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Former Long-Haul Trucker Convicted in 1980 Cold Case Rape and Murder of a 79-Year-Old California Grandmother 

Viola Hagenkord (left) and Andre William Lepere (right), via the Anaheim Police Department.

Viola Hagenkord (left) and Andre William Lepere (right), via the Anaheim Police Department.

A New Mexico man will spend the rest of his life behind bars for the brutal 1980 rape and murder of a 79-year-old grandmother inside of her Anaheim, California apartment, putting an end to one of the oldest cold cases in the city’s history. Andre William Lepere, 64, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Viola Hagenkord, The Orange County Register reported.

A jury in Orange County reportedly deliberated for approximately three hours before returning the guilty verdict against Lepere following a two-week trial. Jurors also voted in favor of a special circumstances sentencing enhancement because the murder occurred during the commission of another felony, in this case forcible rape. Due to the enhancement, Lepere faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison, Los Angeles CW affiliate KTLA reported.

Lepere, a former long-haul trucker, was only 22 years old when he raped and murdered Hagenkord. The elderly widow was only a few months shy of turning 80. Per the Register, one of Hagenkord’s granddaughters was more than 10 years older than Lepere at the time of the attack.

Hagenkord reportedly lived in an apartment complex located in the 2500 block of West Winton Road in Anaheim after moving from Milwaukee. Lepere’s sister also lived in the apartment complex at the time of the crime.

A neighbor grew concerned after not seeing her leave her home for several days and went into her apartment on Feb. 18, 1980 looking for the elderly woman only to discover her body sprawled out across her bed.

Police reportedly said that she had been been raped, and sustained multiple broken ribs from a beating. She had been gagged with a piece of a torn pillow case that eventually caused her to suffocate. There were reportedly no signs of forced entry to the apartment, but police said the state of the bedroom suggested a struggle, and indicated that Hagenkord tried to fight off her attacker.

The case went unsolved for decades until advances in technology allowed investigators to test DNA recovered from semen found at the scene, per the Register. Analysts created a DNA profile of the suspect and ran it through law enforcement databases, which returned a match for Lepere.

Lepere, who moved to New Mexico in the eighties, took the stand to testify in his own defense during the trial. He reportedly admitted to having sex with Hagenkord, but claimed that she had seduced him and they engaged in consensual sex on two different occasions.

He further testified that he only learned about the murder when he returned to the building to give back a tool he had borrowed from a neighbor and claimed he only learned that Hagenkord had been raped following his arrest last year in New Mexico.

During closing arguments on Friday, Deputy District Attorney Christopher Alex reportedly said that Lepere’s claims about being seduced were “ridiculous” and “something out of a stupid letter to Penthouse.” He also reportedly noted that Lepere had a history of domestic violence in his first marriage, leading his ex-wife to take out a restraining order against him.

Lepere is scheduled to appear before Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett on May 13 for his sentencing hearing.

[image via Anaheim Police Department]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.