Man, 69, arrested in the cold-case rape and murder of a 79-year-old woman

A 62-year-old man was arrested in North Carolina this week for the 1987 rape and murder of a 79-year-old woman in California – thanks to a clever cold case investigator. 

Kevin Thomas Ford stands accused of sexually assaulting and then strangling Grace Hayden to death at her Normal Heights, California home on May 20, 1987. 

When Hayden was found dead, cops couldn’t identify any suspects and the case quickly went cold. 

That is, until February when San Diego District Attorney’s Office investigator Tony Johnson realized that a fingerprint from the crime scene, collected off of Hayden’s stove, had never been entered into a national database.

Kevin Thomas Ford, 62 (pictured in court on Thursday), was arrested at his home in St. Pauls, North Carolina on Wednesday for the 1987 murder of Grace Hayden, 79

Ford was arrested after a fingerprint taken from the crime scene was entered into a national database ore than 30 years after the crime 

Ford was arrested after a fingerprint taken from the crime scene was entered into a national database ore than 30 years after the crime 

Two months later, Johnson got a hit on Ford in North Carolina.  

Robeson County Sheriff’s Deputy John Blount decided to enter it into the system in 2015, when the man was accused of threatening employees at a private medical practice.  

It’s lucky that he did too, since fingerprinting suspects in misdemeanor cases is not common.  

‘Deputy [John] Blount decided to fingerprint Ford as well, something rarely done on a charge of this nature,’ Robeson County, North Carolina District Attorney Investigator Erich Hackney said. ‘It was this set of fingerprints that were taken by Blount that matched the print left by Ford at the crime scene.’

On June 12, a warrant was issued to retrieve DNA samples from Ford. When he was taken into custody, he had his fingers and palms printed as well. The DNA turned out to be a match, and he was arrested at his home on Wednesday, a little less than a month later. 

His wife was at home with him as he was taken into custody. 

Ford appeared in court for the first time on Thursday, where he waived his right to protest his extradition. California now has 30 days to retrieve him so he can face trial there in Hayden’s death. 

Ford has denied the charges so far.  

Ford has denied the allegations so far. He will be extradited to California to face trial 

Ford has denied the allegations so far. He will be extradited to California to face trial 

The North Carolina-native lived near Hayden in California at the time of her murder. He married in 1978 but  his wife left him when he became addicted to cocaine.

At one point during his years in California, he worked for Wheel Transport, a transport service for the elderly or non-ambulatory patients, which is how he may have come across Hayden.

Hayden, a retired cook and former waitress, lived alone in a single bedroom home. She was visited daily by a home care professional and weekly by a social worker. She was last seen alive on May 19, 1987. 

On May 20, she was found dead on the floor of her home, strangled to death and possible sexually assaulted.

Cops say there was no sign of a forced entry but neighbors at the time said the woman often left her doors unlocked.  

After moving back to his home state of North Carolina, Hackney said Ford lived a ‘low-key’ lifestyle.

His only legal trouble being traffic violations for the most part. 

‘This fellow had flown under the radar all these years by staying out of trouble,’ Hackney said. ‘I guess you really never know who you might be living beside.’

Ford married but he never had any kids. Neighbors said that his wife had kids from a prior relationship though. 

And while he didn’t get into too much trouble with the law neighbors say that he was a gun-loving bully. 

One neighbor told the Robesonian:  ‘I’ve lived here for 30 years, I think he’s been there with his wife for 15 to 17 years. I wonder if she knew anything about it cause it happened 31 years ago. He (Ford) didn’t have kids with her. They were her kids.

‘He kept that gun on his hip. He was a bully. He pointed a gun at me once. I called the law on him. They (deputies) said if he did that again they would take him in.’ 

Another neighbor said she doesn’t think the wife knew about his crimes. 

‘I think she is ashamed. If she knew, she needs to be locked up, too. But I don’t think she knew. She is probably embarrassed,’ the neighbor said. ‘He (Ford) went to church with her. “I said, oh my God. I feel sorry for her, if she didn’t know.” My heart goes out to her and her family.’

She added: ‘He was very rude to women. Had a gun on him, always. It makes you think. I just can’t believe it, but I keep a dead bolt locked on my door. I got my gun and my dogs.’