Suspect who killed 19-year-old girl in 1976 is identified by a DNA test

Suspect who killed 19-year-old girl in 1976 is identified by a DNA test

A 44-year-old cold case was solved this week after advancements in DNA technology revealed the identity of a man who police say raped and killed a teenage girl in 1976.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office in California named Terry Dean Hawkins as the suspect in the murder of 19-year-old Janet Stallcup, whose body was discovered in Garden Grove more than 40 years ago, officials said in a news release.

19-year-old Janet Stallcup (pictured) was a nursing student when she was murdered by Terry Dean Hawkins in 1976.

Hawkins died in an Orange County jail a year later in 1977, while incarcerated for charges unrelated to Stallcup's murder.

'We’ll never have all the answers, but there’s so much relief in finally knowing who did this,' Stallcup’s sister, Lee Neil, told the Mercury News Wednesday.

'One of my greatest fears over the years was that whoever did that to her may have gone on to hurt many more people.'

Terry Dean Hawkins (pictured) died in 1977.

At the time, Stallcup was a nursing student who authorities said was last seen leaving her apartment in her 1962 Ford Falcon. She was heading to a friend's party in nearby Santa Ana the evening of December 19, 1976.

Eight days later, Stallcup was found strangled in the front seat of her car, which was parked at a Garden Grove apartment complex, according to the News.

'We knew something was wrong as soon as she didn’t come home,' her sister said.

Lee Neil, Stallcup's sister, their grandfather and Janet Stallcup, in a picture taken shortly before Janet's disappearance and murder.

Investigators involved with the case believe she was kidnapped by Hawkins as she tried to get into her car. A massive search by authorities and volunteers followed. Her body was discovered December 28.

Over the years, Garden City police have continued to search for a DNA match in the case. Despite multiple leads, no links were discovered until this week.

'I’ve seen the detective’s file on the case, and it’s got to be at least three inches thick,' Neil added.

'We’ll never have all the answers, but there’s so much relief in finally knowing who did this,' said Stallcup's sister Lee Neil, pictured here with her husband and their sons, Zack and Joshua.

'We’ve been through three generations of detectives on this investigation.'

Last year, Orange County District Attorney's detectives asked the agency to begin a genetic genealogy investigation into the Stallcup cold case, which uses genetic materials taken from relatives of a potential suspect and compares it to DNA samples taken as evidence from a crime scene.

Hawkins genetic material was isolated by the county's crime lab in 2002 from swabs taken at the scene.

He was finally identified after a living relative of his submitted a recent DNA sample at the request of the Orange County District Attorney's Office. It turned out to be a match.

Neil told the Mercury News that in the decades since her sister's rape and murder, the family has not been able to celebrate any birthdays or holidays without thinking of Stallcup.

Lee described her as an avid reader and a fan of The Carpenters and Jim Croce.

'Oh god, she would play those records over and over and over again,' Neil said laughing. 'Used to drive me crazy.'

The closure is bittersweet, as Neil said she wishes she had the chance to tell their mother, who died years ago.