PEABODY – The remains of Albert DeSalvo, the confessed Boston Strangler, were removed today from the Puritan Memorial Park and are being taken in a six-car motorcade to Boston where the search for genetic material to compile DNA sample will be undertaken.
The exhumation of the Chelsea native remains was undertaken today as authorities try to conclusively link him to the 1964 murder of Mary Sullivan on Beacon Hill.
The casket, covered with dust and grime, was dug out of the ground by a backhoe operator and then men with shovels. Once above ground, the grimy casket was placed in a blue tent with Boston police written in white that was set up next to the gravesite.
Officials want to try to recover DNA material from the remains of DeSalvo, who confessed to murdering 11 women in the Greater Boston area during 19 months between 1962 and 1964.
Donald Hayes, the leader of the Boston police crime laboratory who decided to submit the biological evidence from the nearly 50-year-old crime scene around Sullivan’s body to DNA laboratories, watched the exhumation.
Shortly before 3 p.m., DeSalvo’s remains were taken from the ground and prepared to be placed inside a van from the state medical examiner’s office. And around 3:20 p.m., the motorcade left the cemetery enroute to the state medical examiner’s Albany Street laboratory where the DNA will be extracted from DeSalvo’s bone marrow.
Before the exhumation was completed, in a car by the entrance to the cemetery, a woman who identified herself as Ann Plastino said she came to the exhumation because she knew DeSalvo about 50 years ago. She told a group of reporters that he used to drive her to work in Chelsea in the summertime and seemed “friendly’’ and “kind.’’
“When I saw on TV that he was the Boston Strangler, I dropped my coffee,’’ she said. “To think I spent so much time in a car with him, it makes me shake.’’
She said she still cannot fully believe he was the Strangler, describing him as a gentleman and family man.
But, she added, she is glad new forensic evidence has been unveiled.
“This is just unreal,’’ she said. “I hope this can bring some closure.’’
Bernie Finer snapped a few photos outside the entrance to the park. Now a Peabody resident, Finer said he lived in Malden with his wife when the Strangler was active. He used to drive to work, he said, but his wife would walk to the bus — and she would often, unknowingly, walk by DeSalvo’s house.
“I think the only reason she was safe was that she was pregnant,’’ he said.
The exhumation was ordered by a Superior Court judge at the request of Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis after investigators made a potential DNA match between DeSalvo and forensic evidence recovered at Sullivan’s 1964 murder scene in her apartment on Beacon Hill.
Conley outlined the new link on Thursday, but said investigators based their testing on the DNA profile of DeSalvo’s nephew, Timothy, and that they need to collect a biological sample from DeSalvo himself to confirm the accuracy of the 21st century scientific test.
DeSalvo was stabbed to death in the Walpole state prison in 1973.
DeSalvo’s family disinterred him more than a decade ago as they joined with forensic scientists making their own independent inquiry into whether DeSalvo was Mary Sullivan’s killer.
Elaine Whitfield Sharp, the DeSalvo family attorney, said Thursday that they were upset with the way Boston police collected Timothy DeSalvo’s genetic information — they followed him and then grabbed a plastic bottle he threw away — and that they would have willingly cooperated if only they had been asked by law enforcement.
Sullivan’s body was found in her Beacon Hill apartment in January 1964, the last of 11 killings DeSalvo confessed to committing during a 19-month murder spree in the greater Boston area. she She was raped and killed, authorities said.
Sullivan’s nephew, Casey Sherman, who once expressed serious doubts that DeSalvo killed his aunt and even identified a New Hampshire man as the more likely suspect, expressed gratitude for persistence by law enforcement.
The murders of 11 women between 1962 and early 1964, a crime spree that stretched from Boston and Cambridge to Lawrence, Lynn, and Salem. The women were between 19 and 75 years old. Most of them were raped and strangled with their stockings or cords.
Many of DeSalvo’s family members have maintained his innocence, in part because his confession contained inconsistent details about the crimes.
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