The baffling 1974 case of the murder of a 19-year-old woman in Stanford Memorial Church has finally been solved, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith told reporters last week, following the suicide of the primary suspect, Stephen Blake Crawford, as detectives closed in on him.
Investigators aren't looking for anyone else, she said.
At a press briefing on June 29, new details emerged about sheriff's deputies' confrontation of Crawford at his San Jose studio apartment at around 9 a.m. on June 28 and the subsequent search for evidence in the murder case after he fatally shot himself.
Deputies were prepared not only to serve a search warrant but to arrest Crawford for the murder, Smith said. As they 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 and they retreated. They then heard a single gunshot and found Crawford dead, Smith said. Law-enforcement personnel had not fired any shots, and the entire incident was captured on body-worn cameras, she added.
After San Jose police processed the suicide scene, sheriff's detectives began looking for items 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. When Perry had not returned home after a few hours, her husband, Bruce, searched the campus for her and at 3 a.m. called the Stanford Department of Public Safety.
Crawford, who was employed as a Stanford University night watchman, told police he would look out for her, but hours later, at 5:45 a.m., he reported finding her body in the church 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.
Last week, on June 28, detectives combing Crawford's apartment found a box in his closet containing important personal papers, including financial records as well as 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.
Deputies also found a hastily written suicide note, which was dated 2016, 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 been in contact with Crawford and Perry's family throughout the years and even at some point obtained Crawford's DNA from an object he had discarded, she 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. A DNA match from that to Crawford was strong enough for an arrest and conviction, investigators and the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office believed, Smith said.
To eliminate other people's DNA from the test, detectives recontacted everyone who was in the church that night and took each person's DNA sample, Smith said.
Victim's family: 'It's about time'
Karen Barnes, Arlis Perry's sister, told the Weekly by phone from Bismarck, North Dakota that when her family members heard about the news, their first reaction was, "After all these years, it's about time."
Though the family didn't know Crawford well, Barnes said she wasn't too surprised to learn he was the one who murdered her sister.
"From what we heard, his story tended to change every now and then," Barnes said.
For Barnes, her 88-year-old mother, Jean Dykema, and other members of Arlis Perry's family, the closure isn't complete. The question of why Arlis was killed remains as unresolved as ever. For one member of the family, Arlis' and Karen's father, Marvin, the resolution came too late.
"My father died three months ago," Barnes said. "This was one of his wishes to know before he died, but he didn't quite make that. That was kind of hard."
Alanis never gave up on catching Arlis Perry's killer, Smith said. The detective kept a picture of Arlis Perry "as a constant reminder that her life and this case had value."
Smith said the case was personal for her as well. The murder occurred shortly after she joined the department in 1973, and the case frustrated investigators for decades.
"This was a terrible, terrible crime," she said. If Perry had lived, "I would be just a few years older than Arlis."
"It's difficult for her family. It's difficult for the department. But we finally have closure on this case," Smith said.
Crawford seemed 'normal,' neighbor says
At the Del Coronado Apartments on the night of Crawford's suicide, a lit desk lamp could be seen through the vertical blinds in his darkened ground-floor apartment. Potted plants were lined up under the front window, sitting on a protruding air conditioning unit, next to the doorstep and in metal stands.
Neighbor Yanet Crisostomo said she and Crawford had exchanged greetings several times during the year that she's lived there. He seemed "normal," although he largely kept to himself, she said. They would run into each other in the common yard, when she and her toddler were outside playing, or they'd see one another at the mailboxes or the apartment complex's office.
"He'd wave," she said. "He'd smile."
Crawford lived alone, Crisostomo said.
In her apartment across the courtyard from Crawford's, she didn't hear the gunshot Thursday morning, but she knew something big had happened based on the many officers who were at the complex throughout the day removing bags full of items from Crawford's studio.
Smith said at the June 29 press briefing that detectives retrieved everything from his apartment that they thought might be related to the case.
"In homicides, even in cold cases, we have a warehouse of evidence. We keep the evidence for life, even when there's a conviction," she said.
Nothing specific to the murder, such as Perry's eye glasses, has yet been found, Smith said on June 29, but detectives are also processing Crawford's car and checking to see whether he may have been storing belongings in additional locations.
Bitter about his demotion
According to former San Jose Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold, who has been investigating the murder case for years, Crawford was a U.S. Air Force veteran. He began to work for the Stanford Department of Public Safety in 1971 as a police officer and at that time had carried a gun.
In 1972, the new police chief began reorganizing the Stanford police department and took a serious look at whether many officers were qualified to carry guns. They were asked to reapply for their positions. About three-quarters of the force did not make the cut, and they were offered the option to become security guards, Herhold said.
Crawford was one of them.
"He complained bitterly about it. He told friends he did not like what they were doing to him," Herhold said.
Crawford stayed on at Stanford until 1976, but he found ways to exact revenge against the university, Herhold said.
"He began stealing stuff from offices," said Herhold, including a human skull, a walking cane given to university founder Leland Stanford and rare books.
Crawford was eventually arrested for receipt of stolen property.
"He claimed he was mad at the university and the police department for treating him as a suspect" in Perry's murder, Herhold said, but the police didn't buy it. Crawford received a six-month suspended sentence, he said.
Herhold never interviewed Crawford but developed a snapshot of Crawford's personality in the years he spent studying the case. Crawford could be charming, but he was a loner, and his word could not be trusted, Herhold said.
Crawford claimed, falsely, that his parents had died in a car accident when he and his brother were young. In truth, they died separately when he was in his early 20s — his mother of a bronchial ailment, according to Herhold.
Crawford was in a square dance group, where his tall tales earned him the nickname "The Prevaricator," he said.
Smith said at a June 28 press conference that investigators did not think Crawford was connected to any other unsolved homicides at or near Stanford; there were three others in 1973 and 1974. But on June 29, she appeared to leave the possibility open.
"We have a chart of unsolved homicides, and we're looking at when he was living in this area," she said, to see if there's a correlation.
Detectives are also talking to Crawford's ex-wives and his other family members, Smith said.
As for why Perry was killed, Herhold said he does not believe she was the intended victim.
The gruesome crime was against Stanford, he said, and "she paid a terrible price."
THERE'S MORE ONLINE
Watch two videos related to this topic: a lecture by former San Jose Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold on the Arlis Perry murder and a "Behind the Headlines" webcast with Weekly journalists on the latest developments in the case. Also, check out an article, "Sheriff investigating whether Stanford watchman linked to other campus murders."
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