My aunt, Mary Sullivan, should be enjoying her grandchildren today and reflecting on a life well lived. Instead, she is frozen in time in 1964 when she was just 19 years old. Her life was stolen by a killer so vicious, so sadistic – that he left a Happy New Year card placed by her left foot.
There were always questions swirling around Albert DeSalvo - the man who had confessed to the eleven Boston Strangler murders – and two others. DeSalvo had never been formally charged with the crimes, and he had even recanted his confession on occasion. This doubt led me to re-investigate the case for nearly two decades. I spoke with countless investigators who never believed DeSalvo was the killer. I reviewed the evidence in all the homicides and found how vastly different these murders were from case to case. I trailed actual suspects of the crimes and uncovered DeSalvo’s original confession tapes which did not match the autopsy reports in the murders. I had elicited the aid of a world-renowned forensic team, which through the DNA technology of the time, determined that Mary had been killed by someone else. For this reason, I did not believe that Albert DeSalvo had murdered my aunt or any of the women identified as victims of the Boston Strangler.
This re-investigation was at first stymied by the reluctance of law enforcement to engage in an open dialogue about the questions surrounding the case. The relationship with law enforcement turned adversarial at one point as neither side trusted the other. The only question that I wanted answered for my mother: Did Albert DeSalvo murder my aunt or is her real killer still out there?
I truly never believed that I would learn that answer publicly – until I got a call this week requesting an emergency meeting with investigators from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, Boston Police, and the Attorney General’s office. I was startled by the request. It had been more than a decade since I had had any contact with investigators on this case. Once more, they were asking to meet instead of following in the steps of their predecessors who had refused to offer my family any assistance.
I entered the room and looked into the eyes of these investigators and saw a determination that I had found lacking before. I also knew they had something definitive to share. Methodically, these men walked me through each step of their investigation, educating me on the advances of DNA technology since the time of my ardent pursuit of Mary’s killer. As an investigative journalist, I go where the evidence takes me. I don’t hold on to a theory that will lead away from the eventual truth. Like me, they too had questions about DeSalvo’s guilt – questions that could only be answered through the unbiased prism of modern science. They showed me how DNA evidence from my aunt’s crime scene was preserved and tested. They showed me how they connected that evidence to a male relative of Albert DeSalvo with a 99.9% assurance and as important to me – they talked about Mary with sensitivity and care – as if her murder had occurred yesterday and not a half-century ago. Once I absorbed this critical information, I agreed with their conclusion. Albert DeSalvo was the killer of Mary Sullivan. An autopsy of his body will most likely go even further to remove any shadow of a doubt.
I believe that a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders as Mary’s longtime advocate. But more importantly, I believe my mother finally has a sense of closure in this case. Mary Sullivan can rest now.
Casey Sherman was the nephew of Mary Sullivan, who was killed in 1964. He is also the author of "A Rose for Mary: The Hunt for the Real Boston Strangler."