Nearly four decades have passed since a young woman from Bismarck was murdered in a satanic ritual inside a church in Palo Alto, Calif. The brutal killing of Arlis Perry even today remains unsolved, but the secret of the cult that many people believe was responsible for her death, The Process Church, lives on. And so do the rumors.
The horrific murder of the 19-year-old newlywed made headlines across the nation after Perry’s mutilated, nearly nude body was found Oct. 13, 1974, on the floor of the Stanford University Memorial Church in Palo Alto.
Perry’s murder was investigated by detectives from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department who suspected the killer or killers lived in the neighborhoods surrounding the university. But in Bismarck, other rumors were circulating.
Arlis Perry’s in-laws, Duncan and Donna Perry, were shaken when told that she had attempted to convert members of a satanic cult in Mandan to Christianity. It would take a best-selling book from an investigative journalist from New York City to uncover that Perry’s murderers may have been from her hometown.
Jon Martinson, former psychology professor at Bismarck State College and lifelong Bismarck resident, vividly recalls the Perry murder and members of a possible satanic cult being on the streets of Bismarck. At one point, several years after Perry was murdered, Martinson assigned his class the task of trying to track down satanic cult activity.
“I believe it’s possible that people in North Dakota were involved in (Perry’s) murder in some way,” Martinson said. “Over the years, however, that’s been very difficult to prove.”
Arlis, whose maiden name was Dykema, was a devoted Christian who was involved in many school activities and organizations while attending Bismarck High School, where she met her future husband Bruce Perry. Brad King, a Bismarck dentist who was a classmate of Arlis and Bruce, recalls their romance as being a prime example of “young love.”
After she attended what was then called Bismarck Junior College for a year, Arlis married Bruce in August 1974 prior to moving to Palo Alto, where Bruce was already an undergraduate student. By Oct. 1 of that year, Arlis landed a job as a receptionist at a law firm called Spaeth, Blase, Valentine and Klein.
It was at the law firm’s office where she was visited by a mystery guest the day before she was killed, an appearance that continues to puzzle those who attempted to solve the crime.
Witnesses described this person as a man in his early 20s who was five-foot-10-inches tall. He wore jeans, a plaid shirt and had blond, curly hair of normal length. Co-workers reported that Perry seemed upset by the visitor, who they thought was her husband. However, the identity of the visitor remains unknown today, and may be an important clue in the murder mystery.
On the night of Oct. 12, 1974, a Saturday, Arlis and Bruce were walking out to mail a letter and got into an argument about air pressure in their car’s tires, according to sheriff’s reports. Arlis went off by herself around 11:50 p.m. to pray at Stanford Memorial Church. That was the last time Bruce saw Arlis alive.
Around 3 a.m. the next morning, Bruce called campus security after Arlis failed to return home. Shortly before dawn, her body was found partially hidden under the pews where she was had been praying. She had been choked, beaten and sexually assaulted. Detectives found semen at the scene, and retrieved a partial handprint from a candle that was used in the assault.
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. At that time, it was recognized as one of the worst crimes ever on a college campus.
At first, Bruce Perry was the primary suspect, but detectives soon became convinced he had nothing to do with the murder. The investigation later turned into an unsolved mystery due to a lack of leads.
Nearly 13 years later, Maury Terry, author of a best-selling book, “The Ultimate Evil,” would argue that the investigation in Perry’s murder was “halfheartedly pursued.”
SON OF SAM
About two years after the brutal death at Stanford, the streets of New York City reverberated with fear of a killer with a .44 caliber gun, who became known as “the Son of Sam.” Over the course of a year, six young people were killed and seven others were wounded in a series of eight separate attacks.
Terry, then a New York Post reporter was among those writing stories about the Son of Sam killings.
“It was the biggest thing going on in the whole region,” Terry said in an interview with the Great Plains Examiner. “I got wrapped up into the story the same way everyone else did, but when I started reporting I said, ‘This doesn’t add up at all.’”
In August 1977, a 24-year-old postal clerk named David Berkowitz was arrested as the Son of Sam and promptly confessed to acting alone in the shootings. Terry believed that important parts of Berkowitz’s confession sounded scripted or contradictory. The New York City police closed the case, but Terry continued his own investigation.
Eventually, the Queens (N.Y.) district attorney and the Yonkers Police Department concurred with Terry’s determination that Berkowitz did not act alone. Five .44-caliber shootings had occurred in Queens, and Yonkers was the suburban city where Berkowitz lived during the year of the Son of Sam attacks.
Berkowitz himself also subsequently confirmed Terry’s investigation, admitting he actually did two of the Son of Sam attacks (killing three people) while fellow members of a satanic cult he belonged to did the others.
Following his 10-year pursuit of the Son of Sam investigation, Terry wrote “The Ultimate Evil.” Surprisingly, the book begins with the Perry murder in the Stanford University Chapel. During his enduring investigation, Terry became convinced that Perry’s murder at Stanford was connected to the Son of Sam murders via a nationwide satanic cult called the Process Church of the Final Judgment.
The Process Church was formed in England in the 1960s after Robert and Mary Ann De Grimston couldn’t resolve issues with the Church of Scientology. They developed their own church and soon were labeled Satanists because they worshiped both Christ and Satan. The couple believed that at the end of the world, Satan and Christ would collaborate; Christ would judge the living and dead, and Satan would execute the judgments.
Berkowitz, Charles Manson and William Mentzer, the convicted killer of Hollywood producer Roy Radin, were all believed to be members of the Process Church or one of its related spinoff cults.
The police closed the Son of Sam case, but Terry continued his own investigation. Over time, during interviews with Berkowitz and
other sources close to the cult, Terry found a link connecting the murder of North Dakota native Arlis Perry and the Son of Sam shootings.
Terry also connected the 1978 murder of John Carr, who lived at the Minot Air Force base, to the cult. Carr was shot in the head at his girlfriend’s house on the base; the police initially ruled it as a suicide, but later determined it was a “probable homicide.”
Carr’s father, Sam Carr of Yonkers, was said to be an inspiration for the term “Son of Sam.” Berkowitz stated that John Carr’s death was the
work of members of the cult group. Berkowitz also told Terry the group likely killed Carr because he was untrustworthy due to heavy drug use and other bizarre behavior. Carr had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic.
Berkowitz would later name Carr as one of the Son of Sam shooters. He also named at least one unidentified cult member from Minot, along with Mentzer, as participants in the killing spree, along with Carr’s brother, Michael, who was killed in a 1979 car wreck in New York
City. Other shooters and some accomplices have yet to be publicly identified.
The death of John Carr led Terry to Minot where he interviewed Lt. Terry Gardner of the Ward County Sheriff’s Department, who had received a book from Berkowitz during Carr’s murder investigation called the “Anatomy of Witchcraft.”
Berkowitz wrote a chilling note in a margin of the book. It read: “Arliss (sic) Perry. Hunted, stalked and slain. Followed to California.” Berkowitz admitted he authored that frightening clue.
“Why would he make it up? He had no motive, no reason,” Terry said. “He’s confessed to three murders, he’s not getting out.”
Terry’s investigation also included a trip to Stanford where he retraced Perry’s steps before her murder. He concluded that as many as four people were involved in the Perry murder, including Mentzer and one or more cult members from Bismarck.
To this day, Terry believes he knows the identities of at least two cult members from Bismarck. “I think one of them was the law firm visitor,” he said. “And one of those two still lives in Bismarck.”
Terry said Arlis most likely did something the group decided she had to die over. “She might have heard or seen something she shouldn’t have,” he said. “They may have feared she would expose them.”
Or, Terry speculates, Perry found out some prominent Bismarck residents were involved in cult activity. “Someone in Bismarck OK’d this, and someone had the hooks to get help on the West Coast,” he said. “This was a pretty sophisticated operation.”
SKEPTICISM IN BISMARCK
In Bismarck, rumors continued to circulate that well-known men and women were part of a satanic cult that drank blood and sacrificed animals at Pioneer Park and the caves behind the University of Mary.
“There were a lot of religious groups coming through town at the time,” said King, the Bismarck dentist who went to school with Perry. “I remember seeing people dressed in priest’s outfits. But instead of white collars, they wore red collars and sported upside-down crosses draped around their necks. I think they were called the Holy Order of MANS.”
When “The Ultimate Evil” was published in 1987, much of Bismarck was skeptical of Terry’s theories. But Martinson, who was then a psychology instructor at BSC, was convinced that Terry was on the right track.
“I heard most often, you have a New York City author trying to sell books,” Martinson said. “Folks would say: ‘If something like this was going on around here, we’d know about it.’ And that those who knew Arlis would have said: ‘If she was being stalked, we’d know about it. And how can the writer get information that we can’t?’”
“North Dakotans are often suspicious of the outsiders investigating their city,” Martinson said.
Martinson assigned his psyche students to conduct field investigations of the claims in Terry’s book. But those efforts came up empty.
“It was like water running through your fingers,” Martinson said. “It was so elusive, you’d think there was something, you’d go, and there was nothing there. We would search for rituals in parks and cemeteries. In class we’d say that the (the cult members) are one step ahead of us. Someone is telling them about us.”
Martison said it was a possible that someone in his psychology class was tipping off local cult members about the class’ research.
King, however, is unconvinced that Terry’s theories about Perry’s death are correct.
“It didn’t surprise me that someone came out with some kind of conspiracy around her murder,” he said. “I don’t know if I agree with the author that she was stalked from Bismarck to California. I remember a lot of weird religious stories going on around here in that time, like covens dancing under the full moon and rituals taking place down by the river bottoms. But in her case, I think she was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
King recalls being interviewed at his office about the Perry murder by detectives from California during preparation for a 10-year class reunion. “The police heard a rumor that someone in our class had set up an altar for her, but it was just a couple of photos of her along with other classmates who passed away,” King said.
Around the time his 30th class reunion, King called law enforcement in Santa Clara County to see if there had been any breaks in the case, but there was no new information.
The local media seemed to handle the possibility that local citizens might be involved in a satanic murder at Stanford University as unreliable. Reporting on the rumors was not pursued until “The Ultimate Evil” was published.
The Bismarck Tribune published an article in late 1988 with the following headline: “Halloween sets off search for Satan.” The story briefly mentioned North Dakota’s ties mentioned in the book but focused more on the action the police saw that November when they escorted “carloads of teens” away from the university’s grounds where they were looking for cult activity and the caves.
Kathleen Atkinson, who worked at the University of Mary, stated in the Tribune article: “There was never any activity on the hill until this book used it as a reference point. Talk only came as a reaction to that, making the rumors self-perpetuating.”
However, the witch-hunts continued until the late 90s when the caves were filled in by the university to stabilize the hill the college stands on.
“It’s very important to know that it was Berkowitz himself who raised the connection to (the University of) Mary, and he did it in late 1979 – nearly eight years before The Ultimate Evil was published,” Terry said. “Nothing about the Mary tie to Arlis’ death was made public until the book came out. But Berkowitz knew about cult activities there all along. And I also confirmed that rituals had been occurring there in the 1970s.”
Detectives with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department continued to investigate the unsolved murder of Arlis Perry until just a few years ago, using DNA technology and handprint databases that weren’t around at the time she was killed. But those efforts have failed to uncover any new leads.
Arlis’ parents, Marvin and Jean Dykema, who still reside in Bismarck, told the Examiner that they stayed in contact with the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department for more than three decades after their daughter’s death.
Jean Dykema said they stopped calling about five years ago when detectives stopped returning their messages. “I’ve pretty much given up,” she said.
Ken Kahn, one of the original detectives assigned to the case, pursued Terry’s theory by interviewing Berkowitz at Attica State Prison in New York, but Berkowitz refused to provide additional details. Kahn later told newspaper reporters that Berkowitz may have been toying with Terry and investigators.
Terry said investigators could have done more to solve the case.
“I spent a fair amount of space in that book backing up what Berkowitz said, and I supported it 50 ways to Sunday,” Terry said. “If they are so smart in California, the case could have been solved years ago. They should have been knocking down doors in Bismarck, but they didn’t do that. There is a lot I would do, but I can’t force people to talk. I don’t have subpoena power. I did what I could. And if I can do more, I will.”
Martinson said he has been in contact with Terry in the years since “The Ultimate Evil” was published and has seen evidence to support the theory that there is a connection between the Son of Sam murders, Perry’s murder and people who lived in North Dakota.
The strongest link, Martinson said, is that Berkowitz admitted to spending time with cult members in Minot, including Carr, shortly after the Son of Sam murder spree began. That connection was documented in Terry’s book.
What wasn’t documented in the book is just as compelling: Martinson said Berkowitz recognized a man from Bismarck during a jailhouse interview when he was shown a series of photographs of people who Terry believed may have been involved in Perry’s murder. Berkowitz identified the man in the photograph as someone he had met during a cult meeting in Minot.
Martinson said he, too, has seen the photograph, although he declined to name the man who was identified by Berkowitz.
“When Berkowitz identified the man in the photograph, it confirmed (Terry’s) suspicions that that may have been the visitor at the law firm the day before Perry was killed,” Martinson said. “And it’s entirely possible that Berkowitz met that person while he was in North Dakota.”
Whether Perry’s murder was the act of an underground cult with connection to the Son of
Sam continues to be a mystery. But the legacy of The Process Church of the Final Judgment continues to prosper.
“It (the church) has changed its name about five times and keeps a low profile. And in their current disguise, they have made tons of money,” Terry said. “And some of the original members are still in it.”
As Terry stated in his book, there are multiple devils out there and the group is still very much alive.