The first conclusive scientific DNA testing evidence in the infamous 50 year old Boston Strangler case may have recently been found. Albert Desalvo, the only person convicted in the serial murders of 13 women in the greater Boston area from 1962-1964, admitted to the murder of then 19 year old Mary Sullivan but later recanted. If the tests prove infallible, this would be the first conclusive proof that Desalvo was in fact the Boston Strangler.
The test in question was performed by the district attorney’s office of Massachusetts against a DNA sample provided by a male relative of Albert Desalvo and genetic evidence collected from the crime scene of the victim, Mary Sullivan. District Attorney Martha Coakley has confirmed with media outlets that there is 99.9% chance that the sample extracted from the deceased coincides with the genetic coding of Desalvo. If the DNA testing holds up, the results would prove that semen found in Sullivan’s strangled and dead body, is from Desalvo.
Confession recanted after sentencing
Desalvo has both denied any relation to the 13 murders, including Sullivan, but has also confessed. The confession was recanted prior to his sentencing however he was still found guilty based on circumstantial evidence used at the time and sentenced to life in prison in 1967. Originally Desalvo was incarcerated at the Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts; however he escaped in February 1967 with two other inmates. After a brief but large-scale manhunt for Desalvo, he turned himself in to his lawyer and was returned to a maximum security prison as a result. In 1973 Desalvo was killed by a fellow inmate in the infirmary of the prison while still maintaining his innocence in the Boston area murders.
During the time of the prosecution of Desalvo, DNA testing technology was not available. For this reason there was no way for investigators to conclusively determine whether or not they had convicted the right person. Now that testing is available the case was reopened by the District Attorney’s office in an effort to settle any lingering doubts that may exist. As Desalvo’s DNA is of course no longer available, a family member was used in his place to look for genetic similarities.
MtDNA test to confirm
In this type of DNA testing, Mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) is the method utilized to look for matches. While no DNA of two individuals, even blood relatives, will ever be the same, MtDNA has characteristics that are passed on by family members. MtDNA testing is very precise and looks at the chromosomal similarities between two or more people and can identify them as being biologically related. In cases such as Desalvo, where the suspect’s biological material cannot be used, MtDNA can still make an accurate comparison that may exceed 99.99% of probability.
Who really killed Mary Sullivan?
In the case of Mary Sullivan, however there are now two different DNA tests that are alleged to have conclusively reached two separate results. An attorney for the Desalvo family, Elaine Sharp, has said just this last week that the case is far from closed for the investigators. In private DNA testing performed on the exhumed remains of Sullivan prior to the District Attorney’s, the results are said to show the presence of seminal fluid that is not Desalvo’s. Sharp contends that while the new test results may prove that Desalvo had consensual sex with Sullivan, the police investigators have yet to prove who the other sperm sample may belong to. This Sharp says, brings into question the scenario police alleged against Desalvo claiming he raped and murdered the victim alone with no assistance.
Police investigators and the district attorney’s office say that the testing performed privately cannot be independently verified or authenticated, and that for the time being they still confident Desalvo is the Boston Strangler.