California cold case leads to Robeson

LUMBERTON — An unlikely fingerprint has led to a St. Pauls man being charged with the murder of an elderly woman in San Diego three decades ago.

Kevin Thomas Ford, 62, of 3884 N.C. 20 West in St. Pauls, was Tuesday morning without incident at his home and will be extradited to California, where he will be prosecuted for the murder of 79-year-old Grace Hayden on May 20, 1987. Hayden also was raped.

Erich Hackney, an investigator with the Robeson County District Attorney’s Office, said the case against Ford is being constructed on the fingerprint and DNA evidence.

Hackney, Tony Johnson, an investigator from California, and Robeson County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Brandon Patterson served the fugitive warrant against Ford, who was then placed in the Robeson County jail without bond. He was home with his wife when arrested.

Hackney said that on May 24, Johnson, who investigates for the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, contacted him and said he was working the cold case involving Hayden’s rape and murder. He said a fingerprint from a person’s left index finger that had been taken from a stove at Hayden’s home was run through a national database and matched Ford, who was believed to be living in Robeson County.

The fingerprint in the national data base was from Oct. 12, 2015, and was taken by Robeson County sheriff’s Deputy John Blount while he handling an accusation that Ford had threatened a St. Pauls business. Hackney commended Blount for taking the fingerprint.

“It should be noted that the usual and customary procedure for processing a warrant of this nature is to carry the defendant before a magistrate for bond purposes,” Hackney said in a statement. “However in this case, … Deputy Blount decided to fingerprint Ford as well, something rarely done on a charge of this nature. It was this set of fingerprints that were taken by Blount that matched the print left by Ford at the crime scene.”

Hackney said he obtained DNA from Ford, and it matched DNA gathered at the California crime scene.

The warrant for Ford’s arrest on the charge of first-degree murder was issued in California on July 3.

“The District Attorney offices in both Robeson and San Diego wish to specifically commend Deputy John Blount for going above and beyond in collecting Ford’s fingerprints back in 2015,” Hackney said. “Had he processed Ford under the usual procedure, this case would not have come to fruition. Additionally, both offices want to thank Sgt. Patterson and members of the St. Pauls Police Department for their assistance as well.”

Hackney described Ford’s life as “low-key,” and said his criminal record mostly consisted of driving citations.

Hackney said bringing closure to the case was satisfying.

“This is the oldest case I have been involved in, which was tremendously satisfying in helping resolve,” he said. “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.”

Johnson said he appreciated the help local law enforcement provided.

“Never in all my years have I gotten more help from any jurisdiction in working a case, both from the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office,” he said.

According to the San Diego website, which has a section on cold cases, Hayden lived alone in a single-bedroom home at 4400 36th St. in the Normal Heights area. She had a daily visit by a home-care person and a weekly visit by a social worker.

She was last seen alive on May 19, 1987. The next day her body was found on the floor of her home. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death. The evidence suggested that the assailant entered through an unlocked door.

St. Pauls man charged in 1987 murder

Donnie Douglas


Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or at