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Northern California man sentenced to life in prison in 1974 murder of O.C. woman

A Northern California man has been sentenced to life in prison in the 1974 murder of Patricia Ann Ross, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office.

Larry Clark Stephens, 68, was found guilty in March of one felony count of first-degree murder. He was sentenced Friday.

In court, the victim’s brother spoke about the loss of his 30-year-old sister.

“She was at the center of our family,” he said. “When she died, my parents almost died from grief.”

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He added of the defendant: “This person does not need to be exposed to freedom anymore.”

Stephens was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence in March 2015. The DNA sample he provided to the Santa Rosa Police Department matched the DNA profile collected from the murder scene 40 years ago.

Orange County prosecutors said that on the night of Dec. 11, 1974, Ross was alone in her apartment in La Palma as she got ready to go on a double date at another couple’s home in Huntington Beach, where she would meet her date. They said Stephens entered her apartment and strangled Ross.

After Ross failed to show up in Huntington Beach, a friend drove to check on her. When he entered the apartment, he found her naked, face-down in the bedroom. The friend immediately called La Palma police.

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At first, investigators didn’t have much to work with. There were no signs of burglary and no forced entry. They spoke to neighbors who told them that they had heard a knock on a door and a conversation, but no sound of a violent struggle. The case went cold.

A year after her death, Frank Ross, the victim’s ex-husband, offered a $5,000 reward for information that would lead to the capture of Ross’ killer.

“I want that man caught and I know of no other way of doing it,” Frank Ross was quoted saying in a 1975 Los Angeles Times article. “It was a senseless, senseless thing to do, and I cannot allow it — nobody can.”

“She never hurt anybody, she was a light in a lot of lives,” he added.

In 1988, The Times mentioned the case as one of many that were unsolved in Orange County. Investigators expressed their frustrations.

“We talked to literally dozens and dozens of people, none of which panned out,” investigators said. “Nobody saw anything. We’ve exhausted every single one of our leads. Occasionally, every few years, we may get a call related to the homicide, but none has provided any leads.”

In 2008, the La Palma Police Department began a joint investigation with the Orange County district attorney’s office and Orange County Cold Case Homicide Task Force. Stephens would be arrested and charged in the 1974 killing seven years later.

ruben.vives@latimes.com

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