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.