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New Evidence May Give 'Boston Strangler' A Name

Jul 12, 2013
Originally published on July 12, 2013 12:45 pm

After almost 50 years, law enforcement officials say they have new evidence proving who killed the last victim in the infamous Boston Strangler case, a string of murders in the 1960s.

But questions are being asked about the new evidence and the way it was obtained.

WBUR’s Bruce Gellerman reports on the latest developments in this cold case.

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It's a crime that has lingered unsolved for almost half a century, but now, law enforcement officials say they have new evidence proving who killed the last victim in the Boston Strangler case. But instead of ending speculation about the serial killings, the new evidence and the way it was obtained is raising questions. Bruce Gellerman, from HERE AND NOW contributing network station WBUR, reports on the latest developments in this cold case.

BRUCE GELLERMAN, BYLINE: The first murder was June 14th, 1962. The body of Anna Slesers is found brutally molested, strangled and murdered in her third-floor apartment near Boston Symphony Hall. For the next 18 months, the killing of women, young and old, continues in communities in and around the city. Reporters dubbed the murderer the Boston Strangler. This documentary is one of many that chronicled the manhunt.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The police never did find the Boston strangler. Instead, the strangler found the police. Almost a year after the last killing, a man stepped forward and claimed that he was the one. He was the Boston Strangler. His name: Albert Henry DeSalvo.

GELLERMAN: Albert DeSalvo confesses to the murders, while awaiting trial for a series of sexual assaults. He describes in great detail the way he killed his victims, especially his last one, 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, who had moved from Cape Cod to a Beacon Hill apartment just four days before she was killed. Here's the archival tape of DeSalvo's confession.


ALBERT DESALVO: I left her on the side of the bed with her head hanging down, her two breasts exposed.

GELLERMAN: I left her on the side of the bed with her head hanging down. Her two breasts exposed. She was sitting up.


DESALVO: She was sitting up.

GELLERMAN: DeSalvo would later recant his confession and was later killed in prison while serving a life sentence for robbery and sexual assault. He was never prosecuted for any of the Boston Strangler murders.

DANIEL CONLEY: There was no forensic evidence to link Albert DeSalvo to Mary Sullivan's murder - until today.

GELLERMAN: At a news conference at Boston Police headquarters yesterday, Suffolk County DA Daniel Conley announced a breakthrough in the investigation of Mary Sullivan's murder.

CONLEY: Advances in the sensitivity of DNA testing have allowed us to make a familial match between biological evidence recovered from the crime scene and a suspect in Mary Sullivan's murder. That suspect is Albert DeSalvo.

GELLERMAN: For 49 years, investigators had preserved small pieces of a blanket from Sullivan's bed and using a new genetic test matched semen found on the blanket with another piece of evidence they recently obtained, explained Conley.

CONLEY: Boston Police retrieved a water bottle that one of Albert DeSalvo's nephews drank from and discarded.

GELLERMAN: A Boston officer especially trained in surveillance took the bottle with the relative's DNA and two labs would later independently confirm the genetic link. Attorney Elaine Sharp represents the DeSalvo family. She was livid after learning about the new evidence.

ELAINE SHARP: To surreptitiously get a sample of his DNA is - I think, it's outrageous. I think they should have asked us. We offered to cooperate.

GELLERMAN: Investigators say they obtained a search warrant for the water bottle and think the new DNA testing technique could help solve other cold case murders. But Boston Police forensic expert, Don Hayes, says he can't use the new test on genetic samples from the other murders attributed to the Boston Strangler because there aren't any samples.

DONALD HAYES: I never had samples of those other cases. Where those samples went, I don't know. I don't have any information about that.

GELLERMAN: So, the 10 other murders attributed to the Boston Strangler will probably never be solved. And while investigators say the new genetic evidence may be 99.9 percent proof positive, it's DeSalvo's DNA on Mary Sullivan's blanket. Just to make sure, they're going to exhume and test his body.

CHAKRABARTI: That report from WBUR's Bruce Gellerman. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.