reading time: 16 minutes
Written by: Travis Knight
It was Thursday and I took the day off from work. The reason for my call of absence correlated to a certain appointment that I was required at—healthcare, due at 10:30 a.m. sharp. Since I am—yes, self admittedly—a grown 28-year old man who still doesn’t have a car, I had to call my mother—the notorious Madre—to give me a ride to the west side of town.
When 10:00 a.m. plopped into being, Madre flew through the door; hands overfilling with items—a pack of Wave Ultra Lights, a smartphone draped in leather, wild keys, and her all-day staple: a thermos filled with black coffee, the contents chaotically spewing alongside her desperate movements. It was as if she were flying in the house to escape the brittle cold outside, but it was summer in San Jose; there ain’t no fucking brittle cold around here!
An expression I know very well was glued to her face. It was one which occurs when she finds a pair of Ninja Turtle socks, or a creepy demonic clown doll, or some other random shit. Yes, I knew this expression well; it was excitement.
“Damn, Trav,” she said as she caught her breath, “there’s like a shitload of cops downstairs.” That was strange.
“Really? Where?” I pondered.
“Right in the front. There’s fuckin’ caution tape, cops everywhere; it’s crazy out there, just crazy, man!” Huh, I thought, must be some drug shit, or some stupid kids letting their testosterone get the better of them. Nonetheless, I was eager to know what was happening in my apartments; the Del Coronado Apartments off of Camden Avenue.
Madre had not been exaggerating. The entire front parking lot—the one that leads to the main office—was caution taped off, and there were bystanders swarming the scene. My assumption that a stabbing or shooting took place in the parking lot remained unscathed until Madre and I shot down Camden Avenue in her sun-yellow Jeep, past the insanity gathering around my place of residence.
The first thing I noticed in my quick glance was three or four news anchors parked by the curb; their vans sticking out like toe-thumbs. That’s peculiar, I thought. But it got weirder when I saw men and women in suits next to sleek-silver government-issued vehicles. However, the strangest sight had to be the box-like, blue and yellow Crime Scene Investigation van that sat idling near the FBI’s vehicles.
“Woah!” Whooped Madre, “I’ve never seen a crime scene unit in real life! I only see that on T.V.!” Justin Timberlake and Madonna were saying something or the other about saving the world, the wind was pummeling the Jeep’s fabric windows, Madre was hyped, and back home at Del Coronado, shit was hitting the fan.
A Blast from the Past to Bite a Scumbag’s Ass
On October 14th, 1974, Bay Area tabloids exploded with headlines introducing a story to sicken: “RITUAL SLAYING AT STANFORD.” Apparently, some horrendous act of demented fiendishness took place early in the morning of October 13th, 1974 at the Stanford Memorial Church. A 19-year-old girl, Arliss Perry—a newlywed who had only been married for two months—was found brutally murder in a “ritual slaying.” The tabloid was bleak in saying that she had been “sexually assaulted with a candle” and that she “died from a stab wound to the head.”
The last Arliss was seen was at 11:30 p.m. on the night of October 12th by her husband, Bruce Perry, after they had gotten into a quarrel. Arliss said she was going to the Stanford campus’s church to cool down from the feud and pray. In the earliest hours of the morning, and after tirelessly searching the campus for his wife, an overwrought Bruce notified authorities that his wife had not come home. However, a woman missing for a few hours after a lover’s quarrel was not a top priority for authorities.
Between 5:30 and 5:45 a.m., security guard, Steve Crawford, unlocked the doors to the large church just like any other day. What he found was something nightmares struggle to conjure.
A young women’s dead body lay ritualistically naked near an altar—blood everywhere from the ice pick jammed in the back of her skull—candles sprawled around her in a ceremonial manner, while one protruded out of her vagina. Crawford immediately contacted local authorities, who quickly identified the deceased as the missing Arliss Perry. Further investigation found that Arliss Perry was struck from behind, as no sign of struggle was detected. The culprit then raped her with a candle, pounded off on a nearby altar—ironically leaving DNA behind that would one day come back to smite him—and then manipulated the body in a ritualistic position for a further disgusting spectacle. One thing was certain: authorities had a real sick fuck on their hands.
The police immediately honed in on two suspects: the husband, Bruce Perry, with who the victim had gotten into a fight, and the man who found the body, Steve Crawford.
The police quickly cleared the husband; the way in which he was acting seemingly coincided with immense grief and trauma that a guilty party seldom provides. The same was not so for Steve Crawford, though. Witnesses reported that they saw Crawford enter the church around 11:30 p.m. on the night of October 12th. He told investigators that the latter was true and that he returned at 11:45 p.m. to, lock up.
Crawford’s suspicious timeline pricked at the police’s attention. In further investigation, Crawford presented more suspicious characteristics to local authorities. On the night of Arliss Perry’s disappearance, after police answered Bruce Perry’s initial call about his wife, Steve Crawford told officers that he would lookout for the missing girl, but later he told police that he went back to the church at 2:00 a.m. to check for her and found nothing. However, his story did not line up right with the time of death; he would have had to find her at that time–if his story were true.
Crawford’s contorted story led police to believe that they had their man. However, without evidence, there was no case… and police had no evidence. The case froze cold, and the Arliss Perry murder faded into myth; stories sprouting up about Satanism and the Son of Sam. Arliss Perry’s family never let go of their beloved. Torment and trauma plagued every inch of their days, as the man who they couldn’t prove guilty–but knew was–disappeared into the cloaking fabric of time.
Steve Crawford, suspected scumbag from the depths of serial killers, would not resurface until April 29th, 1992, when his name would once again appear in the Stanford Daily. An anonymous tip pointed police to Crawford for a series of stolen “art items, which were acquired by Stanford in the 1890’s” and rare books that had been stolen from the Anthropology Department. Although suspicion was more than sufficient, evidence was feeble and Crawford was let off the hook again.
“Hey, what happened here?” Shortly after returning from my appointment, I joined the throng of spectators that frothed and hobbled around my apartment complex. The cop who I had addressed sternly looked back at me—his sunglasses acting as the final touch to his Robo-Cop, dickhead persona.
“Shooting,” he answered blatantly, walking off as sudden and abrupt as his answer. I rolled my eyes and Madre was waiting in anticipation.
“What in the fuck’s goin’ on, Trav?” I could tell that all the excitement was overwhelming for Madre.
“Fuck if I know” I sighed. Curiosity and the lack of information was getting to me, too. Then, from below, a cacophonous grunt grabbed my attention.
“Stanford Church Slaying! That’s what happened!” I looked down to lock eyes with an obese man in a wheelchair. His murky glasses eloquently sat atop his wide-bridged nose, and his salty black hair slid out from under a ‘Support Your Veterans’ cap.
“Wait,” I eagerly pried, “you know what happened?”
“Yup, they’ve been lookin’ for this guy for years. Finally got ‘em. He killed a girl a long time ago—back in the ’70s; it was big news in those days. The case went cold… until today.”
“Did they shoot him?” asked Madre.
“Nope,” the man hawked and spit, “coward shot ‘imself.”
“Wait,” intrigue had gotten the best of me, “where did this happen?” I hadn’t heard any gunshots. “Do you live here, sir?” The old man emptily stared at me, and then swiftly lowered his gaze back down.
“Nope,” he said, and then he wheeled off down Camden Avenue; a cowboy on a mechanical horse, rolling down the cracked sidewalk into the heat ripples of a smog-ridden horizon; a vigilante who finally got his guy.
It was not until later that evening, however, that I found out that Steve Crawford lived in one building over from me; across the alleyway that separates the carports. When the hour hit 2:00 a.m., I threw on some slippers and shot out the door.
Unit # 185 had its light on, so I lit up a smoke and casually stood on a nearby bridge that connects one building to another. From my standpoint, I could see inside the apartment; I saw a few silhouettes of statues—a spaghetti-like horse statue and some Catholic saint. A box lay open on the table, and when I walked in front of the apartment, I could see a diamond-shaped sign on what looked like the refrigerator; scribed on it was something about “Disease Services.” There was no way to tell if the apartment was actually Crawford’s; one paper reported that the entire incident took place in a hotel, so my current resources were not exactly 100% solid. If only I could talk to the landlord, I thought.
A Landlord’s Nightmare
My landlord is intimidating, to say the least. She’s no taller than five-foot, probably weighs no more than 100 lbs., but from our very first introduction, I both admired her and feared her.
Just like any interview for an apartment, we had to show proof of income. The interview wasn’t going necessarily smooth up until that point. The older Mexican woman was pretty intense and a constant doubt floated in her fiery eyes. “You sure you two can afford this one?” she repeated. However, my wife and I put most of our money into one account–her account–so the statement presented lucrative results. All doubt left our future landlords eyes when she saw that statement, and with an eyebrow raised, she looked up and said:
“SHE MAKES A LOT MORE MONEY THAN YOU DO, MIJO!” Her thunderous laugh shook the walls of the leasing office and a one-year contract was signed soon after.
I always try to avoid my landlords; we don’t usually mix well—my track record of evictions will attest to that. However, I wanted to turn a new leaf with this landlord; try and do things differently. So, every time I would see her, I went out of my way to greet her. Amongst my grave efforts, however, each time I would say hello, the outcome was not necessarily ideal. She would violently jerk her head back in my direction, scale me up and down, and cautiously say: “Hey.” To her, I was just another junkie strolling the alleyways. I couldn’t blame her; she WAS one woman managing an apartment complex with 262 units in it.
So, when I heard her voice screaming in Spanish at my neighbors next door a few days ago, you can see why I was hesitant to approach her about the whole Stanford Church Slaying situation. The Mercury News had already bombarded her a few days before, and usually, she didn’t even know I was one of her tenants; why would she talk to me?
“Hey, how ya doin’?” I exuberantly shouted at my landlord, who was walking her tiny dog down the stairs. She turned around; this time with a warm smile. I was in my doorway, so she had to at least pretend to know who I was.
“You know,” she said, machoism just screaming from her stance, “same ole’.” She turned around and followed her little dog down the rest of the steps.
“I saw you on the news the other day!” She slowly turned around.
“Oh, well, yeah. I guess you never know!”
“Yeah, that’s crazy; it makes you think, huh? Like, who your neighbors are?” I was getting through to her.
“You wanna know the craziest thing? I would never have known. He was a quiet guy, always paid his rent on time. But, I did always think there was something up with that guy.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” she started getting very secretive, whispering almost, so I knew it was time to go downstairs, “you wanna know somethin’? We went in there because something was wrong—I don’t know, he needed his toilet fixed or something—and I remember seeing these great big bronze statues. Me? I like to collect junk, and this junk was cool, I tell ya, cool! There was one that had like a Native American chief on a horse. The detail in the face was unreal! He was all slouched down like defeated after battle or somethin’, and the horse was slouching down all tired, too. I just loved it. But it made me suspicious of him. I realized that it was strange that this old man was somehow living in THIS area off of some measly social security from being a security guard. I always thought there was somethin’ weird there, ya know?
‘And then when this happened, I kind of, like, put everything together. You see, I grew up in the ’60s and there were these people,” she leaned in to tell me as if what she was about to say was highly sensitive information—her little dog was pissing on a nearby Japanese Maple, “that followed this guy,” she looked behind her to make sure no one was eavesdropping, “named Charles Manson. They used to do all kinds of shitty things to people; steal stuff and all that, and they were doing it in this area! I bet that guy was runnin’ with them. And you know, they let out that one girl and…”
“He lived right over there, right?” I interrupted her and pointed back in the direction of Unit #185; my eager eyes awaiting a response. Thrown off a bit, she continued:
“Yeah, right over there. Crazy. I can’t believe I never put two and two together.” At this time, her little dog was sniffing me out. He’s kind of cute, I thought as I reached down to pet the little guy. Like a rabid wolf, the dog snarled and went for my hand.
“Hey, don’t get near him,” said my landlord, “he ain’t friendly.” And with a look of half wonderment and half disgust, my landlord trailed off down the pathway.
Too Close for Comfort
Back up in my apartment, I stood at the window next to my office and pondered into the alleyway, as I often do. It was creepy that just over the horizon of the dilapidated roof shingles, just over Building 11 and in Building 10, the Stanford Church Slayer had been hiding out for over two decades.
Police found a suicide note and a book about serial killers called, The Ultimate Evil (1987); one of the stories happened to be about him killing young Arliss Perry. It was unsettling to know that a good portion of my teens was spent in the Del Coronado Apartments—many of my friends lived there. How many times had I brushed arms with this psychopath? How many times did I run past Unit #185 in all of my delinquency while this whacko was inside honing over his past—reading The Ultimate Evil and reliving that cold October night—ardently pounding off to the pages that held his monstrous acts like he pounded off on the altar after brutally murdering a nineteen-year-old girl? I mean, people who kill like that don’t just stop, do they? He must have been a serial killer!
Just at that moment, a stirring below caught my attention and yanked me from the dark thoughts that commonly plague those who surround such a scene; horrid vibes that sleepily drift over and around the demonic swine’s abode like an early morning fog—the radiation left over from the evil lurking in Unit #185. The figure below was my landlord and her angry little dog.
For merely a moment, the thought of a potential serial killer blowing his brains out onto the wall of a small studio—just over the weather-beaten shingles ahead—abruptly dissipated. The sad thought that a young woman–with so much life and opportunity idling in her future–was carelessly taken away from her family, her friends, and her dreams, faded off and simmered into the sunset’s breath. As I watched my landlord make her way down the alleyway—the one that separates my building from Crawford’s—all the dingy, disturbing, and directionless thoughts ceased, leaving only one to timelessly linger in my mind.
Poor woman, I thought, finding a tenant for Unit #185 is going to be fucked.