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St. Pauls man arrested in rape, murder cold case

Investigators collected DNA at the scene and entered it into the Combined DNA Index System, a national database

July 11, 2018

LUMBERTON — A match in the national fingerprint database led to the arrest Wednesday of a St. Pauls man in a California cold case murder and rape that happened 31 years ago, according to a release from the Robeson County District Attorney's Office.

Kevin Thomas Ford, 62, of the 3800 block of N.C. 20 West, is awaiting extradition to San Diego where a warrant for first-degree murder has been issued and will be served on him, the release said.

The trail to Ford's arrest began May 24 when Tony Johnson, an investigator for the San Diego District Attorney's Office, contacted Erich Hackney, investigator for Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt. Johnson was seeking help for the cold case he was reviewing that involved the murder and rape of Grace Hayden, the release said. Hayen was 79 when she was killed May 20, 1987, in San Diego.

While reviewing evidence from the crime scene, the release said, Johnson discovered a single fingerprint from the left ring finger that was discovered on a stove in Hayden's kitchen. Investigators collected DNA at the scene and entered it into the Combined DNA Index System, a national database.

Through the years, there were no DNA matches, the release said.

Johnson submitted the fingerprint to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, a national fingerprint and criminal history database, and got a hit. The print matched an entry in the system to a person identified as Thomas, the release said. After speaking with Johnson, Hackney located Thomas.

As Hackney was reviewing the information, he discovered that Thomas had been charged in 2015 with communicating threats against Primary Care of St. Pauls. The charge is a misdemeanor and normally does not require any fingerprints.

However, Robeson County Deputy John Blount, who served the warrant, decided to fingerprint Thomas upon his arrest, "something rarely done on a charge of this nature," the release said.

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The prints taken by Blount were entered into the system and matched the fingerprint found at the 1987 crime scene.

Hackney obtained a DNA sample from Thomas and submitted it to CODIS. The sample matched the DNA from the crime scene, the release said.

The murder warrant was issued July 3, resulting in Thomas' arrest as a fugitive from justice.

Both district attorneys commended Blount's decision to fingerprint Thomas, saying that an arrest might never have been made had he not done so, the release said.

"This is the oldest case I have been involved in, which was tremendously satisfying in helping resolve," Hackney said in the release.

"This fellow had flown under the radar all these years by staying out of trouble but the long arm of the law finally caught up with him. I guess you really never know who you might be living beside."

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