In the early morning hours of October 13th, 1974, security guard Stephen Crawford prepared to unlock Stanford Memorial church in preparation for the day ahead. Curiously, he noticed one of the doors already unlocked; one that hadn’t been unlocked while he made his rounds earlier. As Crawford walked further into the church, he would make a grisly discovery: the partially nude, brutally slain body of nineteen-year-old Arlis Perry.
Arlis Perry had recently moved to California with her husband Bruce Perry, a pre-med student at Stanford University. Arlis and Bruce were newlyweds who had met back in their hometown of Bismarck, ND. The night before, the young couple who lived on campus had been taking a walk along the grounds when they got into an argument. Arlis wanted some time alone to cool off so Bruce headed back to their apartment while she made her way to Stanford Memorial Church. Arlis was a devout Christian and loved spending time in the beautiful old church which is located on the main quad of Stanford University.
Arlis Perry was born Arlis Kay Dykema on February 22, 1955 in Bismarck, North Dakota. She and Bruce both attended Bismarck High School, where they first met. As mentioned, she was a devout Christian known for her very optimistic, compassionate, and kind nature. She had also been described as very trusting, possibly due to her sheltered upbringing. Her father, Marvin Dykema, admitted that, prior to moving out West with her husband, she had never been away from home and he believed that her naivety may have ultimately led to her demise.
After Bruce graduated high school, he moved out to California in order to attend Stanford. Arlis still had a year to go before graduating so the two maintained a long distance relationship. During this period, Arlis spent her free time proselytizing and spreading the Gospel of Christ to non-believers. In August of 1974, after Arlis graduated from high school, she married Bruce and followed him to Palo Alto, California, where the two settled into Quillen Hall, one of the residences located in Escondido Village, part of Stanford University’s campus. While Arlis found her new surroundings to be perfectly lovely and even enjoyed strolling around the campus she, understandably, felt quite lonely at times. Bruce was very busy not only attending university, but also working to support himself and his new wife. Arlis regularly wrote letters to her friends and family back home in Bismarck, remarking on the difficulty she was experiencing making new friends. Before long, she took a receptionist job at the law firm of Spaeth, Blasé, Valentine, and Klein, hoping to alleviate some of the loneliness and possible boredom she may have felt.
On the night of October 12, Arlis wanted to mail some letters so she and Bruce took this as an opportunity to take a little stroll around the campus grounds together. As mentioned, Arlis enjoyed doing this but Bruce preferred she didn’t do so by herself at night. During their walk, the couple got into a small argument regarding their car. It wasn’t a serious fight in any way, just the typical squabble that young married couples have at times.
It was already close to midnight when Arlis told Bruce that she wanted some time to herself to go over to the Stanford Memorial Church to pray and calm herself down. It was approximately 11:50 PM when security guard Stephen Crawford witnessed Arlis entering the church as two people exited. As those two witnesses were leaving the church they noticed a young man entering. He looked o be no more than twenty-five-years-old with sandy blond hair, wearing a short-sleeved blue t-shirt.
According to Stephen Crawford, not long after Arlis showed up at the church, he took a quick look around, found it vacant then, just in case he may have overlooked someone, shouted that he was about to lock up and that any stragglers should wrap up their business and leave. This was at approximately 12:10 AM. Crawford allegedly made regular checks on the church every couple of hours after locking up and during those inspections found nothing suspicious and all the doors locked.
Back at their apartment only half a mile away, Bruce began growing anxious. Between 12:15 and 12:30 AM Bruce made his way toward the church only to reach the building and discover it locked up. Bruce looked all around the campus in the hopes of running into his wife. As she had only been living in the area for a few weeks and hadn’t made any friends yet, he knew it was unlikely that she would have gone visiting anyone. As he reached their apartment there was still no sign of her. As 3:00 AM approached, Bruce decided to call authorities to report his wife missing. After Bruce explained events to the police they went over to the church themselves but found nothing suspicious.
At 5:45 AM that same morning, Crawford went back to Stanford Memorial in order to open it for the day only to find one of the doors already unlocked. Police would later discover that it had been forced open from the inside. With some trepidation, Crawford entered the sanctuary and found that the altar had been untouched. However, to the left of the altar is where he made the gruesome discovery. Arlis was found lying spread-eagle on her back, an ice pick protruding from her head, just behind her left ear. Some accounts claim that her jeans and underwear were completely removed while others claim they pulled down around her ankles. Regardless, her pants had been pulled down far enough to where the murderer was capable of sexually assaulting her with a twenty-four-inch altar candle which was still inside of her. With her blouse torn open, a second candle was pushed up between her breasts. In addition, it is believed that she was also brutally beaten and strangled. Near her body was a pillow containing semen stains. Some accounts claim that, from a birds-eye view, Arlis’s body was posed in such a way so that her legs created a diamond shape in order to resemble a pentagram, leading many to believe that her murder was some type of Satanic ritual. In addition to the semen, a latent palm print was found on one of the candles. None of these pieces of evidence matched up with either Bruce Perry or Stephen Crawford.
I’m not going to delve into detail of all the theories and speculation that have surrounded this case as I and many others believe that, not only are some of these theories outrageous and ridiculous, but there’s little to no evidence available to support them. They range from David Berkowitz (aka, the Son of Sam) being involved to the Freemasons to the Zodiac Killer. One religious group of the time called Process Church of the Final Judgment (aka, The Process) which supposedly had ties to Satanism was also under suspicion. Apparently, while still living in Bismarck, Arlis supposedly attempted to recruit some members of this organization. Some believe that, in retaliation, a member (or members) of The Process stalked and followed her out to California to take their revenge. I don’t believe this for a second. If anyone from The Process was angry at the thought of Arlis trying to poach one of their members they would have gotten over it and forgotten about her as soon as she moved out of state. I highly doubt Arlis Perry had so much power and authority that they would find her such a threat. Arlis’s body was buried at a cemetery in her hometown and the fact that a marker had been stolen from her grave only added more speculation to this theory.
Another “suspect” who was looked at many years later was a flutist who was supposedly seen in the church the same night of the murder playing his flute on the altar while wearing an afro wig and had a young woman with him lying down naked with candles burning on either side of her. The person claiming to witness this spectacle said that the woman resembled Arlis. The witness came forward many years later and relayed this story to authorities and even discovered the name of this flutist who is a well-renowned musician in New York). The lead went nowhere. (I’m aware of the musician’s name but will not mention it.)
On the day of her funeral, one of Arlis’s coworkers was startled to meet Bruce as the day prior to her death a young man in his early twenties was seen speaking to Arlis and the two looked as if they were arguing. Arlis seemed shaken and upset when the young man left. Since she had been at this job for just a very short time, her coworkers assumed this person was her husband. The description of the man sounded somewhat similar to the one that entered the church right after her. Neither man has ever been identified.
There is much to be read online about this case. Unfortunately, so much of it revolves around the hypotheses mentioned above. At times I find conspiracy theories interesting, however, in this case a young, innocent woman’s life was taken from her much too soon and more than forty years later, her murder is still unsolved. Obviously, these wild theories have solved nothing.
At the time, authorities believed that this was premeditated as the killer was in possession of an ice pick. Why would someone walk into a church carrying an ice pick at midnight? Had someone begun watching Arlis while she took her walks around the campus? Personally, I’m curious about who she had been talking to at her job the day prior to her death. Whatever they had been speaking about visibly upset her; enough so that her colleagues took notice. Was this person someone who lived on or near the Stanford campus who had become obsessed with Arlis and began stalking her? As mentioned earlier, Arlis was a warm, friendly, and optimistic person who was rather sheltered. In her need for wanting to make friends could she have come across this person during her walks and innocently exchanged pleasantries with them, unwittingly setting off a series of events leading up to her death?
***Brenda Thornlow is a published author from Brooklyn, NY. Her work can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.***