Authorities exhume DeSalvo's body for DNA evidence

Posted: 07/11/13 at 5:10 pm EDT      Last Updated: 07/12/13 at 10:21 pm EDT

PEABODY, Mass. (WHDH) -- Investigators have unearthed the remains of a man who once confessed to being the Boston Strangler in a bid to use forensic evidence to connect him to the death of a woman believed to be the serial killer's last victim.

The dirt-covered casket containing confessed Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo’s remains was pulled from the Puritan Lawn Memorial Park in Peabody Friday. The court-ordered exhumation will allow investigators to get his DNA in the hopes of definitively matching it to Mary Sullivan, who was murdered when she was 19.

DeSalvo admitting killing Sullivan and 10 other women in the Boston area between 1962 and 1964 in a series of slayings that became known as the Boston Strangler case. But he recanted in 1973 before dying in prison, where he was serving a life sentence for other crimes.

Authorities said Friday that they would take DeSalvo's remains from Peabody to the medical examiner's office in nearby Boston, where they'd take tissue or bone samples for DNA testing.

In fewer than two hours, the remains were removed and driven away. Helicopters hovered above the cemetery and several people stopped by to see what was going on, including a woman named Ann.

“I’m still shaking inside believing that I knew him. It’s scary,” said Ann.

Ann said in the early 1960s he used to give her a ride to work.

“He was a Hell of a good guy, but how he could do that I’ll never know,” said Ann.

Police and prosecutors said on Thursday that, for the first time, they had DNA evidence linking DeSalvo to Sullivan's death. Police gathered initial evidence to link DeSalvo to the crime by pulling DNA off a water bottle discarded by DeSalvo’s nephew. They linked the DNA to Sullivan with a 99.9-percent match. Authorities are after a perfect match, so with a search warrant, they dug up his remains for testing. DeSalvo’s remains could give them a 100-percent forensic match, closing Sullivan’s case for good.

DeSalvo’s family is upset about the exhumation and how police gathered the initial evidence to link him to the murder.

“It wasn’t very transparent of you to follow my client, my innocent client, and then…sneakily, creepily, take his water bottle and take his DNA,” said Elaine Whitfield Sharp, the DeSalvo family attorney.

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said the new evidence applies only to Sullivan's homicide and not to the other Strangler-linked killings. He said some law enforcement officials still disagree about whether one person committed all 11 slayings.

Loved ones of those victims are reaching out to police hoping the new technology can close more cases.

“We’ve already fielded two calls from a family member of one of the presumed victims of the Strangler,” said Conley.

Conley said they hope to have DeSalvo’s remains returned by the end of the weekend. The DNA results could come back as early as next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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