A former security guard who was believed to be a suspect in the gruesome rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman more than four decades ago reportedly killed himself on Thursday as police attempted to arrest him.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office deputies said they arrived at a San Jose apartment around 9am on Thursday to serve a warrant to Stephen Blake Crawford.

After deputies announced themselves at the front door, they heard a gunshot. When they entered the apartment Crawford was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, reports Daily Mail.

Sheriff Laurie Smith confirmed that Crawford was being investigated for the 1974 cold case murder of 19-year-old Arlis Perry.

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"He had been a suspect in the case for many years, but we didn't have the evidence until now," she told the Mercury News.

The San Francisco Gate reported that Crawford was the security guard who found Perry dead inside Stanford Memorial Church 44 years ago.

He was eyed as a suspect almost immediately after Perry's death, but up until now there was no evidence against him.

According to the San Francisco Gate, DNA testing provided investigators with new leads in the unsolved murder.

Stephen Crawford, 72, shot and killed himself after San Jose police arrived at his home to arrest him. He was suspected of murdering Perry. Photo / Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office
Stephen Crawford, 72, shot and killed himself after San Jose police arrived at his home to arrest him. He was suspected of murdering Perry. Photo / Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office

On the night of October 12, 1974, Perry got into an argument with her 19-year-old husband Bruce and asked to be dropped off at Stanford Memorial Church so she could pray and meditate.

Police said Perry, a student at Stanford University, arrived at the church around 11pm. The church was usually left open late for students, according to the San Francisco Gate.

Bruce, growing concerned that his wife had not returned home, called police around 3am to report her missing. According to a 1974 article on the murder, Crawford was dispatched to the church to check and see if she was still there.

Crawford, a campus security guard, told police that all of the church doors were locked. When he came back around 5:45am to open the church, he called police to report that Perry's body was inside. He told officers that a side door had also been left ajar.

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Perry's body was discovered underneath a large cross inside the church. She was naked from the waist down, had been stabbed in the head with an ice pick and strangled.

She had also been sexually assaulted with an altar candle, investigators said. They believe Perry had been unwittingly locked inside the church with her assailant.

According to the San Francisco Gate, the newly tested DNA evidence linked Crawford to the crime scene.

Perry's 88-year-old mother, Jean Dykema, told the Mercury News that she was saddened the person responsible for her daughter's death was not caught sooner. She said her husband had become "possessed" with wanting to know what happened. He died three months ago.

"I know there is someone far greater that will punish this person. I don't have to do that," she said.

Smith said cold-case detectives had contacted Crawford about the case in recent weeks.

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