Does DNA prove Albert DeSalvo is the Boston Strangler?

Test breakthrough links man who confessed to the 1960s killing spree with the final victim

New York

The question of who sexually assaulted and murdered 55-year-old Anna Slesers and 10 other women in the Boston area over 19 months in the early 1960s has been debated for decades.

Now a new lead could help put the case to rest after forensic evidence linked Albert DeSalvo – the man who confessed to the murders but was never prosecuted for them – to the final victim of the serial killer who became infamous as the Boston Strangler.

DeSalvo was stabbed to death in prison in 1973. Officials in Boston said his body would be exhumed after DNA testing showed a “familial match” between DeSalvo and evidence from the body of Mary Sullivan, the 19-year-old woman who was the last of the Boston Strangler’s victims. She was raped and murdered in January 1964. Ms Slesers, a Latvian seamstress who lived in Boston’s  19th-century Back Bay neighbourhood, was the killer’s first victim. She was found by her son on 14 June 1962, the belt of her blue bathrobe tied around her neck.

In and around Boston, women were warned by police to lock their doors and windows and be wary of strangers. Countless hours were spent poring over evidence and hundreds of potential suspects were questioned. The victims’ ages ranged from 19 to 85.

In 1965, DeSalvo, who at the time was in a psychiatric hospital, is said to have confessed to his cellmate, who went on to inform a lawyer. Although DeSalvo’s confession reportedly included details about the killings that were not widely known, there was no physical evidence connecting him with the crimes. He was later jailed for life in connection with other crimes, including a string of sexual assaults.

DeSalvo became known in the popular imagination as the Boston Strangler, but questions about his confession continued to linger after his death. Some experts have even suggested that the killings might have been the work of multiple murderers, not an individual. Among those questioning DeSalvo’s account of what happened during those 19 months in the early 1960s was Casey Sherman, the nephew of Ms Sullivan, the serial killer’s final victim. Mr Sherman expressed doubts about the confession. Moreover, a decade ago, the bodies of Ms Sullivan and DeSalvo were exhumed and tested. DNA tests at the time did not produce a match.

“Everybody who’s taken an independent look at this case and doesn’t have dogs in the fight believe that there are serious doubts,” he told The Boston Globe in 2012.

But police believe they might now finally have the evidence they need to connect DeSalvo to Ms Sullivan’s murder. The new lead, which police attributed to “the miracle of science and DNA evidence”, came when officials obtained a bottle discarded by one of DeSalvo’s descendants.

Forensic evidence from the bottle showed a “familial match” to a preserved semen sample found on Ms Sullivan’s body, leading the police to ask a judge to authorise the exhumation of DeSalvo’s body for further testing.

While questions still remain unanswered – the new link only connects DeSalvo to Ms Sullivan, not the other victims – the breakthrough is significant.

“There was no forensic evidence to link Albert DeSalvo to Mary Sullivan’s murder until today,” Daniel Conley, the Suffolk County District Attorney, told reporters in Boston.

Mr Sherman was present at the briefing. He thanked officers for persisting with the case and said: “I only go where the evidence leads.”

Timeline: The investigation

14 June 1962 55-year-old Anna Slesers is found strangled to death in the first killing attributed to the serial murder who became known as the Boston Strangler.

4 January 1964 19-year-old Mary Sullivan is the killer’s final victim. She is found raped and murdered in her Boston apartment.

1965 29-year-old Albert DeSalvo confesses to the 11 killings, including the murders of Ms Slesers and Ms Sullivan, that police believe might be linked. But there is no physical evidence to connect him to the murders. He is later sentenced to life in prison for other crimes.

1973 DeSalvo is killed in prison.

2000-01 A forensic investigation, including tests on the bodies of DeSalvo and Ms Sullivan, do not show any links.

11 July 2013 Officials announce that DeSalvo’s body will be exhumed after new technology shows a “familial match” between DNA from one of his descendants and preserved evidence taken from Ms Sullivan’s body.

Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Environment
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
people
Sport
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
TV
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education require a ...

SEN Teacher - Hull

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are recruiting for spe...

Primary Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking EY...

Primary Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: NEWLY QUALIFIED TEACHER WE CAN HELP ...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor