• Watch Weekly journalists discuss the latest developments in the Arlis Perry murder case on "Behind the Headlines."
Editor's note: The details in this article may be disturbing to some readers.
Santa Clara County Sheriff's detectives searching for evidence at the apartment of the man suspected of a brutal murder in Stanford Memorial Church nearly 44 years ago found a suicide note and the paper jacket from a book about serial killers, Sheriff Laurie Smith said on Friday afternoon.
• Watch a 15-minute interview with Smith on the case here.
Detectives arrived at the San Jose studio apartment of Stephen Blake Crawford, 72, at 9:04 a.m. Thursday with a search warrant. They were also prepared to arrest Crawford for the 1974 murder of 19-year-old Arlis Perry, Smith said.
As detectives knocked on the door, Crawford asked for a few minutes to get dressed. Thinking he was stalling, they used a key they had obtained from the apartment manager to enter the residence. Detectives immediately saw Crawford sitting on the bed with a gun in his hand. Because of the small space, they retreated. They heard a single gunshot and found Crawford had shot himself in the head. He was pronounced dead at the scene, Smith said.
Law enforcement personnel on scene had not fired any shots and the entire incident was captured on body-worn cameras, Smith said. After San Jose police processed the suicide scene, Sheriff's detectives began looking for items of interest related to the murder.
Perry had gone to Memorial Church on Oct. 12, 1974, at about 11 p.m. to pray after having a minor spat with her husband, who was then a Stanford University pre-med sophomore. Others saw her in the church when Crawford, who was a security guard, entered at about 11:30 p.m. to tell the group that he was going to close the church for the night.
Crawford returned at about 11:45 p.m. and locked the church, he told investigators at the time. But Perry did not return home. Her husband, Bruce, searched the campus for her and then called the Stanford Department of Public Safety at 3 a.m.
Although Crawford told police he would look out for her, he later said he checked the church at 2 a.m. but did not find her. Hours later, he reported finding her body near the altar laid out in a ritualistic fashion. She had been stabbed in the head with an ice pick, according to news reports at the time.
Detectives combing the apartment on Thursday found a box in Crawford's closet containing important personal papers such as financial records. They also found the jacket to the book by investigative journalist Maury Terry, "The Ultimate Evil," which was first published in 1987. Perry's murder is one of the cases discussed in the book. Sheriff spokesman Sgt. Reggie Cooks said the book jacket was found in a folder with other papers.
A hastily written suicide note, which was dated 2016, was found on a computer table a foot away from the bed. It is rambling, Smith said, and does not mention the murder directly. Detectives are still analyzing the note.
Smith said the date two years ago might have coincided with when Detective Sgt. Richard Alanis began intensively interrogating Crawford again. Investigators had had contact with Crawford and Perry's family throughout the years.
Crawford and Perry's husband were the most likely persons of interest, but her husband, who was distraught over her murder, was cleared by police. Smith said that Crawford remained a person of interest, but detectives did not have enough evidence to arrest him. Bruce Perry gave his DNA sample willingly to detectives early on. Investigators obtained Crawford's DNA from an object he had discarded, Smith said.
DNA testing wasn't available at the time of the murder, but as the technology for testing -- and for retrieving DNA samples -- has advanced through the years, investigators were again able to test various pieces of evidence for DNA. Around the time Alanis was intensely questioning Crawford, the detective also submitted an item of Perry's clothing for testing. The DNA match to Crawford was strong enough for an arrest and conviction, investigators and the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office believed, Smith said.
Detectives sent additional items to the lab for DNA testing and recontacted everyone who was in the church 43 years ago. They took each person's DNA sample and tested it, Smith said.
Smith added that Perry's murder was personal for her. She came on the force in 1973, just a year before the murder.
"This was a terrible, terrible crime," she said. If Perry had lived, "I would be just a few years older than Arlis," she said.
Investigators consider the case closed and aren't looking for anyone else, she said.
On Thursday, Smith said that investigators did not think Crawford was connected to any other unsolved homicides at Stanford or the local area. But on Friday, she appeared to leave the possibility open.
"During this time there were a lot of serial killers in this area," she said.
"We have a chart of unsolved homicides and we're looking at when he was living in this area," she said, noting that detectives are looking at whether there is a correlation between Crawford's presence in the local area and whether homicides stopped when he wasn't living here.
Detectives are talking to Crawford's ex-wives and his other family members, Smith said. They are also processing Crawford's car in hopes of finding anything that could shed more light on the crime. In addition, investigators are checking to see whether Crawford had any additional locations where he may have been storing belongings.
On Thursday, detectives retrieved everything from his apartment that they thought might be related to the case. A neighbor of Crawford's said she saw bags and bags of items being removed from his apartment.
Said Smith: "In homicides, even in cold cases, we have a warehouse of evidence. We keep the evidence for life, even when there's a conviction."