Suspected serial killer charged in 2nd Stanford cold case homicide from the ’70s
A former Stanford University worker was charged Thursday in the decades-old slaying of the daughter of the school’s former athletic director, marking the third time the man has been linked to a death as cold case investigators continue to search for more victims.
John Arthur Getreu was tied to the 1974 strangulation of Janet Ann Taylor, 21, after detectives matched DNA evidence gathered from the victim’s clothes to the 74-year-old carpenter, who last lived in Hayward, according to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.
Late last year, Getreu was charged in the slaying of Leslie Marie Perlov, a 21-year-old woman whose body was discovered near the Stanford campus in 1973, officials said. He was also convicted of the sexual assault and murder of a young woman in Germany in the 1960s, investigators said.
Detectives fear Getreu may have been responsible for additional slayings.
Both Taylor and Petrov were strangled in killings that were “sexually motivated,” according to investigators, who plan to search for similar cases in the Bay Area and anywhere else Getreu has resided, including Ohio.
“Realistically, you look at a guy who has now been connected to three sexually motivated murders, now that covers [his] ages 18 to almost 30. Those are still prime years for someone who has such an impulse, a driven ability to commit these kind of violent crimes,” said Rick Jackson, a retired Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective who now serves as a cold case investigator with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.
“We’re looking obviously within our county,” he said. “We’re reaching out to other agencies across the country and other areas in the world where he has spent time.”
Getreu first came to the attention of law enforcement in 2017 when the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office reopened its investigation of Perlov’s death. Detectives were able to connect Getreu to that killing after cold case investigators using DNA genealogical techniques similar to those used in the Golden State Killer case connected him to evidence at the crime scene. He was charged with her murder in November 2018.
Taylor was hitchhiking from a friend’s house in Palo Alto to her home in nearby La Honda when she vanished March 24, 1974. A delivery driver who was making his way along Sand Hill Road, west of Interstate 280, discovered the young woman’s body on the side of the highway.
Investigators were quick to notice similarities between Taylor’s and Perlov’s killings.
“The suspect’s [methods were] very similar, and both victims were last seen leaving the Stanford campus area,” San Mateo County Assistant Sheriff Gregory P. Rothaus said during a news conference Thursday.
Perlov disappeared months before Taylor died. She was last seen leaving her job as a clerk at a law library in Palo Alto. Her orange Chevrolet Nova was found abandoned in an old quarry. A few days later, her body was found under an oak tree. She had also been strangled.
Detectives working with DNA technicians recovered genetic evidence from an unknown man last summer. Investigators sent the genealogical material to the county crime lab and Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia medical lab that has recently identified suspects in several cold case killings.
A genetic profile was created beyond those typically used for DNA matches in criminal databases, and the information was submitted to a genealogy database, officials said.
A family tree was generated that allowed investigators to narrow their focus to Getreu, and in November authorities obtained a sample of his DNA, which matched the evidence in Perlov’s case, authorities said.
Getreu, who was already in custody after being arrested in Perlov’s death, was ordered held on $10-million bail after a brief hearing Thursday afternoon in connection with Taylor’s death, San Mateo County Dist. Atty. Stephen Wagstaffe said. He has yet to be assigned a public defender, and the case was continued to May 30, Wagstaffe said.
Getreu, a laborer and carpenter who had previously worked in Redwood City and Palo Alto, told police he was working as a “medical tech” in Stanford University’s heart transplant unit at the time of the women’s deaths, Jackson said. He has a lengthy, violent criminal record that stretches overseas.
Growing up in a military family, Getreu attended a private school in Germany, where he attacked and murdered a young female student in 1963, Jackson said. He was 18.
Getreu was convicted of murder, but because he was tried as a juvenile, he spent only a few years in prison before he was returned to the U.S., officials said.
In 1975, Getreu was convicted of statutory rape in Santa Clara County and sentenced to six months in prison, Wagstaffe said.
On Thursday, Taylor’s family expressed their gratitude over the arrest of a suspect and regret over the life she never got to live.
“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,” the statement read. “Janet’s future was bright. It would have been wonderful to see what she would have done.”
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.