On the morning of October 13, 1974, a Stanford Memorial Church (above) security guard discovered the beaten, violated body of Arlis Perry, 19, splayed out beneath a pew. The newlywed wife of Stanford pre-med sophomore Bruce D. Perry had moved to the college town from Bismarck, North Dakota, just a few months earlier to live with her husband. Now an icepick protruded from the back of her lifeless skull. She was also naked from the waist down, with her legs spread open. In addition, Arlis had been sexually assaulted with one candlestick, while another rested between her breasts.Authorities discovered a palm print on one of the candles and semen stains on a kneeling pillow next to the body. Still, they never arrested a suspect. Forty-two years later, the murder remains unsolved — a pitch-black mystery that continues to fascinate investigators, crime buffs, and conspiracy theorists.
Earlier in 2016, the strange saga took a fresh and unexpected turn when a new witness emerged and pointed police in the direction of a former member of the Stanford marching band who is now a “prominent musician” residing in New York City. So far, though, no further conclusions have been drawn.
When she was last seen alive, just before midnight, Arlis walked off alone after a minor spat with her husband for a moment of reflection in the church. The security guard locked the doors shortly thereafter. Seven people, including Arlis and the guard, entered the building that evening. Only six have been identified. The remaining figure is described as a young man of medium build, standing about five-foot-ten. That individual may be deceased, a witness, or killer at large; the only thing for sure is that no one has ever tracked him down.
Another eerie wrinkle occurred in 1979, when David Berkowitz, New York’s notorious “Son of Sam” serial killer, mailed a book about the witchcraft-practicing Process Church to North Dakota police. In a margin, he’s reported to have scrawled: “Arliss [sic] Perry. Hunted, Stalked, and Slain. Followed to Calif. Stanford University.”
While behind bars, Berkowitz claimed that he’d joined a satanic cult in 1975 and that he killed in collaboration with other members, at least one of whom hailed from North Dakota. In 1987, New York Post reporter Maury Terry posited in his book The Ultimate Evil: An Investigation Into America’s Most Dangerous Satanic Cult that Berkowitz was telling the truth. In fact, according to Terry, Arlis Perry’s murder was the key component of an occult ritual executed on behalf of Berkowitz’s same organization.
Terry further proposed that the killer was a local Stanford man who happened to be named Bruce Perry — not the victim’s husband — and that he had acted on orders from devil worshippers back in Arlis’s hometown of Bismarck. Prior to her murder, Arlis had even stumbled across the other Bruce Perry in a Stanford phone book, and mentioned it in letters to friends. After the killing, that other Bruce Perry vanished and has never been located. Naturally, such a coincidence continues to raise questions. So do other elements.
In June 2016, New York–based technical writer Brian McCracken told authorities he had been in the church on the night of the murder, wandering in after he heard flute music. McCracken described the scene to the New York Post as follows:
“This guy is up at the lectern, a young skinny white guy and he has an afro wig on, a light-colored large afro wig, looked very striking, and he’s playing a flute, a large silver flute. To the right of him on the altar was this nude girl lying on the altar. She has candlesticks burning, one on either side of her…. I had the feeling there was no danger to the girl. It didn’t look serious. The girl looked comfortable.”
McCracken said it seemed to him like an occult-style game, which were not uncommon on college campuses in the 1970s. He says he never connected what he saw to the Arlis Perry case until talking with a retiring police officer in 2011. From there, McCracken reports he looked into the murder and came across a photo of a player in the Stanford marching band, who has subsequently become well known as a New York entertainer. McCracken stated he felt a jolt of recognition — “I knew it was him!”—and called the authorities. McCracken also maintains he interviewed the musician as part of his own investigation and he’s now confident that it was the same flautist he saw at the church.
Santa Clara sheriff’s spokesman James Jensen told the Post that investigators had followed up on all of McCracken’s information and that it remained open and active, but “at this point we are leaning toward [the musician] not being a suspect.” The Post even contacted the accused music-maker and quoted him denying all allegations, saying, “I’ve never been involved on anything criminal in my entire life. I’ve been very lucky that way.” At the very least, he’s been luckier than Arlis Perry.
In fact, though, not everyone believes Arlis Perry’s death had anything to do with any kind of ritual or black magic. “It has no cult-like overtones,” asserted Santa Clara County Under Sheriff Tom Rosa. “It just happened to occur in a church.” It also just happens to remain one of the most macabre and unsettling chapters in modern police history, and one that never ceases to just go away.
Main photo: Stanford Memorial Church. [King of Hearts, via Wikimedia Commons]