Sheriff: Suicide note, serial killer book jacket at murder suspect's home | News | Palo Alto Online |


Sheriff: Suicide note, serial killer book jacket at murder suspect's home

Former security guard was about to be arrested in San Jose Thursday for 1974 murder in Stanford Memorial Church

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Watch Weekly journalists discuss the latest developments in the Arlis Perry murder case on "Behind the Headlines."


Editor's note: The details in this article may be disturbing to some readers.

Santa Clara County Sheriff's detectives searching for evidence at the apartment of the man suspected of a brutal murder in Stanford Memorial Church nearly 44 years ago found a suicide note and the paper jacket from a book about serial killers, Sheriff Laurie Smith said on Friday afternoon.

Watch a 15-minute interview with Smith on the case here.

Detectives arrived at the San Jose studio apartment of Stephen Blake Crawford, 72, at 9:04 a.m. Thursday with a search warrant. They were also prepared to arrest Crawford for the 1974 murder of 19-year-old Arlis Perry, Smith said.

As detectives knocked on the door, Crawford asked for a few minutes to get dressed. Thinking he was stalling, they used a key they had obtained from the apartment manager to enter the residence. Detectives immediately saw Crawford sitting on the bed with a gun in his hand. Because of the small space, they retreated. They heard a single gunshot and found Crawford had shot himself in the head. He was pronounced dead at the scene, Smith said.

Law enforcement personnel on scene had not fired any shots and the entire incident was captured on body-worn cameras, Smith said. After San Jose police processed the suicide scene, Sheriff's detectives began looking for items of interest related to the murder.

Perry had gone to Memorial Church on Oct. 12, 1974, at about 11 p.m. to pray after having a minor spat with her husband, who was then a Stanford University pre-med sophomore. Others saw her in the church when Crawford, who was a security guard, entered at about 11:30 p.m. to tell the group that he was going to close the church for the night.

Crawford returned at about 11:45 p.m. and locked the church, he told investigators at the time. But Perry did not return home. Her husband, Bruce, searched the campus for her and then called the Stanford Department of Public Safety at 3 a.m.

Although Crawford told police he would look out for her, he later said he checked the church at 2 a.m. but did not find her. Hours later, he reported finding her body near the altar laid out in a ritualistic fashion. She had been stabbed in the head with an ice pick, according to news reports at the time.

Detectives combing the apartment on Thursday found a box in Crawford's closet containing important personal papers such as financial records. They also found the jacket to the book by investigative journalist Maury Terry, "The Ultimate Evil," which was first published in 1987. Perry's murder is one of the cases discussed in the book. Sheriff spokesman Sgt. Reggie Cooks said the book jacket was found in a folder with other papers.

A hastily written suicide note, which was dated 2016, was found on a computer table a foot away from the bed. It is rambling, Smith said, and does not mention the murder directly. Detectives are still analyzing the note.

Smith said the date two years ago might have coincided with when Detective Sgt. Richard Alanis began intensively interrogating Crawford again. Investigators had had contact with Crawford and Perry's family throughout the years.

Crawford and Perry's husband were the most likely persons of interest, but her husband, who was distraught over her murder, was cleared by police. Smith said that Crawford remained a person of interest, but detectives did not have enough evidence to arrest him. Bruce Perry gave his DNA sample willingly to detectives early on. Investigators obtained Crawford's DNA from an object he had discarded, Smith said.

DNA testing wasn't available at the time of the murder, but as the technology for testing -- and for retrieving DNA samples -- has advanced through the years, investigators were again able to test various pieces of evidence for DNA. Around the time Alanis was intensely questioning Crawford, the detective also submitted an item of Perry's clothing for testing. The DNA match to Crawford was strong enough for an arrest and conviction, investigators and the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office believed, Smith said.

Detectives sent additional items to the lab for DNA testing and recontacted everyone who was in the church 43 years ago. They took each person's DNA sample and tested it, Smith said.

Smith added that Perry's murder was personal for her. She came on the force in 1973, just a year before the murder.

"This was a terrible, terrible crime," she said. If Perry had lived, "I would be just a few years older than Arlis," she said.

Investigators consider the case closed and aren't looking for anyone else, she said.

On Thursday, Smith said that investigators did not think Crawford was connected to any other unsolved homicides at Stanford or the local area. But on Friday, she appeared to leave the possibility open.

"During this time there were a lot of serial killers in this area," she said.

"We have a chart of unsolved homicides and we're looking at when he was living in this area," she said, noting that detectives are looking at whether there is a correlation between Crawford's presence in the local area and whether homicides stopped when he wasn't living here.

Detectives are talking to Crawford's ex-wives and his other family members, Smith said. They are also processing Crawford's car in hopes of finding anything that could shed more light on the crime. In addition, investigators are checking to see whether Crawford had any additional locations where he may have been storing belongings.

On Thursday, detectives retrieved everything from his apartment that they thought might be related to the case. A neighbor of Crawford's said she saw bags and bags of items being removed from his apartment.

Said Smith: "In homicides, even in cold cases, we have a warehouse of evidence. We keep the evidence for life, even when there's a conviction."

Related content:

Sheriff investigating whether Stanford watchman linked to other campus murders

Related content:

Webcast: Stanford Memorial Church murder

VIDEO: Former San Jose Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold discusses the Arlis Perry murder


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

About the video: Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith discusses the incident on June 28, 2018, in which deputies attempted to serve a search warrant and also arrest Stephen Blake Crawford -- the primary suspect in the 1974 Arlis Perry murder -- in his San Jose, California apartment. Crawford instead committed suicide.

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10 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Jun 30, 2018 at 1:18 am

"Investigators had had contact with Crawford and Perry's family throughout the years."

Regarding the grammar of the above:

The writer only needs to say "had" once. In this context, by definition the word "had" refers to the past tense.

I realize that "had had" is often said, but it is redundant and incorrect grammar.

Example: Investigators had contact with Crawford and Perry's [families] throughout the years.

16 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 30, 2018 at 2:42 am

^ That syntax looks perfect to me, in fact past perfect.

6 people like this
Posted by Media Approach
a resident of another community
on Jun 30, 2018 at 7:47 am

Yes, past perfect would be correct as those events are clearly in the past and are finished in the past. Let’s hope there is closure now for Bruce Perry, the second victim of this crime.

I would love if journalists would pay close attention to the motivation of killers to immortalize themselves; please only mention their names as much as is necessary. Let’s immortalize those we grieve and not the criminals. At several points in this article, the word “the suspect” could have been used instrad of the criminal’s name. I regularly read science articles in which I have to really work to track back to find the name and institution of a researcher who is being quoted. Why should it be any easier to find the name of a murderer? I can understand the interest in making the information available once, but a concerted effort should be made to ensure it’s only enough to help the public come forward if anymore info is needed, but no more. Likewise with the perpetrator’s photo, I am capable of expanding it in my screen if I want, but I don’t. I want to know he’s been caught and the case solved, nothing more.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2018 at 8:23 am

The number of times it makes sense to repeat the word "had" in the same sentence was one of those discussions I remember from my schooldays. Here is a puzzle I remember doing in school. Web Link Eleven times had can be used correctly in a sentence.

9 people like this
Posted by Just a kid in '74
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 30, 2018 at 11:54 am

I was twelve years old and living in Palo Alto in 1974. I don't remember hearing about the murder - maybe my parents kept it from their children so we wouldn't be afraid. Palo Alto was a great place to be a kid back in 1974. Children were expected to go out and play in the summer and on the weekends and be back before dark. My siblings and I would hop on our bikes and ride all around town and Stanford campus. My parents and my friends' parents didn't seem to worry, even with a murderer on the loose. Times/attitudes sure have changed.

I'm so sorry for Perry's family and friends, for the sorrow and anguish they suffered after her brutal murder, and especially for Arlis Perry whose life was ended in such a horrific way. She was in a church saying a prayer - seeking comfort after an argument with her husband. Makes me so sad.

3 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 30, 2018 at 12:36 pm

Oh, that Maury Terry book - so many conspiracy theories! The whole North Dakota connection, satanic panic, the Process Church, the alleged animal killings in the Santa Cruz mountains. The only good thing to come out of that mess is Best Friend Animal Sanctuary. Then this horrific murder being solved - and it comes down to one of the original suspects, still living locally, and highly unlikely to be part of the Process Church. I hope that's the case.

4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 30, 2018 at 3:11 pm

"During this time there were a lot of serial killers in this area"

No appropriate rejoinder to that statement.

9 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2018 at 9:49 pm

"Said Smith: "In homicides, even in cold cases, we have a warehouse of evidence. We keep the evidence for life, even when there's a conviction." "

I sure hope that the backlog of untested DNA evidence will start getting cleared soon. As has been seen in some recent high-profile cases, one of these nasty people can cause an enormous amount of damage. The (estimated) 13,000 untested rape kits in evidence storage would sure be a good place to start.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by HorseGal
a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2018 at 5:03 am

There is some part of me that yearns for an alive capture of these murderers. I guess I want answers for myself and for the family of the victim. I think we all do. Why don’t police always wait until the perpetrator leaves the house to arrest as in the Golden State Killer case? It seems to make more sense. Why give them time to kill themselves or remove evidence? For that matter, why even let them know they are a suspect if it is a DNA based case? Obtain discarded DNA, process DNA, if there is a match, wait until Suspect leaves the house and arrest. No knocking on doors and no hinting in any way that authorities suspect you. Catch them completely off guard. Make them face their crime and consequences.

Like this comment
Posted by Sleuth
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 4, 2018 at 9:27 am

Why does this article not have the opinions or reactions of his "ex wives"? How many "ex wives" did he have?

They may have damning things to say about his behavior, but not even an attempt to contact them?

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