On March 28, 1978, the lifeless body of 15-year-old Marissa Rolf Harvey was discovered in a public park. She had been raped and strangled to death, but it would take over four decades to finally determine who took this teenager’s life.
Marissa was adopted when she was three years old by a family living in Port Washington, New York. On Christmas Day 1977, a woman named Miriam Wadeiff visited the family home of Marissa and her parents. According to SFGATE, Miriam claimed that she and Marissa shared a biological mother, making them sisters. She said she had hired someone to help her find Marissa and wanted her to come to visit her in San Francisco.
Though Marissa’s parents were initially reluctant to allow it, they eventually decided it was unfair of them not to allow their daughter to get to know her blood relative. They agreed to let her visit during her Easter break in 1978. Marissa arrived in San Francisco on March 24, 1978, and enjoyed the Easter weekend with her newfound sibling.
According to a New York Times report at the time, Marissa went to Golden State Park for an afternoon horseback ride on Monday, March 27, 1978. Her sister, a grad student and teacher at the San Francisco Institute, had to return to work that day. She asked a friend to drop Marissa off at the stables for her.
Per The San Francisco Chronicle article, the stable where Marissa intended to rent a horse was closed for the day, something that wasn’t known by the friend who dropped her off or her sister. It is unknown what happened after Marissa arrived at the closed stables.
When Miriam returned home from work and Marissa failed to return that evening, she reported her missing. Only a few days after her arrival in San Francisco and the day after her visit to the stables, Marissa’s body was discovered near Sutro Heights Park by a man taking a walk near the Cliff House. He spotted her feet sticking out from beneath a bush and phoned the police.
Marissa’s body was identified by her sister. According to the report made by Coroner Boyd Stephen, Marissa had been “badly beaten and strangled with a cordlike device” after being raped.
Though the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) investigated, examining what evidence could be gathered and exhausting every lead, the case quickly grew cold. It remained dormant until the department’s cold case unit picked it back up in October 2020, utilizing the more advanced DNA technology available today to take a fresh look at the evidence.
Their efforts paid off, leading them to travel to Conifer, Colorado to arrest 76-year-old Mark Stanley Personette on December 15, 2021. His arrest followed a further examination of the case by a joint task force made up of the SFPD homicide unit, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado.
Personette has been taken to the Jefferson County Jail in Colorado and will make his first court appearance on January 10, 2022.
In a public statement to the press, SFPD Chief Bill Scott said:
“To the families and friends of all victims awaiting justice for crimes committed in our city, we hope this case sends an unequivocal message that you are never forgotten by the San Francisco Police Department — and that our cold-case investigators continue their tireless work on your loved ones’ behalf.
For more than four decades, Marissa Harvey’s family members have been relentless advocates to bring her killer to justice. We hope this development in the case begins to bring a measure of healing and closure they’ve been too long denied.”
Chief Scott also indicated that this may not be the last of the charges against Personette. He has asked other law enforcement agencies where Personette has resided over the past 43 years to review their cold case files for murders that include sexual assaults against women. He believes that Personette may be a suspect in some of those cases, as well.
According to an article in the Courier-News, Personette had been previously booked in the New Jersey cities of Somerville, Bernards Township, and Hopewell Township in assault incidents occurring between October and November 1979. One of these charges stemmed from allegedly luring a 16-year-old girl into his car under the pretext of giving her a ride and then driving her to the woods where he assaulted and raped her.
The victim survived her attack and managed to get to a nearby home for help. She was able to provide a detailed description of her attacker and the vehicle he drove. According to SFGATE, Personette was charged with aggravated assault and indicted in 1980 but fled before trial.
Colorado arrest records show that Personette is currently being held without bail on a charge of being a fugitive of justice. It is unknown when he will be extradited to California to face charges for the rape and murder of Marissa Harvey.