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Arrest in 1970s cold-case murder points to serial killer

Charged last year in Stanford Dish murder, John Arthur Getreu makes first court appearance for death of Janet Ann Taylor

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

Nearly six months after a Hayward man was charged in another murder that had gone unsolved for decades, DNA evidence has led investigators to accuse him of the 1974 killing of a 21-year-old woman near the Stanford University campus, San Mateo County sheriff's investigators announced Thursday.

John Arthur Getreu, 74, of Hayward, was arraigned Thursday for the death of Janet Ann Taylor, whose body was found by a delivery driver on March 25, 1974 off the side of the road at Sand Hill Road and Manzanita Road, property owned by Stanford. Taylor was the daughter of former Stanford Athletic Director Chuck Taylor. She was not a Stanford student, a sheriff's official said. An April 1974 article in the Stanford Daily stated that she had attended Canada College and had just started working at a maritime information firm in Palo Alto.

On March 24, she was hitchhiking home to La Honda from a friend's house on the Stanford campus, San Mateo County Assistant Sheriff Gregory Rothaus said at a press conference Thursday morning. The last time anyone saw her was on Junipero Serra Boulevard around 7:05 p.m.

The coroner's office determined her death was a homicide by strangulation and concluded she had not been raped, but investigators determined there was a "sexual motivation" behind the alleged crime based on Getreu's criminal history and other indicators found by law enforcement, according to Rothaus.

Getreu is the same man who was arrested for the murder of Leslie Marie Perlov, a Stanford University graduate who was last seen on Feb. 13, 1973, and found three days later under an oak tree in an area now known as The Dish. Getreu was taken into custody by Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies on Nov. 20, 2018, and has yet to enter a plea in that case.

Rothaus said investigators have long thought there might be a connection between the two cases.

"The suspect's MO was very similar, and both victims were last seen leaving the Stanford University campus area before their murders," Rothaus said.

Getreu was living in the area at the time. He worked in trades such as carpentry, had been a security guard and worked at Stanford University for a time, Rothaus said.

What's known of Getreu's past

Rothaus stated that Getreu had a criminal history, including a conviction in Santa Clara County for a 1975 rape.

Before that, Getreu been convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for the 1963 rape and strangulation murder of the teenage girl while living in Germany with his father, a U.S. Army officer, according to The Newark Advocate newspaper in Ohio, where the Getreu 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.

DNA's role in Getreu's arrest

In pursuing the Leslie Perlov case last year, investigators submitted multiple pieces of evidence for DNA examination, which found "an unknown male DNA profile." That sample was sent in July to Parabon NanoLab for further evaluation, Santa Clara County sheriff's officials said last year. 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 Hayward man that were sent to the county crime laboratory for further testing, sheriff's officials said.

On Nov. 9, 2018, 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."

After Getreu's arrest, San Mateo County sheriff's investigators submitted additional items to their county crime lab, including items of Taylor's clothing.

Homicide detectives David Tresmontan and Rick Jackson told the Weekly they had inherited the case from another investigator who was retiring. She specifically asked them to reopen the case.

"I hope you can solve it," Jackson recalled she said.

The detectives said they handle 14 cases every day and have spent hundreds of hours working on Taylor's case. After learning that Getreu had been arrested by Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies for the Perlov killing, they resubmitted what they believed to be the most promising evidence to their county crime lab seeking a DNA match. Such evidence typically includes scrapings from under fingernails and torn clothing — anything that shows the victim engaged in a struggle with the killer, Tresmontan said. The lab had initially failed to find any DNA from Getreu on the primary evidence.

But after submitting additional items, the lab found a DNA match with Getreu on Taylor's clothing.

"I've worked homicides for 30 years. When you get that call, it gives you goosebumps," Jackson said.

The detectives have spoken to the family and Taylor's former boyfriend.

"The family was very surprised that we were even looking at the case" Jackson said.

Tresmontan said he has spoken with Taylor's former boyfriend on three occasions since solving the case.

"Each time he was quite emotional, even 45 years later, and is very appreciative," he said.

Taylor's family issued a statement released by the sheriff's office Thursday in response to the news of Getreu's arrest.

"Janet lived life with enthusiasm and courage. As a spunky, fun-loving youngest of three children, she added much laughter and joy to our family. She loved animals and cherished her friends. We have missed being able to have her in our lives. Janet's future was bright. It would have been wonderful to see what she would have done. We can't ever know all that we missed, but whatever she pursued, Janet would have served others with passion and kindness," the statement said.

"We're grateful today for the diligent, meticulous work of the law enforcement officers whose efforts have resulted in today's announcement. They've done this difficult work with integrity and excellence, and with compassion for our family."

DA's office pledges to expedite Getreu prosecution

The sheriff's office sent its case to the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office on May 10 and subsequently an arrest warrant was issued for Getreu, who is currently in custody in San Mateo County jail.

Thus far, detectives haven't linked a Getreu to any other cold cases in San Mateo County, but they are still looking, Rothaus said.

Getreu made his first court appearance in the Taylor case Thursday afternoon at the San Mateo County Hall of Justice, where he was arraigned on one count of homicide and did not enter a plea. His bail was set at $10 million bail and he is scheduled to return to court on May 30 when he'll be assigned an attorney from the Superior Court's Private Defender Program.

He was expected to return to Santa Clara County's custody following Thursday's hearing. His next scheduled court appearance at the Hall of Justice in San Jose is set for this Tuesday, May 21.

Sean Gallagher, San Mateo County assistant district attorney, pledged to prosecute the Taylor case swiftly, given Getreu's advanced age and the amount of time that has lapsed since the crimes.

"There is a commitment with the DA's offices in both counties to expedite these cases as quickly as we can. Obviously, the clock is ticking. Mr. Getreu has not been held to account for decades for these crimes, so moving them as quickly as we can through the system is, I know, the priority of both counties. To that end, we will work collaboratively to process the cases through the system simultaneously," he said.

He added that he expects Getreu will be going back and forth in each county for his court appearances.

The Taylor and Perlov cases are two of four cold-cases murders that happened on or near the Stanford campus between 1973 and 1974. Over the past 11 months, suspects have been identified in three of the four cases. View an interactive map showing their proximity to one another.

Gallagher noted how DNA technology is helping disparate law-enforcement agencies connect the dots to crimes committed by individuals who move around — a possibility that in Getreu's case is still being explored.

Gallagher said he is gratified that new DNA technologies are increasingly helping law enforcement to close cases that have been unsolved for years or decades.

"Dealing with cold cases, it just reminds all of us in the system of the power of DNA," he said.

Last fall, Gallagher tried Rodney Halblower, who committed four murders of women near Gypsy Hill Road in Pacifica over a four-month period in 1976. He was not identified through DNA until 2014, but was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences in October 2018 for two of the killings.

"It's gratifying to bring closure to families who were convinced their case was never going to be solved," he said. "We're lucky in this case that Mr. Getreu is still alive."

Anyone with information on the case or Getreu is asked to call the sheriff's office anonymous tip line at 800-547-2700.

Related content:

Sheriff investigating whether Stanford watchman linked to other campus murders


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13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2019 at 11:18 am

It is wonderful that DNA is being used to solve these cold cases.

Thank you for the update.

31 people like this
Posted by sp3cialkhm
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 16, 2019 at 11:36 am

How on Gawd's Green Earth did this scum get out of jail in Germany after raping and killing a child and make his way to the US to do this not once, but 3 times after that?

21 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 16, 2019 at 12:54 pm

It's too bad that Janet's mother, Margaret, her father, Chuck, and her brother, Doug, didn't live long enough to know that her murderer had been found. They all died with broken hearts.

36 people like this
Posted by Soft On Crime = More Crime
a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2019 at 12:58 pm

From The Palo Alto Weekly reportage:

> Getreu 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

> 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,

> also convicted in Santa Clara County for a 1975 rape.

> Getreu is the same man who was arrested for the murder of Leslie Marie Perlov, a Stanford University graduate who was last seen on Feb. 13, 1973

The prison rehab advocates are full of horse feathers. Once a criminal or sex-offender, always a criminal/sex offender.

The guy should have been locked-up for 25 years at 16 following his first conviction for rape and murder.

Meanwhile as an adult, he lived 40+ years free of any encumbrances.

Death penalty advocates unite.

11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Stanford
on May 16, 2019 at 3:11 pm

Did Stanford know this man was a convicted rapist and murderer when they hired him to work on campus?

12 people like this
Posted by WWJD
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 16, 2019 at 3:41 pm

> Death penalty advocates unite.

Do as you please. The rest of us are not in favor of state-sanctioned murder.

10 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 16, 2019 at 4:02 pm

"Death penalty advocates unite."

Well, you got good company: Iran, Iraq, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, China, Pakistan, Somalia, Bahrain, Palestinian Territories, Bangladesh, Oman, Qatar, ...

12 people like this
Posted by Leniency Breeds More Crime
a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2019 at 6:30 pm

> Death penalty advocates unite.

Addressing the anti-death penalty advocates...why should a murderer/rapist be allowed to live (at taxpayer expense) in some state prison for life where all of his basic needs (i.e. medical/dental/food/shelter/clothing) are covered?

While some anti-death penalty advocates contend the death penalty is costlier over the long run, Texas doesn't seem to have that fiscal problem.

The punishment should fit the crime...especially for multi-offenders.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 16, 2019 at 6:55 pm

Sirhan Sirhan is coming up for parole again soon.

2 people like this
Posted by Leniency Breeds More Crime
a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2019 at 7:53 pm

The only issue I have with the death penalty is that it is racist. Blacks are often given less leeway in court trials and there have been numerous instances where they have either been wrongly incarcerated or executed.

The white convict/murderers tend to get fairer trials and if they are found guilty, executing them is no big loss & usually justified.

2 people like this
Posted by You are kidding
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jun 21, 2019 at 1:18 pm no matter that he turned out to be a serial killer.....what was an adult man who pled guilty to raping a minor was allowed to serve his sentence on weekends for one month AND was allowed to stay working with the scout troop that allowed girls and boys!!! WTF?! Who was that judge and this is too often the case that rapists are allowed to be free (we don't want to hurt them) and the girls/women live with this for the rest of their lives.

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