Over an 18-month period from 1962 to 1964, the city of Boston was terrorized by a serial killer, the infamous "Boston Strangler." But in 1964, Albert DeSalvo confessed to the brutal killings of 13 women, and authorities and the city at large breathed a collective sigh of relief, believing the killer was finally behind bars.
When he confessed, DeSalvo was a patient in a mental hospital, and his confession could not be used against him. With no evidence linking him to any of the 13 murders, DeSalvo was convicted of unrelated crimes and was sentenced to life in prison.
Now, 36 years later, 48 Hours reports that some investigators, as well as the family of one victim, are not sure that DeSalvo was the killer. They believe DeSalvo lied in his confession, and they want to force the state to open the case.
Diane Dodd, the sister of victim Mary Sullivan, says her instincts told her someone got away with murder. Now she and Albert DeSalvo's brother Richard are pushing the state to reopen the long dormant case.
They have many allies. Susan Kelly, author of The Boston Stranglers, believes DeSalvo fabricated the entire story. She concedes that his confession was accurate on many details but adds, "the newspapers were an excellent source of information - and it's very interesting to me that the details that Albert got wrong in his confession were identical to the details that the newspapers got wrong."
Kelly thinks several different perpetrators committed the murders.
Robert Ressler, a criminologist and former profiler for the FBI, also believes that it is unlikely that one person is responsible for all the Strangler murders. "You're putting together so many different patterns here that its inconceivable behaviorally that all these could fit one individual," says Ressler.
Despite the theories, without new evidence there is little chance the investigation will lead to answers. To gather that evidence, Dodd agreed to have her sister's body exhumed and re-examined. "This is the last resort. maybe there is something," says Dodd.
Forensics expert James Starrs led the team of independent scientists tha performed the second autopsy on Sullivan.
Although the body had deteriorated, they were able to extract several pieces of evidence that may lead to a positive identification of the killer. "The most promising evidence is a head hair from the pubic region," says Starrs. "We do not expect to find head hairs in the pubic region."
Starrs' autopsy also turned up something that may refute DeSalvo's statement that he strangled Mary Sullivan with his bare hands. Starrs found that the hyoid bone in Sullivan's neck was not broken. According to Starrs, that bone would likely have broken if Sullivan had been strangled by hand.
Attorneys Dan Sharp and Elaine Whitfield are helping the families sue the government on the grounds that biological evidence taken is personal property. The State of Massachusetts recently announced that it did find new evidence and will test it. So far the state has refused to share this new evidence, but the families want to be present when the testing is done.
Dodd hopes the newfound evidence can lead to an answer to 36 years of wondering. But she also knows she faces an uphill battle. If it never goes anywhere I'm going to be able to say at least I tried."
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