In serial killer's trial, evidence points to fierce struggle | September 3, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 3, 2021

In serial killer's trial, evidence points to fierce struggle

Arrested two years ago for 1974 murder, John Getreu comes to trial

by By Sue Dremann

Editor's note: Descriptions of crime in this article may be disturbing to some readers.

In her last moments alive, Janet Ann Taylor was caught in a struggle so intense with her attacker that her rain jacket was torn from the shoulder and her shirt was ripped all the way down one side, according to evidence presented on Tuesday in San Mateo County Superior Court during the second day of the trial of John Arthur Getreu for first-degree murder.

Taylor, a La Honda resident, was 21 years old when she was murdered on March 24, 1974. The daughter of the late Stanford University football coach and athletics administrator Chuck Taylor, she was found dead along the side of Sand Hill Road near Manzanita Way on Stanford University land.

She had been strangled by hands strong enough to have left the ribbed impressions of her turtleneck sweater on her neck, a forensic pathologist testified. Her face showed she'd been severely beaten.

Getreu, now 76, was about 29 when Taylor died. It took 45 years to identify him as her alleged killer through new DNA technology and an ancestry database. Police detectives assert he's a serial killer who also murdered Stanford graduate Leslie Marie Perlov, also 21, on Feb. 16, 1973. Her body was found in a remote area near what is now the Stanford Dish. Getreu's DNA was allegedly found under her fingernails.

By that time, Getreu had already been convicted of murdering a 15-year-old classmate in Germany, Margaret Williams, when he was 18 years old. All three cases had "frightening similarities," San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Josh Stauffer told jurors in his opening statement on Monday. The victims were all young, white, female and had dark hair. They were strangled, beaten about the face and the crimes had some sexual elements.

Expert testimony on Tuesday indicated the force with which Taylor was attacked. Celia Hartnett, a forensics science consultant and retired criminologist for the San Mateo County Sheriff's crime lab, said the right arm of the cloth jacket was dangling from a rip that nearly detached the sleeve. She found a similar rip on the right shoulder of a blue shirt Taylor had worn, and the tear went nearly all the way down one side. Taylor had worn the shirt beneath a bulky ribbed turtleneck sweater.

There were no injuries indicating that she'd been sexually assaulted, but there was evidence of sperm fragments in her body, according to testimony entered into the trial from the Nov. 5, 2019, preliminary hearing by the late Dr. Peter Benson, a county forensic pathologist who died in 2020.

To those who knew her well, Taylor's death remains baffling.

"Janet had a brown belt. It really surprised me what happened here because I thought she'd be taking anybody apart" if they tried to attack her, said Russell Bissonnette, Taylor's companion who lived with her in La Honda, during his Tuesday testimony.

On the morning of the day she died, Bissonnette drove Taylor to her job on Page Mill Road, he testified. Her car had broken down and he was trying to fix another one for her. Bissonnette dropped Taylor off at about 10:30 a.m. She wasn't sure if she wanted him to pick her up. She planned to visit her best friend, Debbie Adams, who was about to return to an out-of-state college. She thought she might hitchhike back to La Honda, he said.

In the late afternoon, Bissonnette drove to his job at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, a jazz club in Miramar. When he arrived home later that night, Taylor wasn't there. He thought she might be staying overnight with Adams. In the morning, however, there was no word from Taylor.

"I started by freaking out. I knew something was wrong but I didn't think it was that drastic. This just put me in another world," he said.

He and close friend James "Gideon" Schroeder looked for Taylor. Bissonnette called her parents, but they didn't know where she was, he recalled.

Taylor, in the meantime, had been found in a ditch that morning by a Peninsula Creamery dairy truck driver, Ernest Evangelo. He was on his way to make deliveries in Woodside when he thought he saw debris by the road. Then he noticed a foot, he testified.

Seeing Taylor laid out on her back, he checked her pulse. Taylor was dead. He asked a neighbor to call the police.

Bissonnette saw Taylor for the last time in the morgue; he went with her parents to identify their daughter's body, he said.

"We were connected," he said. "We were in love."

Schroeder said outside the courtroom that Taylor was a warm, honest and loving person. He thinks about her death "all the time — many times a year."

He had helped Bissonnette with the car they were fixing for Taylor. They had it running and only had the interior left to do. If the car had been ready on March 24, Taylor would not have hitchhiked and she would still be alive, he said.

"I've thought about this. Why didn't we get that car done? If that car was ready, we'd all be sitting around drinking beer with Janet," he said.

Mostly, though, he thinks about Bissonnette.

"How sad it is for Russell — to have somebody ripped out of your life," he said. "I wonder, 'Why?'"

At the time of his arrest, Getreu was a retired carpenter who was married and living in Hayward and had two grown children. He was a one-time leader of his local Elks Lodge. In the mid-1970s, he was an Explorer Scout troop leader who was arrested for raping a 17-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty to statutory rape and received a minimal sentence.

On Tuesday, he looked down and seemed disinterested during much of the testimony. When Bissonnette and Schroeder took the stand, he looked directly at them and they looked back.

Schroeder said he's been waiting for this day for 47 years.

"I'm happy to be here," he said, and he plans to attend the trial every day.

He didn't feel much when he saw Getreu. Maybe, if he'd seen him four decades ago he'd feel different. Now he just thinks "let the court system do its thing," he said.

DNA showdown opens the trial

Getreu's trial is expected to last one month. On Monday, during opening statements, prosecutors and Getreu's defense attorney indicated that a key piece of evidence — Taylor's green corduroy pants — will be a focal point of contention during the trial.

The prosecution said DNA found on the pants in 2019 clearly belongs to Getreu; the defense contends the DNA evidence might have been placed there after the crime.

On the outside and inside of the torn crotch of the pants was DNA, allegedly Getreu's. The chances of the DNA belonging to anyone other than Getreu is 1 in 102 billion from the sample taken inside of the pants, Stauffer said.

The green pants are "pivotal in telling who it is that killed Janet Taylor," he told jurors.

But John Halley, Getreu's attorney, asserted that the key piece of evidence is flawed. No one ever mentioned that the pants crotch was ripped when they initially examined the item. The evidence has been altered, he said.

"It was not in the same condition as when it was collected and placed in a bag in 1974," Halley said.

A 1989 document shows some of the evidence was transferred between San Mateo and Santa Clara county detectives, he said. This record discussed only photographs, but Halley raised the question of what other evidence might have been exposed at that time or at other times thereafter.

"The question is going to be — beyond a reasonable doubt — if the DNA was put there on March 24 or 25, 1974, or over the last 27 years when it was stored or moved from place to place," Halley said.

On Tuesday, Stauffer and Halley continued their battle over the green pants and handling of evidence.

Hartnett testified that she was tasked with examining Taylor's clothes for trace evidence — fibers, hair, dirt and other potential clues. She noted in her report the large rips on a black rain jacket found partially beneath Taylor at the crime scene. She didn't note the two-inch tear in the pants, nor did she note small tears in a scarf Taylor had worn.

"It doesn't surprise me that I missed the tears. In my notes, I said the purpose for which I was receiving evidence was to collect trace evidence," she said.

Benson, the pathologist, also never mentioned the tear in the pants, Halley noted during his opening statement. In Benson's preliminary hearing testimony, however, he said his job was to examine the body, not the clothing.

Email Staff Writer Sue Dremann at [email protected]

Comments

Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 31, 2021 at 10:27 am

Anneke is a registered user.

Did Stanford ever research his background history?


Posted by AlexDeLarge
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 31, 2021 at 1:33 pm

AlexDeLarge is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


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