San Francisco police make arrest in 43-year-old cold case murder of visiting New York teen

Marissa Rolf Harvey was 15 years old when she traveled to San Francisco in 1978 to visit the sister she was just getting to know.

The New York teen, who had been adopted when she was 3 years old, had learned just three months before, around Christmas, that she had a half-sister through her birth mother. The sister, a teacher and graduate student in her 30s, had hired someone to track Marissa down at her adoptive family’s Port Washington home.

The following spring, the teen begged her parents to let her visit her sister, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

“We didn’t really want her to, but we felt it would be unfair if we didn’t let her go,” her adoptive mother, Marguerite Schultz, told Newsday later that year. “We told her sister to be careful with her.”

Marissa flew to California on her own, arriving on Friday, March 24, the Chronicle reported. Within days, she was dead.

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For 43 years, San Francisco detectives have tried unsuccessfully to solve her murder. Last week came the announcement Marissa’s remaining loved ones have been waiting for.

Mark Stanley Personette, 76, of Conifer, Colorado, was arrested Dec. 16 in connection with the case. He remained in the Jefferson County Jail Tuesday awaiting extradition to California.

“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,” San Francisco police Chief Bill Scott said in a statement. “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.”

According to the Chronicle, Marissa had spent the weekend with her sister when, on Monday, March 27, 1978, her sister’s friend dropped her off at Golden Gate Park to go horseback riding. Unbeknownst to them, the rental stables were closed that day.

When the teen failed to return, her sister reported her missing.

Marissa’s body was found the next day, less than a half-mile away in Sutro Heights Park. The Queens girl had been sexually assaulted, badly beaten and strangled.

It was a tragic end for the teen described by her mother as happy and “very special.” In the winter, Marissa would often shovel show for elderly neighbors, the Chronicle reported.

The two previous summers, the well-traveled girl had gone on bike tours of Europe.

“Marissa was a very special, very different little girl,” Schultz said in 1978.

Police officials said detectives exhausted every lead at the time of the murder but were unable to find Marissa’s killer. Investigators reopened the case in October 2020.

Authorities did not detail what led to Personette’s arrest but said it involved “advanced investigative methods” employed by the department’s Forensic Sciences Division.

Now, cold case investigators have released a trove of booking photos of Personette over the years out of concern there may be additional victims. One set of mugshots is from an arrest in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, the year after Marissa was slain.

The Chronicle reported that a newspaper report at the time indicated Personette abducted and raped a 16-year-old girl after asking her if she needed a ride. The girl managed to escape after the assault and sought help at a nearby home.

Personette was indicted on a charge of aggravated sexual assault in 1980.

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The rest of his criminal history was not immediately known.

“In the wake of this homicide suspect’s arrest, 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,” a news release said.

Anyone with information or leads regarding Marissa’s case or Personette is asked to contact Sgt. Alan Levy at 415-553- 9245 or by email at alan.levy@sfgov.org.

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