Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Boston Strangler

DNA Results

Albert DeSalvo in 1973
Albert DeSalvo in 1973

On October 20, 2001, Court TV reported that new DNA tests would be performed on evidence taken from the remains of Mary Sullivan, one of 11 victims attributed to the alleged Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo.

Thomas Reilly, the Massachusetts Attorney General, told Court TV that he had ordered the tests to be performed: "The family has raised legitimate questions in terms of the way it was investigated, they've asked us to look into things and we are."

The family of Mary Sullivan has long argued that she wasn't a victim of the Boston Strangler and believes that her real killer is still alive.

This latest development was a direct result of individual investigations that were mounted by relatives of both Sullivan and DeSalvo, which brought additional pressure on authorities to reconsider their findings.

A week later, on Friday October 26, 2001, a report by Associated Press described how Albert DeSalvo's body had been exhumed from a gravesite in Massachusetts and taken to a forensic laboratory in York College Pennsylvania for examination.  The following Saturday an autopsy was conducted on the remains in the hope of attempting to prove De Salvo's innocence of the murders and possibly, to identify his killer.

James E. Starrs, a professor of forensic sciences at George Washington University, led the team of scientists who performed the autopsy:  Starrs is best known for his identification work on other high-profile cases including the Lizzie Borden hatchet murders, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and the outlaw Jesse James.

He told AP: "The family has been unsatisfied all these many years concerning the death of Albert DeSalvo and failure to find anyone guilty of the death."

On Thursday, December 13, 2001, Court TV reported that DNA evidence taken from Mary Sullivan's remains did not provide a match to Albert DeSalvo.  During a news conference, James Starrs told reporters: "We have found evidence and the evidence does not and cannot be associated with Albert DeSalvo."

Starrs made it very clear that the evidence only clears DeSalvo of sexual assault.  While he did not give details of the analysis, he told reporters: "If I was a juror, I would acquit him with no questions asked."

Mary Sullivan's nephew, Casey Sherman, who has always doubted that DeSalvo killed his aunt or any of the other victims attributed to him, said he feels vindicated by Starrs' finding: "If he didn't kill Mary Sullivan, yet he confessed to it in glaring detail, he didn't kill any of these women."

Sherman also told reporters that, prior to De Salvo's confession, police had what they considered as "a prime suspect" in Sullivan's murder but dropped the case after DeSalvo confessed. Sherman urged police to "go after the real killer" who, according to him, is still alive and living in New England.

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