Editor's note: This article contains graphic descriptions of violence.
A man convicted of two sexually motivated murders of young women pleaded guilty on Tuesday, Jan. 10, to the 1973 murder of Leslie Marie Perlov, a 21-year-old law librarian, on Stanford University land, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office said.
John Arthur Getreu, 78, formerly of Hayward, was charged in 2018 with Perlov's Feb. 13, 1973 murder after district attorney criminalists matched DNA to Getreu found under Perlov's fingernails.
Perlov's body was found in the hills overlooking the Stanford University campus in an open space area between Page Mill Road and Junipero Serra Boulevard. A floral scarf was found tightly knotted around her neck and had been used as a ligature to strangle her to death, the DA's Office said.
Getreu, a serial killer, was also charged in the cold case murder of 21-year-old Janet Ann Taylor of La Honda. Taylor was the daughter of Chuck Taylor, the university's football coach and athletic director. She was found strangled in a ditch in 1974.
Getreu lived near Stanford and worked as a Stanford Hospital cardiology technician at the time.
The murders remained mysteries until advances in DNA technology and familial genetic databases made a match possible. Although Getreu was previously convicted of murder in a similar crime in Germany in the early 1960s, he was not in any digital database due to the age of the case and its overseas location, according to law enforcement officials.
"Justice for Leslie Perlov and her loved ones took a very long time, but it has arrived. This serial rapist and murderer will spend the rest of his life in prison," Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement.
Diane Perlov, sister of Leslie Perlov, said she and her brother, Craig, were in the courtroom when Getreu pleaded guilty by video. Getreu never indicated any remorse, but she was not expecting it.
"Remorse is not a part of it, and everyone told me don't expect that. It was never going to happen," she said. But there's no excuse for his crimes, she added.
Perlov feels a limited sense of closure. "There's justice without peace; there's no peace for something like this. The least I can expect is justice and that's what we got. In court, it's very procedural and cold and clinical. That part was hard. Leslie was there for me and I wanted her name to be read and wanted her to be recognized," she said.
Perlov was concerned that Getreu would plead guilty but that she would never hear what charges he was pleading to. A simple "count 1 or count 2" read aloud in court wasn't going to address the magnitude of his crimes and the impact it had on her family and her beloved sister. But the judge read the actual charges: "You are pleading guilty to murder in the first degree of Leslie Marie Perlov."
Diane Perlov said that helped. Combined with the judge's recognition of her sister, "that felt cathartic," she said. Also, she pointed out that Gertreu chose to plead guilty rather than no contest.
"He didn't hesitate in pleading guilty. That was satisfying. (But) this is one step," she said.
Even after he is sentenced to life in prison on April 26, Getreu might still be freed after a relatively short stint in prison, she said.
Prosecutor Michel Amaral said that under state law, Getreu is sentenced in accordance with the sentencing guidelines that were in place in 1973. That means that despite a life sentence, he is eligible for parole in seven years from the date of his arrest. Whatever time he has served is counted toward his sentence. Getreu, who was arrested in 2018 for Perlov's murder, would have four years already toward his first eligibility for parole, he said.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said that the law was the same in 1974 when Getreu murdered Taylor.
"In each case the defendant is sentenced to state prison for seven years to life in prison. The second sentencing judge (Santa Clara County) has the discretion to sentence him to consecutive sentences (meaning 14 to life instead of 7 years to life. Or he can run them concurrently for a total of 7 years to life," Wagstaffe said in an email.
In terms of parole, Getreu would have just one sentence and will not separately come up for parole in each case at different times. "He will come up for parole at seven years or 14 years, I believe," Wagstaffe said.
The judge in the second case in time will decide concurrent versus consecutive. But Amaral and Wagstaffe said that although these figures represent the lowest possible term in prison that Getreu would serve, neither thinks he would be paroled given that he is a serial killer and rapist.
"Unless he dies early, yes, he will start getting parole hearings. I cannot imagine any parole board ever letting this evil man out," Wagstaffe said.
Diane Perlov said she will continue to speak out any time Getreu comes up for parole. For her and her family, their vigilance in obtaining — and maintaining — justice for Leslie Perlov still isn't over.
"I want to make sure he stays in jail and doesn't get out on parole. Once that passes, I'm not worried. Then, I can move on," she said.
Perlov plans to speak at Getreu's sentencing and wants to make sure that her impact statement will be read into the record for future courts and parole boards to consider.
"Justice is blind and justice is cold, and it should be. That's hard for the victim's family in a way," she said. But the passion for justice by law enforcement, investigators and prosecutors "was really nice to see," she said.
Perlov and Taylor were not Getreu's first victims. He was convicted in Germany of murdering and raping a 15-year-old girl, Margaret Williams, a decade before Perlov and Taylor were killed. He spent approximately six years of a 10-year sentence in a German prison for the crime. The fathers of Getreu and Williams were stationed at a military base at the time and the two met at a dance. He lured her to a nearby field where the assault and killing took place, according to newspaper stories from that time.
Upon returning to the United States, Getreu moved near his parents, who had retired to the Bay Area. He lived for a time in Palo Alto during the period of the Stanford killings with a wife and her child.
Evan Williams, the brother of Margaret Williams, was only 7 ½ years old when his sister was killed. For decades, he has tried to track the news for any references to Getreu. He always felt that Getreu had committed other violent crimes, he said. He also testified in San Mateo County when Getreu was on trial for Janet Taylor's death.
"I am glad John Getreu has chosen to plead guilty for the atrocious murder of Leslie Perlov. My prayers are with her family. Now I ask John Getreu to come clean about any other murders," he said in an emailed statement after learning of the guilty plea in Perlov's death.
In 1975, Getreu was charged with the rape of a female Explorer Scout while he was the Palo Alto troop's leader. He pleaded the charge down to misdemeanor statutory rape, according to court documents. He received a six-month sentence in county jail, a $200 fine and two years of probation. The court suspended five months of his sentence and allowed him to serve the remaining 30 days in jail on weekends.
Perlov said Getreu's guilty plea "was a victory," particularly in light of the many lives he has damaged and destroyed. He got off with a light sentence for raping the Palo Alto teen and with a light sentence in Germany. "He felt he could do whatever he wanted," she said.
Getreu is scheduled for sentencing on April 26. Last year alone, the Cold Case Unit at the District Attorney's Office helped solve five cold case murders and seven sexual assaults, the DA's Office said.
Take a look back at Getreu's criminal history with our timeline: