Editor's note: Descriptions of crime in this article may be disturbing to some readers.
A jury took a little over an hour to find serial killer John Arthur Getreu guilty of first-degree murder and infliction of great bodily harm in the strangulation death of La Honda resident Janet Ann Taylor, a case that had stymied investigators for 47 years.
Getreu, 77, of Hayward, showed no emotion as the verdict was read in the courtroom of San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Robert D. Foiles on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 14, at approximately 4:40 p.m. The jury of eight men and four women filed out of the courtroom without comment.
Taylor's body was found in a ditch on Sand Hill Road and Manzanita Way on Stanford University land on March 24, 1974. She had been strangled and beaten in the face. Investigators used modern DNA technology to identify Getreu. They matched DNA he left on a discarded coffee cup in 2018 to a sample swabbed from the inside and outside of Taylor's pants. They could not conclusively determine whether she had been raped.
Defense Attorney John Halley sought to persuade jurors during his closing argument that police had mishandled the evidence. The pants were the key to the prosecution's case, but he questioned whether the DNA was inadvertently deposited by someone who might have contaminated the evidence during handling.
Some evidence was shared between San Mateo County and Santa Clara County sheriff's departments as they respectively investigated the Taylor case and the strikingly similar strangulation of another young woman, Leslie Marie Perlov. Her body was found in a remote area of Stanford land on Feb. 16, 1973, just 13 months prior to Taylor's death.
Prosecutor Josh Stauffer said during his closing argument that Halley was "trafficking in fairytales." The two sheriff's offices had shared only photographs and not clothing evidence, he noted.
It was evidence from under Perlov's fingernails that initially gave investigators their break in the case. She had fought fiercely against her attacker, and clippings taken from her fingernails and preserved for 45 years were used by investigators to positively identify and arrest Getreu. The DNA profile that emerged from those samples helped San Mateo County sheriff investigators link Getreu to Taylor's killing.
Diane Perlov, Leslie Perlov's younger sister, watched from the courtroom as Getreu's verdict in the Taylor case was read. It could be more than a year until he comes to trial in Santa Clara County for her sister's death due to a backlog of cases, she said.
But Perlov is proud of her sister's contribution to convicting Getreu.
"She fought for her life. The evidence under her fingernails is what led us here. … I remember a detective said, 'She made this happen,'" she said.
One moment stood out to Diane Perlov after the verdict.
"When the jury was gone and it was just the lawyers and Getreu in the court, Josh (Stauffer) gave me a little nod," she said.
Leaving the courtroom after the verdict, Stauffer said only: "Today justice was done."
Taylor's family has preferred to remain private.
"Justice is always good. It's very gratifying to see justice served," Perlov observed. "You never know until the verdict comes in. The prosecutors did a great job — a thorough job. There's no healing because of course she's gone, but there is a sense of satisfaction that he's put away. He will be condemned after he dies, but I want him to be condemned in this life for what he did."
James Schroeder, a close friend of Janet Taylor, traveled across the country with his wife, Mary Ellen, to testify at the trial. After the verdict, Schroeder said he was happy Getreu was finally convicted. He's been waiting for this moment for 47 years.
Mary Ellen Schroeder didn't know Taylor, but her tragic story has been a part of her life for the 31 years she and Schroeder have been married.
"The fact that they saw this through showed a lot of respect for Janet," she said.
The Schroeders will celebrate the verdict in a deeply personal way. On their way to visit Russell Bissonnette, Taylor's companion at the time of her death, Schroeder said he planned to bring a gift.
"I'm bringing a bottle of Champagne to celebrate Janet's life," he said.
In a statement released on Wednesday, San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos said, “Though it has taken 47 years, Investigators with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office have never wavered in their desire to bring justice to the family of Janet Taylor. Through the collaborative efforts of the Investigations Cold Case Unit, the Sheriff’s Investigations Bureau, and the District Attorney’s Office, we are proud to have finally secured a guilty verdict and closure in this horrific case. I would finally like to thank the jury for all their hard work and dedication to seeking out the truth. Ms. Taylor, you are not forgotten.”
Getreu will return to court for sentencing on Nov. 5.