ST. PAULS — Neighbors of a local man charged with the murder of an elderly woman raped and murdered in her California home in 1987 say he was a gun-totting “bully.”
“He’s cold-hearted as hell,” said a woman who asked not to be identified.
The woman will be referred to as Mary for this article.
“I saw him take some dogs, sometimes puppies, and throw them over the highway, watch them run and then shoot them dead. Pow, pow,” Mary said.
Kevin Thomas Ford, 62, of 3884 N.C. 20 West in St. Pauls, was taken into custody Tuesday morning without incident at his home. He will be extradited to San Diego to stand trial for the murder of 79-year-old Grace Hayden.
He denies killing Hayden, but physical evidence puts him in her home. And he was living in San Diego County when she was killed.
Ford appeared in the Robeson County District Court on Thursday before Judge William J. Moore. He remains in custody with no bond and has waived his extradition rights.
“So that process begins Friday between North Carolina and California,” said Erich Hackney, an investigator with the Robeson County District Attorney’s Office who helped California authorities in the pursuit and arrest of Ford. “It should take less than 30 days for the transfer.”
Tanya Sierra, spokesperson for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, shared little from the West Coast.
“At this time, I can only confirm he has been charged with murder. We cannot discuss the facts or evidence at this time,” she said. “Once the defendant is in San Diego custody, an arraignment date will be set. That is a ways away, still.”
Mary spoke of how she heard of Ford’s arrest.
“I was watching the news with a family member and I said, ‘That’s Mr. Ford. He lives right over there,’” she said. “I had to catch the next one (newscast) at 11, just to make sure.
“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, who also asked not to be identified and will be referred to as Jane, has lived near Ford for about 15 years. Jane said Ford’s wife, who walks her dogs daily, hasn’t been seen since Ford’s arrest.
“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,” Jane 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.
“He don’t look like the type, but he acted like the type. 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.”
A woman who answered the door at Ford’s home said little before someone inside the home told her to shut the door.
“Yes, he lives here. I don’t live here. I don’t know anything about this, ” she said as she closed the door.
James Mason, 78, a U.S. Army veteran, has lived in St. Pauls since 1992, just a few houses from Ford’s residence. The news didn’t faze him, he said.
“I am a combat veteran. I don’t feel any different,” Mason said. “I didn’t know his name. I see him riding up and down the road on his lawnmower. I think he cuts their grass next door. He seemed pleasant. But as far as knowing him, I didn’t know him.”
Another neighbor, who will be referred to as Ann, wasn’t aware of the recent arrest until it was brought to her attention.
“I am really trying to process this,” Ann said. “The fact that I live here and this person lives just a few houses down is charged with rape and murder, it’s shocking.
“It’s not like he was charged and then acquitted for the murder. He is walking around free, he got away with it for all these years. That’s a scary thought. It makes me more aware of who comes at my door. Now, I am going to think differently.”
Court records from California show Ford was arrested in San Diego in 1983 for a probation violation related to breaking California unemployment insurance laws, “Specifically making false statements to obtain payments.”
Ford lived at 524 E. Third St. in National City until at the latest, 1991, according to court documents. He lived near Hayden’s home at the time of her murder. He had been married in San Diego in 1978 and was divorced.
Ford told Tony Johnson, San Diego District Attorney’s investigator, during an interview that his wife left him and he was addicted to cocaine, court documents show. He eventually “cleaned himself up” and was hired as a driver for Wheel Transport, a business that provided transportation services for the elderly or drove non-ambulatory patients to medical appointments.
Ford was authorized to take the company vehicle, but began to live out of the van when he became homeless, according to court documents. After several months on the job, an employee reported Ford’s living arrangements and he was fired.
“He was originally from North Carolina, then went out for military service and also worked some odd jobs with his brother,” Hackney said. “Afterward, he returned to Durham, then to St. Pauls.”
Court documents show a “latent” fingerprint from the crime scene had not been identified, which prompted the unmatched print to be entered into a central law enforcement database earlier this year. A computer search for the fingerprint was requested on Feb. 27. Nearly two months later, a technician with the San Diego Police Department determined the print left on Hayden’s stovetop was from Ford’s left ring finger.
That prompted a call to Robeson County authorities on May 24, and Hackney got involved after being briefed on the facts of the case. Hackney placed the Ford residence under surveillance in an effort to secure DNA. The investigator was able to verify that Ford lived at the St. Pauls address, but he was unable to obtain a DNA sample that could be compared to the DNA sample California officials obtained from the crime scene, specifically semen.
A warrant to obtain DNA samples and palm prints was issued on June 12. Ford and his wife were stopped on June 13 while driving to what Ford said was a doctor’s appointment. Ford was taken to the Sheriff’s Office and finger and palm prints were made and his DNA was taken. The DNA sample later was determined to be a match, with a 240 trillion to one chance that it was not him.
Ford had managed to stay out of trouble in Robeson County, other than minor traffic violations dating back to 1991, court documents show. He was charged in Robeson County in 2015 for making and communicating terrorist threats. The charges were dismissed because the victim failed to appear in court.
A fingerprint of Ford taken by Robeson County Sheriff’s Office Deputy John Blount was the break in the 31-year-old cold case.
Hayden lived alone in a single-bedroom home at 4400 36th St. in the Normal Heights area of San Diego. She had a daily visit by a home-care professional and a weekly visit by a social worker and was last seen on May 19, 1987, according to the San Diego cold cases section of their website.
Hayden’s body was found the next day on the floor of her home. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death. Evidence appeared to show that the assailant entered through an unlocked door.
Ford told investigators he didn’t know Hayden, but said he might have been in her home when he worked for Wheel Transport.
Reach Annick Joseph by calling 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]