PEABODY — Police stood at the gates of Puritan Lawn cemetery yesterday, but the exhumation of the remains of suspected Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo did not draw a crowd, according to Peabody police Capt. Dennis Bonaiuto.
“No one was refused entry,” he explained. “Except the media.” The press was barred on the basis that Puritan Lawn is private property. With its removal, DeSalvo’s body will be tested for DNA in an attempt to link him to genetic material left at the murder scene of 19-year-old Mary Sullivan in 1964.
Officials, including Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, believe that testing can establish beyond doubt that DeSalvo killed Sullivan and, perhaps, up to 12 other women during a reign of terror half a century ago. Preliminary testing has already provided a near match.
“All we did was help out with traffic control,” said Bonaiuto. “There were officers at the entrances.” The exhumation process consumed two days, he added.
Only weeks ago Puritan Lawn drew national attention as the final resting place of MIT police officer Sean Collier, murdered by one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers. In an interview at that time, cemetery director Lawrence Glynn noted that DeSalvo is buried there too and still attracts attention. Glynn does not, however, encourage the curious. “People still come in, and they are looking to see that grave. We don’t show it to them.”
Because Puritan Lawn has no headstones, but plaques lying flat on the ground, it’s difficult for anyone not already knowing where the gravesite is located to find it.
It’s the second time DeSalvo’s grave has been disturbed. His corpse was removed in 2001 for testing by a private group, according to Marblehead lawyer Elaine Sharp, who represents the DeSalvo family. At that time she explained that the alleged Boston Strangler was buried in Peabody simply because, “his brother Richard bought a plot here.”
Asked about the 2001 exhumation last May, Glynn said, “We prefer to leave people at rest.” This time a judge’s order overcame any reluctance to bring up the remains.
DeSalvo admitted to being the Strangler then retracted his confession. He was convicted of separate sexual assaults and sentenced to prison, where he was murdered in 1973. Due partly to a lack of physical evidence, questions over whether he actually was the killer have lingered ever since.
According to the Associated Press, a spokesman for Suffolk County says tissue or bone samples will be taken for study at an independent lab. Authorities continue to comb through evidence files and hope to find samples to do DNA testing in connection with the other Strangler-linked killings.