Living by a Killer

Conifer resident Mark Personette was arrested for the murder of Marissa Harvey, a cold case reopened and solved after 43 years.

The view from my house to Personettes. “I mean, if you were to ask me, of all the people Ive come across in my life who would be capable of something like that? I think Mark would probably be the first person that would come to mind,” Brian Chase said.

Ellie Chase

The view from my house to Personettes. “I mean, if you were to ask me, of all the people I’ve come across in my life who would be capable of something like that? I think Mark would probably be the first person that would come to mind,” Brian Chase said.

Living in a small mountain town, neighbors enjoy each other’s company, help each other with snow removal, and trust one another. A neighbor is someone that supports you. Except some neighbors aren’t always what they seem.

Mark Personette was the strange neighbor down the street on Fallen Rock Road, Conifer.

“He was just a weird individual. He would never look you in the eye or wave at you on the road. Like neighbors do,” 10-year Fallen Rock resident Robin Fisher said.

Known to be a Vietnam Veteran, the neighborhood labeled him as a damaged, older man, but never as a murderer. 

That was until his arrest on December 19th, 2021. According to 9News, New York Times, and CBS Personette was arrested on murder charges for the death of 15 year old Marissa Harvey who was sexually assaulted and killed in March 1978. Harvey was a New York resident visiting her sister when she went to go horseback riding in Golden State Park. She didn’t return home that night. Her body was found the next day, and she had been “badly beaten and strangled with a cordlike device after being raped,” according to a report made by Coroner Boyd Stephen.

Though an investigation was carried out, police were unsuccessful in finding Harvey’s killer, and her case grew cold. But in October 2020, San Francisco’s cold case unit reopened the case and “linked DNA taken from the crime scene to Personette,” CBS wrote.

With the history of arrests in Personette’s past, San Francisco Police are asking other law enforcement to look into their own cold cases that involve murder and sexual assault, as Personette may be a suspect in more of these cases. 

It is a shock to identify the killer of a case from 43 years ago, but just as shocking to the neighbors that interacted with him.

“Really, you don’t think I think anyone in your own neighborhood could be so brutal,” Fisher said.

Fisher and her partner lived close to Mark for 10 years. Though she never suspected him of murder, she noticed concerning behaviors he had and tried to make interactions with him few and far between.

“We weren’t quite sure what the reason was but we always had that uncomfortable feeling around him because he was always a little strange,” Fisher said. “I didn’t even recognize him in the pictures because he was never seen without a hat or sunglasses. So now we probably know why.”

Personette always had a lot of ‘No trespassing’ signs on his property and put barbed wire and cones around his yard. He was extremely protective of his own land but had little regard for others’ land. He would often show up when neighbors were working on projects outside, and have lengthy conversations with them. One time, Personette even showed Fisher’s partner, Carl Magarva, that he had a gun in his pocket. Fisher also found evidence that Personette had visited their property unannounced. 

“I would see footprints in the snow and wonder what he was doing walking around my yard, you know, in our area. So those are kind of things that now you look back on it you’re like, Oh… goodness.”

The couple also caught Personette looking in their window.

It’s tough to live by a killer.

I was raised in the house up the hill above Personette’s, living there for 12 years until recently moving. We shared a property line with him, and he intruded frequently on our land and activities. My parents, Sarah and Brian Chase, can recall more about Personette than I can.

“From the first time I met Mark, he made me feel uneasy,” S. Chase said. “He came too close to you. And he would just talk and talk and talk and not get the message that you were trying to back away and go inside. Those social norms that people usually recognize were definitely absent.”

Though I have few memories of conversations with Personette, I remember the rules that my parents told me to follow regarding his presence.

“I did feel uneasy enough to tell my daughter when she played in the backyard to not go past the woodpile because his property line was right behind it, and then if he approached her, she was to run back to the house,” S. Chase said. “And when our daughter and her friends wanted to walk home from middle school, it would mean they would walk right by his house. And I’m sure that was a factor into why I didn’t want 11 through 14-year-old girls walking up the road when he was around.”

Adeline Sportel lived in the neighborhood, so she would often ride her bike past Personette’s house to play in our yard.

“I knew we weren’t supposed to go on his property,” Sportel said. “And I think we’d been told not to talk to him.”

She also recalls the frequent screaming matches that Personette would have with his significant other, that could be heard by all neighbors. The arguments would contain frequent profanity and last for long periods of time.

“I wasn’t fun to hear. It was weird when we were just playing a game outside, and we had to go inside a couple of times because of it,” Sportel said. 

In hindsight, the surrounding neighbors wonder if any of these arguments resulted in abuse.

“You don’t have those kinds of arguments all the time without some kind of verbal or physical abuse,” Fisher said.

But all this is speculation. As a child, I was told that this was a man that had mental health issues, and was just a little odd, and potentially unhinged. I went inside when he invited himself over to talk to my parents about outdoor projects. I never passed the woodpile that marked the line between our house and his. I blocked out his yelling to keep playing with my friends. He was the weird neighbor. But it is truly shocking that a harmless, damaged old man could turn so quickly into an alleged murderer and rapist. I grew up next to an alleged killer.

Personnette has been arraigned in a San Francisco court. 

“We will work to ensure that Mr. Personnette is held accountable for the brutal and heinous acts that took Marissa’s life and to bring closure to her family, which has never stopped advocating for justice,” San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said in a statement.

Though Personette’s arrest and court proceedings are already well in progress, neighbors and myself are still processing that we all lived next to an alleged murderer. But, looking back, they didn’t trust him like other neighbors.

“I knew something wasn’t right with Mark. I did. Did I think he was a rapist and a murderer and the things he’s accused of? No, but I would never let him near my daughter on her own.” S Chase said.