BOSTON — Investigators helped by advances in DNA technology finally have forensic evidence linking longtime suspect Albert DeSalvo to the last of the 1960s slayings attributed to the Boston Strangler, leading many of the case’s players to hope that it can finally be put to rest.
DeSalvo’s remains will be exhumed after authorities concluded that DNA from the scene of Mary Sullivan’s rape and murder produced a “familial match” with him, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said. Conley said he expected investigators to find an exact match when the evidence is compared with his DNA.
Sullivan, 19, was found strangled in her Boston apartment in January 1964. Sullivan, who had moved from her Cape Cod home to Boston just three days before her death, had long been considered the strangler’s last victim.
The announcement represented the most definitive evidence yet linking DeSalvo to the case. Eleven Boston-area women between the ages of 19 and 85 were sexually assaulted and killed between 1962 and 1964, crimes that terrorized the region and made national headlines.
DeSalvo, married with children, a blue collar worker and Army veteran, confessed to the 11 Boston Strangler murders, as well as two others. But he was never convicted of the Boston Strangler killings.
He had been sentenced to life in prison for a series of armed robberies and sexual assaults and was stabbed to death in the state’s maximum security prison in Walpole in 1973 — but not before he recanted his confession.
Sullivan’s nephew Casey Sherman has for years maintained that DeSalvo did not kill his aunt and even wrote a book on the case pointing to other possible suspects.
He said he accepted the new findings after concluding that the DNA evidence against DeSalvo appeared to be overwhelming.
“I only go where the evidence leads,” he said. He thanked police and praised them “for their incredible persistence.”
Attorney F. Lee Bailey, who helped to obtain the confession from DeSalvo, said the announcement will probably help put to rest speculation over the Boston Strangler’s identity.
Bailey had been representing another inmate who informed the attorney that DeSalvo knew details of the crimes. Bailey went to police with the information, and he said DeSalvo, who was already in prison for other crimes, demonstrated that he knew details that only the killer would know.
Bailey would later represent DeSalvo.
“It was a very challenging case,” said Bailey, who lives in Yarmouth, Maine. “My thought was if we can get through the legal thicket and get this guy examined by a team of the best specialists in the country, we might learn something about serial killers so we could spot them before others get killed.”
Officials stressed that the DNA evidence links DeSalvo only to Sullivan’s killing and that no DNA evidence is believed to exist for the other Boston Strangler slayings.
State Attorney General Martha Coakley, however, said investigators hoped that solving Sullivan’s case might put to rest doubts about DeSalvo’s guilt.
Conley said the “familial match” excludes 99.99 percent of suspects but isn’t enough to close the case.
A woman who answered the phone at the home of DeSalvo’s brother Richard said the family had no comment. She did not identify herself.