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Sheriff: 74-Year-Old Suspect In 1973 Palo Alto Murder Could Be Serial Killer

SANTA CLARA COUNTY (CBS SF) -- Santa Clara County authorities on Wednesday said a suspect arrested in a 45-year-old Palo Alto cold-case homicide "might very well be a serial killer."

According to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department, 74-year-old John Arthur Getreu was arrested at his home in Hayward Tuesday for the 1973 murder of Leslie Marie Perlov.

Perlov was 21 years old at the time of her murder. She was last seen Tebruary 13th, 1973 at her place of employment in Palo Alto.

Her 1972 Orange Chevrolet Nova was found parked at an old quarry near Old Page Mill and Page Mill roads, according to deputies.

Three days later, her body was found under an oak tree in the Palo Alto hills west of the quarry. The medical examiner's office determined she died of strangulation by ligature in a homicide.

Deputies recently began re-examining Perlov's death, and found the DNA of an unknown man on a piece of evidence. They submitted it to their crime lab and Parabon NanoLabs, based in Virginia.

The company created a genetic profile and submitted the information to a genetic genealogy database, which produced results relating to the suspect's family tree.

The sheriff's office received the report and obtained a sample of Getreu's DNA and found on Nov. 9 the DNA matched their existing sample from the unknown man. Sheriff's deputies did not specify how they obtained the DNA.

"We were able to identify the suspect through familial DNA. He was not in any of the computer systems," said Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith. "We had evidence from 1973 that was preserved that had DNA we believed came from the suspect."

Investigators found Getreu was also previously convicted of murder and rape in Germany in 1963, prompting Smith to say her office might be dealing with a newly uncovered serial killer.

"We know he committed one murder. We believe that he committed this murder. We believe that there are other cases that might be similar," said Smith. "So in my mind, I think he might very well be a serial killer. But we still have a lot of investigation to do."

The possibility that a random individual could have matched the existing profile was one in 65 septillion, or a thousand followed by 21 zeros, according to sheriff's deputies.

Former neighbor Sarah Nelson lived across the street from Getreu for decades when he lived in Newark.

She said her family entrusted him with their house keys when they went on vacations and never would have suspected him of anything like this.

"I mean, I'm in shock. I just can't believe it," said Nelson. "His wife was so nice and everything and his children grew up here.  He was probably here for 20 odd years or so."

© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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