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July 12, 2013

Exhumation could solve Boston Strangler mystery

Suspect DeSalvo's body to undergo DNA testing

PEABODY — Officials plan to exhume the body of Albert DeSalvo from the Puritan Lawn Memorial Park cemetery in order to test the DNA of the suspected Boston Strangler against DNA newly developed from the death scene of Mary Sullivan, a 19-year-old strangled in Boston in 1964.

Advances in DNA testing have allowed criminologists to prove there is a connection between the crime and someone in the DeSalvo line, according to a team led by Attorney General Martha Coakley and Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley. Now they want to prove that “someone” was Albert DeSalvo.

“There was no forensic evidence to link Albert DeSalvo to Mary Sullivan’s murder — until today,” Conley said yesterday at a press conference. “Advances in the sensitivity of DNA testing have allowed us to make a familial match between biological evidence recovered from the crime scene and a suspect in Mary Sullivan’s murder. That suspect is Albert DeSalvo.”

The new technology can coax DNA from aged samples. By testing DeSalvo’s remains, Conley hopes to make the identification 100 percent positive and solve a mystery that has haunted Massachusetts for roughly half a century.

It will mark the second time in little more than 10 years that the suspected killer’s body has been removed from its grave in Peabody. In October 2001, a private group led by forensic scientist James Starr — notable for previously exhuming the body of Jesse James — disinterred DeSalvo for testing. Those results were not conclusive.

Starr also exhumed the body of Mary Sullivan and reported finding DNA from someone who was not DeSalvo. Marblehead attorney Elaine Sharp, who represents the DeSalvo family, believes that means there will be unanswered questions despite the new evidence.

While Sharp called the new DNA evidence “strong” and praised the effort in seeking the truth all these years later, she said, “It is not definitive.”

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