DNA match links confessed Boston Strangler to last slaying in the spree

A DNA match has been made from the remains of Albert DeSalvo, the confessed Boston Strangler, to crime scene evidence from a 1964 slaying that was part of the Strangler’s murder spree, authorities announced today. The discovery sheds new light on the dark, decades-old mystery of a killer who preyed on women in Boston in the 1960s.

DeSalvo admitted to 11 murders that transfixed and terrified the city. But he was never convicted of them. And his confessions to murdering the women from 1962 to 1964 had long been questioned because of inconsistencies in his story.

DeSalvo’s remains were unearthed from a Peabody cemetery last week in an effort to help resolve the lingering doubts. Investigators were looking to see if DNA from his body matched evidence collected in the slaying of Mary Sullivan on Beacon Hill, who was apparently the Strangler’s last victim. The test results were finalized this morning.

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“I hope this brings some measure of finality to Mary Sullivan’s family,” Attorney General Martha Coakley said in a joint statement with the Suffolk district attorney and Boston police. “This leaves no doubt that Albert DeSalvo was responsible for the brutal murder of Mary Sullivan, and most likely that he was responsible for the horrific murders of the other women he confessed to killing.”

District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said, “We now have an unprecedented level of certainty that Albert DeSalvo raped and murdered Mary Sullivan. We now have to look very closely at the possibility that he also committed at least some of the other sexual homicides to which he confessed. Questions that Mary’s family asked for almost 50 years have finally been answered. They, and the families of all homicide victims, should know that we will never stop working to find justice, accountability, and closure on their behalf.”

Casey Sherman, nephew of Mary Sullivan, said Conley had called him early this morning to tell him the news, which he considered “fantastic.”

“This provides finality,” he said.

He said he still had “concerns and question” about whether DeSalvo committed the other Strangler killings. But he said, “If modern science can answer those questions, they’ll do it.”

Sherman said he called his mother right after hearing from Conley and she was relieved, telling him, “Mary can rest now.”

Officials said that a nationally recognized lab, Orchid Cellmark of Dallas, had matched seminal fluid recovered at the scene of Sullivan’s murder “with scientific certainty” to DeSalvo. The lab said the odds that a white male other than DeSalvo was the source of the evidence were 1 in 220 billion. Only about 107 billion human beings have ever lived on the planet, the officials said.

Sergeant Detective William Doogan, head of the Boston police cold case squad, said the results meant, “You would have to leave the universe to find somebody who did this other than Albert DeSalvo.”

“Albert DeSalvo is our guy. He raped and murdered Mary Sullivan,” he said.

Both Doogan and Donald Hayes, head of the Boston police crime lab, said that, in their opinion, DeSalvo was responsible for all the Strangler murders.

The preliminary results were received Thursday night and they were confirmed this morning. The samples were taken from a 6-inch section of DeSalvo’s femur and three of his teeth, the district attorney’s office said. The body was returned to the grave last Friday, the same day it was unearthed.

Elaine Whitfield Sharp, an attorney representing DeSalvo’s relatives, issued a statement today saying that the DNA results “have not been proved to be relevant” to whether DeSalvo committed the crime.

“We ask the media and the public not to take at face value what the government agents have announced today. There is more to come on this matter, and we are very grateful for your patience in waiting for comment,” Sharp said in the statement.

DeSalvo recanted his confessions and was never convicted of any of the Strangler crimes. He was convicted of unrelated rape charges and sentenced to life in prison. An inmate stabbed DeSalvo to death in November 1973, when he was 42 years old.

Officials said today’s announcement marked the first time law enforcement “could confirm his culpability” in any homicide.

Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said he was proud of the tenacity of detectives and analysts working on the case. “The ability to provide closure to a family after 50 years is a remarkable thing,” he said.

The victims, who were 19 to 67 years old, lived in the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Brighton, Dorchester, Fenway, and South End neighborhoods of Boston, as well as Cambridge, Lawrence, Lynn, and Salem, authorities said. All of the victims were single women who were sexually assaulted and strangled.

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