DNA leads to arrest in 1973 Palo Alto cold case | News | Palo Alto Online |


DNA leads to arrest in 1973 Palo Alto cold case

Hayward resident John Arthur Getreu arrested in murder of Stanford University graduate Leslie Marie Perlov

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Editor's note: This article contains graphic descriptions of violence.

A convicted murderer was arrested Tuesday in the unsolved 1973 killing of a 21-year-old Stanford University graduate. Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office investigators used DNA testing and a public genealogy database, similar to the method used to find accused "Golden State Killer" Joseph James DeAngelo in April, to identify John Arthur Getreu, 74, of Hayward.

Getreu was taken into custody in connection with the death of Leslie Marie Perlov, who was last seen on Feb. 13, 1973, at her workplace in Palo Alto, sheriff's officials said in a press release.

Her car, a 1972 orange Chevrolet Nova, was found parked by a gate to an old quarry near Old Page Mill and Page Mill roads later that day, sheriff's officials said. The keys were missing. On Feb. 16, 1973, her body was found under an oak tree in the area that is now known as The Dish.

Perlov, who lived with her widowed mother in Los Altos Hills, went missing after finishing her shift as a clerk at the North County Law Library in Palo Alto in the afternoon. Her mother, Florence Perlov, reported her daughter missing later that day. Leslie Perlov always called if she would be late, her mother told police, according to an article in The San Francisco Examiner on Feb. 16, 1973.

Friends said she may have gone to the scenic spot near Frenchman's Hill off Page Mill Road in search of a locale she wanted to have painted as a present for her mother, according to the Examiner.

Perlov's body was lying in a clump of bushes in the foothills above the campus, barefoot and with her blue scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, according to an article in the Stanford Daily on Feb. 20, 1973.

The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office determined she had been strangled to death by a ligature. Police reported that she had not been sexually assaulted. However, her skirt was pulled up and her pantyhose were stuffed in her mouth.

After the discovery of her body, police launched a regional manhunt for a blond man whom witnesses saw near Perlov's car before she went missing, according to a 1973 article in The San Mateo Times. An off-duty policeman said he remembered seeing a "young man with long, blond hair," who was standing near a gray car while talking to someone in Perlov's car.

Police were unable to locate that man or find any possible motives for her murder at the time.

Cold-case investigators recently looked deeper into Perlov's case and submitted multiple pieces of evidence for DNA examination, which found "an unknown male DNA profile." That sample was sent this past July to Parabon NanoLab for further evaluation, sheriff's officials said. The Virginia-based DNA technology company developed a profile based on the sample and sent it to a public genetic genealogy database that matched it with Getreu based on the DNA of his relatives. Investigators obtained DNA samples from the 74-year-old man that were sent to the county crime laboratory for further testing, sheriff's officials said.

On Nov. 9, the lab found the new DNA from Getreu matched the DNA samples gathered from the crime scene. According to the lab report, "the probability that a random, unrelated individual could be included as a possible contributor to this deduced profile was approximately 1 (in) 65 septillion."

Getreu has been booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail in San Jose.

What's known of Getreu's past

Though Getreu was unknown to local law enforcement, he had been convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for the 1963 rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl while living in Germany with his father, a U.S. Army officer, according to The Newark Advocate newspaper in Ohio, where the Getreus once lived. The girl was the daughter of the chaplain of the Army's 8th Infantry Division.

"I am deeply sorry for her parents, and if I could do something to bring her back, I would do it," a 19-year-old Getreu said in court.

Because he was a foreigner and considered a juvenile under German law, the court said that he could be released on parole after serving two years and allowed to return to the United States, the 1964 article stated.

By 1972, Getreu was employed as a security guard by California Plant Protection Services of Palo Alto. That August, he was credited with having chased off potential arsonists at a Redwood City industrial plant, according to an article in the San Mateo Times. The Redwood City fire inspector told the Times that Getreu claimed he'd arrived at the plant at 10 p.m. and found an open door and kerosene poured on a pile of paper and several wooden matches on the floor. Desks and cabinets had also been rifled through, the inspector said, but nothing of value had been taken, the article stated. The three teens that Getreu said he'd scared away were never found.

Other possible suspects

The Sheriff's Office in 1970s considered serial killer Ted Bundy as a possible suspect in Perlov's murder, as there were similarities between her case and his other victims. Bundy had taken a summer class at Stanford in 1967. San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto theorized that the murder was the work of a cult called the Death Angels allegedly responsible for the so-called Zebra street killings in San Francisco, but no one was ever brought to trial.

In March 1974, police began investigating whether there was a link between Perlov and the murder of another woman found strangulated within a few hundred yards of where Perlov's body had been discovered. Janet Ann Taylor, 21, was the youngest daughter of Stanford athletic director Charles Taylor. She had been visiting the campus before she went missing. Neither were wearing shoes, and their purses were missing.

Getreu's arrest comes just months after investigators resolved a separate cold case from the Stanford campus: the 1974 murder of Arlis Perry. Stephen Blake Crawford was identified as the primary suspect in the 19-year-old woman's death, which also remained unsolved for decades. Perry was sexually assaulted and found with her body laid out in ritualistic fashion inside Stanford Memorial Church. On June 28, Crawford died by suicide inside his San Jose apartment as deputies were preparing to serve a search warrant.

Watch the June 29 "Behind the Headlines" webcast in which Palo Alto Weekly journalists discuss the grisly 1974 murder of Arlis Perry at Stanford Memorial Church.


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2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 21, 2018 at 10:41 am

Has the Janet Ann Taylor murder ever been solved? Is this man now a suspect?

What has he been doing in the 45 years since the 1973 murder? Is his DNA on record because he has committed other crimes?

Like this comment
Posted by xxxx
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 21, 2018 at 11:07 am

xxxx is a registered user.

Good questions, resident.

But the article does address your last question. It says that the DNA analysis homed in on Getreu based on his relatives' DNA, which was publicly available. Then the investigators got some current DNA, presumably from something he discarded, and that was matched with the old DNA.

15 people like this
Posted by A Long Time Coming
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 21, 2018 at 12:16 pm

I remember this incident and it was presumed to be a cold case.

How could the suspect have lived with himself all these years and just go about business as usual?

Amazing how DNA can provide key forensic evidence to unsolved cases that took place long ago. A double-edged sword in that prior to its practical applications, some suspects got away while others may have been wrongly convicted.

1 person likes this
Posted by James M
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 24, 2018 at 4:06 pm

Sounds like they’re pretty sure they got the right guy. I hope so. Must be terrifying to be facing prison at 74 years old. I always tell my kids to consider the possibility that there really is no escaping justice, and always act accordingly.

Like this comment
Posted by KevinO
a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2018 at 2:56 am

I was there during the arraignment. The sister read a statement that lasted 4 minutes. All the political mucky-mucks were there, like Sheriff Laurie Smith, the mayor, the DA, etc. The defendant was in a wheelchair.

What I think is unique about this murder case is that the DNA was based upon familial relations who made their DNA 'publicly available'.

1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2018 at 8:28 am

Original article:

>> Cold-case investigators recently looked deeper into Perlov's case and submitted multiple pieces of evidence for DNA examination, which found "an unknown male DNA profile."

This case is a perfect example of why all the backlog of rape kits and other (DNA-containing) evidence needs to be tested. It may seem costly, but, there are sometimes other, and sometimes many other, cases that may be resolved. Who knows how many other crimes a perpetrator may be guilty of? As we have seen recently, sometimes it is many others.

10 people like this
Posted by No Sympathy for the Guilty
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 27, 2018 at 8:36 am

> Must be terrifying to be facing prison at 74 years old.

The guy had 40+ years of freedom after committing this crime. Time's up.

No sympathy if found guilty.

2 people like this
Posted by Buying Time
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 27, 2018 at 2:16 pm

> I was there during the arraignment.

Did the defendant plead not guilty? They always do and then hang out in county jail for months before finally being brought to trial. In this particular case, there will be a pre-trial hearing so the guy has bought plenty of time to meet with his CAA and get his 3 squares a day.

3 people like this
Posted by Jay
a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2018 at 6:05 pm

Astounding that b/c he was a juvenile he served two (2) years for rape and murder of a sixteen year old in Germany in the early '60s.

Like this comment
Posted by probably not
a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2018 at 2:21 am

^ Wonder if that judge was recalled afterwards.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2018 at 7:24 am

Posted by Jay, a resident of another community

>> Astounding that b/c he was a juvenile he served two (2) years for rape and murder of a sixteen year old in Germany in the early '60s.

Based on the few facts that have been publicized, it would be a good -guess- that the accused is a psychopath. It wasn't well understood at the time that psychopaths can't be reformed, and that violent psychopaths generally remain so, and need to remain locked up. No one on the outside should make a diagnosis in this particular case. It seems obvious in retrospect that the system failed in this case, but, that is 20/20 hindsight. When dealing with psychopaths, it certainly causes speculation regarding what other crimes were committed that were not resolved, or not even detected.

A juvenile offender of this type also represents a -genuine- challenge to the criminal justice system-- applying an adult punishment to a juvenile offender because of -who- the offender is. (The "who" being a violent psychopath.) There is no known way to reform someone like this, yet, society is reluctant, for good reason, to lock up a juvenile offender for life.

And, historically, the frequent misuse of the criminal justice system for racial and other social oppression several times has resulted in a backlash against the criminal justice system altogether. At some point, people should realize that regardless of the way the punishment pendulum swings regarding, e.g., petty theft, violent psychopaths have to remain locked up.

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