Who Was Boston Strangler? A 50-Year-Old Mystery Solved Through DNA
For over 50 years, the case of the Boston Strangler has been one of the most intriguing and controversial crime cases in history. The Boston Strangler was responsible for the murder of 13 women aged between 19 and 85 in Boston and nearby cities between 1962 and 1964. He was also known to sexually assault his victims before killing them in their homes. The killer’s last victim, 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, was found raped and murdered in her apartment in January 1964.
During the 1960s, an inmate at a state mental hospital confessed to the murders, but there was insufficient evidence to charge him with the crimes. Even though Albert DeSalvo, the local police’s primary suspect, confessed to at least 13 murders, he was never charged or convicted of any of the Strangler’s crimes. At that time, the technology to link him physically to the crimes did not exist yet.
Fast forward to July 2013 when the Boston Police Department’s cold case team and the attorney general’s office tested seminal fluid samples taken from Mary Sullivan’s body, and the blanket on which it was found. The DNA profiles matched one from a water bottle recently used by one of DeSalvo’s nephews. District Attorney Daniel F. Conley of Suffolk County remarked, “The evidence in this case never changed, but the scientific ability to use that evidence has surpassed every hope and expectation of investigators who were first assigned to the case.”
After a judge granted authorities permission to exhume DeSalvo’s body, DNA tests confirmed that he was responsible for the murder of Sullivan and “most likely” the Boston Strangler. The DNA sample excluded 99.99 percent of other suspects. DeSalvo was conclusively linked to Mary Sullivan’s murder, but doubts remained about whether he was responsible for the other Strangler victims.
DeSalvo was arrested in the fall of 1964 in connection with a series of rapes committed by a perpetrator dubbed the “Measuring Man” or the “Green Man.” After a young woman was sexually assaulted in her home on October 27, 1964, her description of her attacker led police to DeSalvo. When his photo was published in the newspapers, many other women came forward to identify him as the man that raped them.
Although DeSalvo was never charged or convicted of any of the Strangler’s crimes, he was given a life sentence for the “Green Man” rapes in 1967 and would serve out the sentence at a maximum-security facility known as Walpole. Seven years later, DeSalvo was stabbed to death in his cell.
In May 2021, Daily Mail revealed DeSalvo was murdered in prison just two weeks after mailing a letter from his cell in which he vowed to “clear his name” of the Strangler murders. The letters were part of a collection of correspondence between DeSalvo and a family who’d met him while visiting a friend at Walpole State Prison.
The mystery of the Boston Strangler has been solved, thanks to DNA technology. While DeSalvo was never charged with any of the murders, the link between him and Mary Sullivan’s murder is now clear. The DNA evidence provides some closure for the families of the victims who have long waited for justice. However, doubts remain about whether DeSalvo was responsible for the other Strangler victims, and the case remains open.