Sunday, November 29, 2020

DNA Links Boston Strangling to Confessed Suspect

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Michael Whyte
Crime Scene Officer and Fingerprint Expert with over 7 years experience in Crime Scene Investigation and Latent Print Analysis. The opinions or assertions contained on this site are the private views of the author and are not to be construed as those of any professional organisation or policing body.
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BOSTON — Investigators have linked the man believed by many to have been the Boston Strangler to DNA found in the home of a woman thought to be the Strangler’s last victim in a string of unsolved murders that petrified the city of Boston in the early 1960s and has perplexed it ever since.

Over the course of about 20 months from 1962 to 1964, 11 women ages 19 to 85 were brutally murdered here and in nearby cities, many sexually assaulted and killed in their homes. Mary Sullivan, 19, the last of the victims, was found raped and murdered in her apartment in January 1964.

“We may have just solved one of the nation’s most notorious serial killings,” said Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general, at a news conference at Boston Police Headquarters.

District Attorney Daniel F. Conley of Suffolk County said investigators, who included members of the Boston Police Department’s cold case team and the attorney general’s office, had recently tested seminal fluid samples taken from Ms. Sullivan’s body, and the blanket on which it was found.

They identified a near-certain match with Albert DeSalvo, the man who confessed to the murders (and two more), but was never prosecuted for the crimes.

Albert DeSalvo in 1967.

“For almost five decades, the only link between Albert DeSalvo and Mary Sullivan was his confession,” Mr. Conley said. “That confession has been the subject of skepticism and controversy from almost the moment it was given.”

The new testing brings an element of modern scientific proof to one murder in a case that seemed likely never to be solved, especially after Mr. DeSalvo was killed in 1973 in prison, where he had been sentenced to life for unrelated sexual assault and robbery charges.

It comes as the city revisits two other notorious crimes. Earlier this year, authorities announced they had identified the thieves who robbed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. And the crime boss James (Whitey) Bulger is standing trial on a sweeping racketeering indictment after he spent more than 16 years on the lam.

Don Hayes, of the Boston Police Department crime lab, found the blanket among a trove of police evidence in 1998, and the department received slides with the sample taken from Ms. Sullivan’s body in the early 2000s. But early attempts to recover usable DNA samples were inconclusive. So Mr. Hayes stored the samples and waited for technology to improve. Last fall, investigators sent the samples to two private labs for another try — and this time got a DNA profile for an unknown male.

“The evidence in this case never changed, but the scientific ability to use that evidence has surpassed every hope and expectation of investigators who were first assigned to the case,” Mr. Conley said.

Those DNA profiles matched one from a water bottle that had recently been used and discarded by a nephew of Mr. DeSalvo’s, which investigators had obtained by trailing him. Investigators said they used a test of male chromosomes passed from generation to generation, and found a match that gave them virtual certainty of Mr. DeSalvo’s guilt.

A Superior Court judge in Boston granted permission on Wednesday to exhume Mr. DeSalvo’s remains so that a final identification could be made. That process could conclude as early as next week.

In the early 2000s, investigators hired by the families of Mr. DeSalvo and Ms. Sullivan discovered DNA on Ms. Sullivan’s body that did not belong to her or to Mr. DeSalvo. That and inconsistencies between Mr. DeSalvo’s confession and police fact-finding about the case led some investigators to conclude he had not committed that murder.

It all added to a body of speculation that the Boston Strangler was more than one man — a possibility that was often raised by lawyers for the DeSalvo family and by Casey Sherman, who is the son of Ms. Sullivan’s sister.

But the new evidence “provides an incredible amount of closure to myself and my mother,” said Mr. Sherman, 44, an author who wrote a book about the Strangler case. “I’ve lived with Mary’s memory every day, my whole life.”

The lawyer who represents the DeSalvo family, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, said that the family took umbrage at having been trailed for a DNA sample — and that while the evidence was strong, she did not find it conclusive.

“Just because you find DNA that matches somebody on their body doesn’t mean that they murdered them,” Ms. Sharp said.

While the authorities say the evidence about Mr. DeSalvo’s role in Ms. Sullivan’s death is all but decisive, they acknowledged that it applied only to her murder, not to any of the others to which Mr. DeSalvo confessed.

“We don’t claim with certainty that Albert DeSalvo is a suspect in each of them,” Mr. Conley said. “But we do believe that we stand on the threshold of unprecedented certainty regarding Mary Sullivan’s murder.”

Source: NY Times

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