SAN JOSE, Calif. — The suspect in a brutal cold case murder at a Stanford church decades ago shot and killed himself Thursday as deputies were in the process of serving a search warrant, authorities said.

Police officers and sheriff’s deputies converged on the 5200 block of Camden Ave. in San Jose at around 10 a.m. Thursday. Sheriff’s detectives were executing a search warrant at an apartment in San Jose, reported CBS SF Bay Area.

“During the execution of the search warrant, Sheriff’s deputies made verbal contact at a closed front door with an occupant in the apartment,” said San Jose Police Sgt. Enrique Garcia in a prepared statement. “As deputies made entry, they observed an adult male with a handgun and the deputies immediately backed away.  A short time later a gunshot was heard.  No deputies discharged their weapons.”

Consequently, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the suspect was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He has been identified as Steve Crawford, 72. No one else was in the apartment, police said.

cold case murder

Steve Crawford, left, was accused of the 1974 murder of Arlis Perry. (Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office)

Crawford was a former security guard at Memorial Church on the Stanford campus. He was wanted in the October 1974 murder of 19-year-old Arlis Perry, stabbed to death with an ice pick to the head after being sexually assaulted.

“Crawford had been a person of interest since the beginning of the investigation,” said Sheriff Laurie Smith. “Our detectives continued to piece together additional information to this tragic puzzle and we were able recently to link Crawford’s DNA to the crime scene.”

Perry had gotten into a fight with her new husband and had come to the church at night to pray. Her body was found near the altar of the church. She was located nude from the waist down.

Two pieces of evidence were reportedly recovered from the scene. They included a DNA sample, which was found in the form of semen near the body, and a palm print that was found on one of the candles.

Retired Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold, who followed the Arlis Perry case for four decades, was asked if he suspected it was Crawford all along. “Well that probably over dramatizes my knowledge, but he was certainly my chief suspect,” said Herhold.

In hindsight, Crawford raised suspicions when he told police not to search the church because he had already locked up for the night. It was Crawford who then found the body the next morning, and told police it looked like a locked side door was forced open from the inside.

“The way her jeans were laid, the way the candles were used. I think none of this was an accident,” said Herhold. “I don’t think it was a decoy, I think it was somebody trying to make a statement.”

Perry was found with an icepick in the back of her head and was naked below the waist. According to NBC News, she had been molested with a 3-foot altar candle and another candle had been placed between her breasts, investigators reported.