Advances in modern genetic science helped solve the killing of a woman found dead nearly 45 years ago in Garden Grove, officials announced Wednesday, July 14.
Terry Dean Hawkins was identified as the person responsible for the 1976 rape and killing of then 19-year-old Janet Stallcup, Orange County District Attorney’s officials said in a news release. He died in an Orange County Jail in 1977.
“One of my greatest fears over the years was that whoever did that to her may have gone on to hurt many more people,” Stallcup’s sister, Lee Neil, said during an interview Wednesday.
Stallcup was a nursing student who was last seen leaving her apartment for a co-worker’s party in Santa Ana. The Garden Grove resident was found strangled eight days later in the front seat of her 1962 Ford Falcon, which was parked at an apartment complex on the 13100 block of Yockey Street in Garden Grove.
“We knew something was wrong as soon as she didn’t come home,” Neil said.
Investigators who have examined the decades-old case had theorized she may have been kidnapped while getting into her sedan. Her disappearance inspired a massive search by deputies, officers and volunteers throughout Orange County, Neil said.
Garden Grove police made repeated attempts to link DNA and other evidence from the scene of her killing to a suspect. Numerous leads were exhausted over the years.
“I’ve seen the detective’s file on the case, and it’s got to be at least three inches thick,” Neil said. “We’ve been through three generations of detectives on this investigation.”
In 2020, detectives asked the District Attorney’s Office to open a genetic genealogy investigation, OCDA officials said. The process uses genetic information submitted by relatives of possible suspects to enhance the search for a match to samples collected by investigators. It led authorities to name Hawkins as a suspect.
Hawkins was in custody on suspicion of disorderly conduct and a drug related offense at the time he died, an OCDA spokeswoman said. Details regarding how he came in contact with Stallcup or his cause of death were not immediately released.
“We’ll never have all the answers, but there’s so much relief in finally knowing who did this,” Neil said.
She said it has been impossible for her family to celebrate birthdays, graduations or weddings without wishing Stallcup was still with them. Neil described her as a person with a genuine desire to help others who kept a small, close-knit group of friends. She was an avid reader and a huge fan of The Carpenters and Jim Croce.
“Oh god, she would play those records over and over and over again,” Neil said with a chuckle. “Used to drive me crazy.”
Lee wishes she could have shared the latest development in her sister’s case with her mother, who died before a suspect could be named.
The forensic evidence used to link Hawkins to the Garden Grove killing was isolated by the Orange County Crime Lab in 2002 from swabs taken at the scene, prosecutors said in their release.