FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
3:24 pm
Fri July 12, 2013

Exhuming Albert DeSalvo: What Happens Now?

The body of the man who could be the "Boston Strangler" is heading to Texas.

To be more precise, a DNA sample extracted from the exhumed remains of Albert DeSalvo has been carefully packaged and sent to a lab in Dallas.

Investigators exhumed the body of Albert DeSalvo on Friday, to test his DNA against evidence from the 1964 murder of Mary Sullivan. Sullivan, 19, was found raped and murdered at her home on Charles St. in Boston.
Credit NECN

As state and local officials revealed on Thursday, they believe that the DNA sample will prove that DeSalvo committed the last of the 11 murders that occurred in Greater Boston between 1962 and 1964. Mary Sullivan, a 19-year-old who was found raped and murdered in her Charles Street apartment in 1964.

On Friday afternoon, investigators gathered at the Puritan Lawn Memorial Park in Peabody — where DeSalvo is buried — to execute a unique search warrant.

Exhumations are rare. Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk County DA's office, said that in his nine years on the job, this is the first time he's seen one requested. Since graveyards and human remains are protected by law, those rare requests are typically handled by the courts.


In this case, Suffolk Country District Attorney Daniel Conley took a different approach, requesting a search warrant for DeSalvo's coffin. That coffin, of course, contains DeSalvo's remains – and his DNA.

Once workers at the cemetery unearthed the coffin – DeSalvo's entire remains were brought to the medical examiner's office on Albany Street in Boston – where members of the Boston Police Department crime lab recovered a DNA sample from his tissue or bone.

Evidence from the Mary Sullivan murder case.
Credit The Office of the Attorney General

That sample has been sent to Orchid Cellmark, a lab outside of Dallas, TX, one of only a handful in the country that can extract meaningful data from the kind of  small, old and degraded sample in this case. It's also one of two labs where, late last year, officials sent decades-old samples of seminal fluid recovered from Ms. Sullivan's body and a blanket found on the scene for new testing.

Both labs found that the samples contained the unique genetic profile of an unknown male. Officials believe they know exactly who that male is: DeSalvo.

As rare as exhumations are, this is actually not the first time that DeSalvo's remains have been unearthed. In the early 2000's DeSalvo's family had him exhumed for the very same reason – a DNA test. They believed the results would exonerate him of the crime. Family members maintained that while DeSalvo had himself confessed to the crime, the details of his story were inconsistent and suspect.

Tests then did not rule DeSalvo out as a suspect, but the results suggested it was unlikely that he committed the crime.

This time, officials believe the results will be different and conclusive. Technology has advanced significantly and, as Conley pointed out, the previous tests were "not done by law enforcement," but by a private team of forensic experts.

If all goes according to plan, the DNA sample will be on its way to the lab and DeSalvo's body will be back underground – all by the time the sun sets on Friday afternoon, Wark said on Thursday.

Results are expected sometime next week. Maybe then the family of Mary Sullivan and the body of Albert DeSalvo can – once and for all – rest in peace.