SUNNYLAND — For more than a half-century, Evan Williams steeled himself to once again see John A. Getreu make headlines.
Williams, now the pastor at Sunnyland Christian Church, was just 7 in 1963 when his parents told him that his 15-year-old sister had been murdered after attending a religious gathering. Getreu, then 18, would be convicted of the teen's slaying but spend less than a decade behind bars.
Last year, after decades off the police radar, Getreu was arrested in California in the 1973 cold-case killing of a young woman. Last week, he was charged with the '74 homicide of another California woman. As investigators look into the possibility of further Getreu victims, Williams — amid praying for the victims' families, his family and even Getreu's family — feels renewed pain from his sister's slaying.
"There's an element of emotionally reliving some of that original trauma," says Williams, 63. "You might have it put away, but that doesn't mean it's flat-out gone.
"You want it to go away, but it doesn't."
Getreu, 74, would eventually work as a carpenter. But in '73 and '74 he was a "medical tech" at Stanford University, near Palo Alto, according to the Los Angeles Times. Last year, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office reinvestigated the killing of Leslie Perlov, 21, on Feb. 13, 1973. Perlov was last seen leaving her job as a clerk at a law library in Palo Alto. She was strangled, her body found by an oak tree. Genetic analyses led police to charge Getreu with the murder in November.
Meanwhile, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office was reexamining the killing of Janet Ann Taylor, 21, who had been hitchhiking from a friend’s house in Palo Alto to her home in nearby La Honda when she vanished March 24, 1974, according to the Times. She also was strangled, her body found on the side of a highway. With new testing, DNA evidence from her clothing pointed to Getreu, who was charged last week with her slaying.
Investigators told the Times that both murders were "sexually motivated." Detectives are now looking into whether Getreu can be tied to any other unsolved homicides.
“We’re looking obviously within our county,” a San Mateo sheriff's detective told the Times. "We’re reaching out to other agencies across the country and other areas in the world where he has spent time.”
Police know what he did in Germany. So does Evan Williams.
In 1963, his father, Lt. Col. Robert Williams of Clarksville, Tenn., was an Army chaplain serving at a base near the town of Bad Khisreuznach. Living there with him were his wife, Mary, along with their children, Marianne, Margaret and Evan.
One Saturday night, 15-year-old Margaret attended a chapel event. Also there was Getreu, a native of Ohio and the the son of a sergeant major at the same Army base.
Evan Williams says he is unsure if his sister knew Getreu before that event, but there is no evidence that the two had a romantic relationship. Whatever their interaction that night, she did not make it home.
"She ended up being found in a field" near the chapel event, Williams says.
The next day, his parents told him of his sister's murder.
"It was extremely difficult," Williams says. "It was a shock to the entire family."
Getreu was arrested and charged with the rape and killing of Margaret Williams. Tried by the German court system in 1964, Getreu cast "aspersions" regarding his victim's character, according to an account much later shared by her parents with Evan Williams.
Getreu was convicted. At sentencing, the defendant's father told the court, "I am deeply sorry for her parents, and if I could do something to bring her back, I would."
Looking back, Evan Williams says, "That was a stand-up thing to do."
Because the German legal system considered Getreu to be a juvenile, he could be sentenced to a maximum of just 10 years in prison. He got the max, but was told he could be released after serving just less than eight years.
Evan Williams isn't sure how long Getreu stayed behind bars. Apparently, though, he served less than the full term, as indicated by the '73 murder.
After his service and returning stateside, Williams' father served as a pastor at Sunnyland Christian Church, where Evan Williams is pastor today. Both parents are deceased; the oldest sister, Marianne, lives in Springfield.
Over the years, Williams had a nervous, gut feeling he'd one day see Getreu's name pop up again.
"I felt that some day, I'd see his name come up in the news," he says.
Several years ago, he did some web searching and found indications that Getreu was living in California. With authorities then seeking The Golden State Killer, Williams called police there to make sure they knew about the murder of his sister in 1963.
That's not to say Williams felt any personal satisfaction when he heard the news of Getreu's arrest in November and additional charges last week. But he did feel relief on behalf of the victims' families.
"I'm glad that, considering he (allegedly) committed these crimes, he's been apprehended," Williams says. "And I'm glad that the families, who have endured not knowing since the '70s, have some closure.
"My prayers are with the victim's family, my family, and the Getreu family. ... They've had it rough, too."
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.