Teenager Marissa Rolf Harvey was found dead in Sutro Heights in 1978, but thanks to “advanced forensic investigative techniques,” SFPD found a suspect in Colorado and arrested him for that murder on Thursday.
When a murder case has gone cold for 43 years, you figure that’s going to remain an unsolved crime forever. But with decades of persistence and, according to the Chronicle, “advanced forensic investigative techniques,” the San Francisco Police Department arrested 76-year-old Colorado man Mark Stanley Personette for the 1978 murder of Marissa Rolf Harvey, in a collaboration between the SFPD, the SF DA's office, the FBI and Jefferson County (Colorado) Sheriff's Office.
Harvey had come to San Francisco during her spring break from high school on the East Coast to visit a half sister she didn't know she had. Harvey had been put up for adoption, but she had an older half sister in her 30s, Miriam Walbieff, who was living in SF and who had set out to find and meet Harvey the previous year. Harvey had begged her parents to let her travel alone across the country to visit Walbieff a few months later, and they agreed.
"For more than four decades, Marissa Harvey's family members have been relentless advocates to bring her killer to justice, and we hope this development in the case begins to bring a measure of healing and closure they've been too long denied," SFPD chief Bill Scott said in a statement to Bay City News.
The Chronicle recalls its own coverage of the killing in 1978. “Marissa was found strangled after she left to go horseback riding in Golden Gate Park,” the Chron says. “The rental stables were apparently closed that day, and her body was found at 48th Avenue and Anza Street about a half mile from the park.”
Heartbreakingly, the Chronicle’s review of their coverage adds that “Coroner Boyd Stephen was quoted at the time as saying the girl was found ‘badly beaten and strangled with a cord-like device.’”
Law enforcement somehow made a breakthrough in October 2020 using “advanced forensic investigative techniques,” on which they would not elaborate. Personette was arrested Thursday in Colorado, and according to SFGate, is being held without bond and has a court date scheduled for January 9, 2022.
There’s some hope that Personette’s arrest may lead to the cracking of other cold cases — and Personnette was previously jailed for an assault on a teenager, so there was a pattern here. “The San Francisco Police Department is requesting that law enforcement agencies within the United States thoroughly review their sexual-assault related cold-case homicides involving young women to identify any other incidents in which Personette may be a suspect,”SFPD said in a release.