By Caleb Smith
In the late afternoon sun of October, Memorial Church is a quiet place. The sun percolates through the bright stained glass windows, engulfing the building from the tiles to the rafters in serenity and silence. It seems almost impossible that one of the worst crimes in Stanford history took place within its stone walls 40 years ago.
On the morning of Sunday, Oct. 13, 1974, security guard Steve Crawford opened the door to the church at approximately 5:45 a.m. and discovered the body of Arlis Perry at the rear of Memorial Church’s east transept, near the altar (“Stanford student’s wife found slain in church,” Oct. 14, 1974).
Investigators determined that Arlis, 19, the wife of then-sophomore Bruce Perry, died by a blow from an ice pick to the back of the head. Found nude from the waist down, she had been molested with a three-foot candlestick. Another candlestick had been pushed up her blouse. She had also been beaten.
Behind locked doors
Arlis Perry was originally from Bismarck, North Dakota, and had moved to Stanford two months earlier to live with her husband. They lived together in Quillen Hall in Escondido Village, and Arlis was working at the law firm of Spaeth, Blase, Valentine and Klein. At around 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 12, Bruce and Arlis were walking on the Stanford campus when they got into an argument about their car’s tire pressure, according to a book, “The Ultimate Evil,“ by journalist Maury Terry, a former New York Post reporter. Shortly thereafter, Arlis told Bruce that she wanted to pray alone in Memorial Church. They parted ways, and Arlis entered the church shortly before midnight, as described in the sheriff’s report. According to the security guard Crawford, he closed the church at a little after midnight. Crawford told investigators that he found all the doors locked when he later checked the church at around 2 a.m.
At approximately 3 a.m., Bruce, concerned with the fact his wife hadn’t come home yet, called the Stanford police and reported his wife as missing. Stanford police went to the church and once again reportedly found all the outer doors locked, according to Terry’s book.
When Crawford came to open the church Sunday morning, he saw that the door on the west side of the church was open. It had been forced from the inside.
According to Terry’s book, officers arrived at the crime scene after Crawford raised the alarm. They quickly went to see Bruce Perry, who they later conducted a polygraph test on.
Two pieces of identifying evidence were recovered from the scene. The first was a DNA sample, which was found in the form of semen near the body. The second was a palm print that was found on one of the candles.
This evidence did not match either Crawford or Bruce Perry and no match was found to the palm print in the immediate aftermath of the crime. The authorities also saw no connection between the murder of Arlis Perry and the murder of three other people on the Stanford campus over the past two years. (“Police Find No Evidence To Link Campus Killings,” Oct. 14, 1974.)
Forty years later, the case remains unsolved. According to Sergeant Kurtis Stenderup of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department, the case remains an “open, active investigation.” Stenderup said that new technology can be used to analyze older evidence, and said that evidence from the Perry case has recently been, is being or will be analyzed by their crime lab. Anyone with information about the case should call (408) 808-4431 to contact the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s anonymous tip line.
Conspiracy theorists suspect satanist involvement
Terry, among others, has proposed that the death of Arlis Perry was perhaps not the work of a lone killer but of a satanic cult. Terry articulates this theory in his book “The Ultimate Evil,” which suggests that a satanic cult killed Perry on the instructions of Satanists from Bismarck, North Dakota. Various conspiracy theorists believe that Perry’s body was arranged in such a way that it was part of a satanic ritual.
Terry also speculates that David Berkowitz, the convicted serial killer in the “Son of Sam” cases, knows about the conspiracy. In 1979, Berkowitz sent a book to authorities in North Dakota in which, in the margin, he apparently wrote, “Arlis Perry, hunted, stalked and slain, followed to California, Stanford Univ.” Subsequent to his conviction, Berkowitz announced in 1993 that he was not the only person involved in the string of New York murders he was accused of committing. Berkowitz was interviewed by law enforcement but no arrests were made as a result of the interview.
According to Terry’s book, a young man entered Memorial Church shortly before it closed for the night on Oct. 12, 1974. He may have seen the man responsible for the crime enter the church. A valuable witness could still be out there today, unless he was the murderer, in which case the killer might still be on the loose after all these years.
Contact Caleb Smith at caleb17 ‘at’ stanford.edu.