John Arthur Getreu, the serial killer who was sentenced to life in prison for the strangulation murders of two women in the 1970s on Stanford University land, has died in state prison, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe confirmed.
Getreu, 79, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1974 death of Janet Ann Taylor in San Mateo County and who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for the 1973 death of Leslie Marie Perlov in Santa Clara County, died in state prison just five months after his sentence for Perlov's murder.
He died on Sept. 22, of natural causes, Wagstaffe said.
"A truly evil human being who was not held accountable until the end of his life. But at least we could bring some peace to the families of the two victims," Wagstaffe said in an email statement.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose office first pursued Getreu and later prosecuted him for Perlov's death, was even more succinct regarding the serial killer's death: "Good," Rosen said.
Getreu's earliest known violent crime occurred when he was just 18 years old. He was living in Germany with his family where his father was stationed in the military. He was convicted of the strangulation murder and rape of 15-year-old Margaret Williams, a student whose father was an Army chaplain, in 1964.
Getreu murdered Williams after she left a dance. He spent six years of a 10-year sentence in a German prison and was released early in part because he was still a minor under German law. He was deported to the United States and resided with his parents, first in Florida and then in the Bay Area after they retired.
He spent most of the 1970s in Palo Alto and surrounding cities and worked for Stanford and Mills hospitals as a cardiac technician during the time of the murders. In 1975, one year after Taylor's death, he was charged with sexual perversion and rape by threat of great bodily harm of a 17-year-old Palo Alto girl. She was a member of his Explorer Scouts troop.
After a plea deal, 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, according to court documents.
His stepdaughter from his first marriage and his first wife said, when on the witness stand, that he sexually assaulted the girl for years during her childhood.
He moved to Newark, Ohio, his hometown, with his second wife, where he was also involved in the Scouts, and then returned to the Bay Area, living in the East Bay. He had two children. He also became the “exalted ruler” of the Fremont Elks Lodge and was married a third time.
The Stanford cases stayed cold until advances in DNA technology linked him as a probable suspect. Detectives confirmed a match from a coffee cup he discarded near his home in Hayward to DNA samples taken from Taylor's clothing and from under Perlov's fingernails.
He often sat without expression in the proceedings during his preliminary hearing and trial, except when prosecutors showed images of the slain woman on the projector screen. Then, he would lean over to observe the exhibit photos or look up with interest.
Diane Perlov, Leslie's sister, had confronted Getreu in court and spoke about the impact of her sister's death on her and her family. Regarding his death, Perlov said: "I'm so glad the case was solved while he was still alive so that I could face him in court. It brings me more peace that he died in prison and is now gone forever from this world. I hope people realize if it weren't for DNA analysis, we might never have captured him. Science in law enforcement should be supported; it is absolutely critical."
Leslie and Diane Perlov were always a team, she said. She noted that Getreu was first identified as the killer from DNA taken from scrapings under her sister's fingernails after she had fought her attacker.
"She fought for her life! When she was killed, it was my turn to pick up the baton and fight for her. In the end it was Leslie who nailed him. It took us 50 years to decode the data she left us, but we finally got him," she said.
Getreu had multiple health issues, including kidney problems and had suffered a brain aneurysm during the long years prior to his trial. He was convicted in Taylor's murder on Sept. 14, 2021 and was sentenced to life in prison on Nov. 5, 2021. He pleaded guilty on Jan. 10, 2023, for Perlov's murder. He received a life sentence on April 27, 2023.