BOSTON -- The man who once claimed to be the Boston Strangler has been linked to one of the 11 victims for the first time by DNA evidence, and authorities plan to exhume his remains and perhaps put to rest some speculation that he wasn't the notorious killer.
Albert DeSalvo's remains will be dug up because DNA from the scene of Mary Sullivan's rape and murder produced a "familial match" with him, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said yesterday.
Police secretly followed DeSalvo's nephew to collect DNA from a discarded water bottle to help make the connection, officials said. Conley said the match excludes 99.9 percent of suspects, and he expects investigators to find an exact match when the evidence is compared directly with DeSalvo's DNA. The district attorney stressed that the evidence applied only to Sullivan's slaying and not the other 10 homicides.
"Even among experts and law enforcement officials, there is disagreement to this day about whether they were in fact committed by the same person," Conley said.
Sullivan, 19, had moved from her Cape Cod home to Boston just days before her death. She was found strangled in her apartment in January 1964 and has long been considered the strangler's last victim.
Eleven Boston-area women between the ages of 19 and 85 were sexually assaulted and killed from 1962 to 1964, crimes that terrorized the region and grabbed national headlines.
DeSalvo, a blue-collar worker and Army veteran who was married with children, confessed to the 11 Boston Strangler slayings and two others. But he was never convicted of the Strangler cases.
He had been sentenced to life in prison for other crimes -- a series of armed robberies and sexual assaults -- and was stabbed to death in prison in 1973. While in prison, he had recanted his confession.
An attorney for DeSalvo's family said yesterday they believe there's still reasonable doubt he killed Sullivan. The lawyer, Elaine Sharp, said previous private forensic testing of Sullivan's remains showed other DNA present from what appeared to be semen that didn't match DeSalvo.
"Somebody else was there, we say," Sharp said.
But Donald Hayes, a forensic scientist who heads the Boston Police Department's crime lab, said investigators' samples were properly preserved, while the evidence in private testing came from Sullivan's exhumed body and was "very questionable."
Sharp also said that the family was outraged that police followed a DeSalvo relative to get a DNA sample.