Was Arlis Perry killed in 1974 by a Satanic cult in Stanford University’s Memorial Church? Some still think so. Photo by Flickr user daviduweb.
Rumors of murderous Satanic cults always make for a compelling scary story, even if they can’t be proven. Maybe that’s why the Great Plains Examiner has a new article today about Arlis Perry, who was killed almost 40 years ago in a church at Stanford University. Her murder remains unsolved, which always stokes the fires of the imagination.
Scant details have led people to pursue the “Satanic cult” theory:
An autopsy later revealed that Arlis Perry was killed by a blow from an ice pick punched just behind her ear. The way she was laying in the chapel led detectives to believe it was a ritualistic killing.
“The way she was laying” is pretty vague, but there are speculative sketches online, likening Perry’s position to the shake of the unicursal hexagram — which, by the way, isn’t Satanic; in fact, it’s used to protect against evil.
Also? The ice pick isn’t a particularly “Satanic” tool.
Reading through the history of the case, it’s a pretty big mental stretch to call some of the players — if, indeed, they were players — “Satanic.” Speculation in this California murder suggests it could have been the work of David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, or someone else involved with the Process Church, or there’s even a hint that the Holy Order of MANS was involved somehow. There were also rumors that Perry had attempted to convert some members of a North Dakota Satanic cult to Christianity… and this is why one of them tailed her to California and killed her?
I’m not familiar with any cases committed by Berkowitz in California — not to mention that he recanted most of his “Satanic” claims after he was jailed. The Process Church is only associated with Satan because he’s part of their beliefs — but that doesn’t mean they’re killers. And despite what it says in the Great Plains Examiner story, the HOOM folks didn’t wear upside-down crosses; they were a humble order working with Christian ideas. That detail alone makes me question the validity of the rest of the reporting — and it should make other readers doubt it, too.
Perry had a fight with her new husband the night she died. After the fight, she walked to Stanford, where she prayed in the church and was found dead a few hours later. Apparently later DNA analysis failed to yield a suspect. I have to assume that her husband was investigated — after all, 44 percent of female homicide victims in New York State, to take a random example, were killed by their partners. Still, it was more than likely the killer was someone she knew — and someone local.
The problem with such coverage — despite the fact that it’s speculative, filled with errors, and not very trustworthy — is that it leads readers to think in a particular way about a crime. Readers are potential witnesses; do they remember something? Did they see something suspicious that might be related to the crime? If they’re led to believe a certain context for Perry’s death, they might discount something they saw if it doesn’t fit that context. There’s a reason juries are selected, in part, based on how “tainted” they are by news reports — because such coverage can introduce a bias that can lead the wrong person to be convicted of a crime.
As long as people think a Satanic cult killed her — and there’s no evidence this Satanic cult exists outside people’s imaginations — her killer will remain free.