. “Our condolences have always been with the family of the victim. We can't say the case has been completely closed, but hopefully this will bring some closure and a little bit of peace now that suspects have been arrested.”
On Wednesday, Long's family posted a statement on Facebook requesting privacy.
“We are cautiously optimistic that though this is the beginning of a potentially long process, justice, and more importantly closure, are in sight,” the family said.
In a photo posted by the family, Long and her husband, who died in 1980, are shown smiling with their children. At the time of her death, Long had two daughters, ages 4 and 3, and a 1-year-old son.
The lifelong Palmdale resident had married Jim Long in a Las Vegas elopement when she was 15. She had planned to become a registered nurse and had almost completed a high school equivalency course, her mother told The Times in 1978.
Moses is already serving a sentence of 25 years to life at Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad, where he is a three-strikes inmate convicted on numerous robbery charges, said Greg Risling, a spokesman for the district attorney's office. Moses' robbery convictions date from 1971, when he was a juvenile, according to a felony complaint for arrest warrant filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Moses also has been charged with murder in the Los Angeles County deaths of two men, Carlton Goodwin and Michael Fuqua, on Aug. 22, 1976, and attempted murder in an attack on another man, Kenney Guevara, on Dec. 7, 1996, according to court documents.
Matthews was arrested May 21 at his Lancaster residence.
He is being held without bail at Men's Central Jail. Court documents show that Matthews was convicted on numerous robbery charges as a juvenile.