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Former DeSalvo Attorney Reflects on New Evidence in Boston Strangler Case
07/11/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

There was a major breakthrough today in a 50-year-old murder case that gripped the city of Boston and the rest of the country for two years in the early 1960's. Police say they now have DNA evidence that links longtime suspect Albert DeSalvo to the final victim of the Boston Strangler. DeSalvo, who confessed to the killings but was never convicted of them, died in custody in 1973. Susan Sharon spoke with his former defense attorney, who now lives in Maine, about a lost opportunity to study a clearly troubled man.

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Famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, who now resides in southern Maine, is reminded of Albert DeSalvo every time another suspected serial killer makes the news. He says his hope had always been that DeSalvo would be used as a guinea pig by forensic psychologists to examine his behavior.

It was part of the reason he says he worked out a deal to prevent DeSalvo from being tried for the murders of 11 women linked to the Boston Strangler. At the time of the deal, DeSalvo was already serving a life sentence in prison for unrelated charges involving armed robberies and sexual assaults.

"I knew he should never get out but I didn't want him electrocuted," Bailey says. "I wanted him to be studied, to find out what made him tick, and the judge who sentenced him agreed with that and ordered that he be studied. And the Commonwealth of Massachusetts never lifted a finger. They don't know any more about Albert DeSalvo than they did before he was identified."

Bailey says what is known about DeSalvo is that he had a horrendous childhood that included incest, animal abuse and torture, and petty crimes like shoplifting, which he learned from his father. DeSalvo was an Army veteran and blue collar worker who was married with his own children at the time of the Boston-area killings. His victims, who were sexually assaulted, ranged in age from 19 to 85, and Bailey says most were killed during the daytime by a man who used his charm to get them to willingly open their doors.

"He would say, 'I'm from your landlord. He says your lease says you're entitled to a new refridgerator. I need to show you a selection so you can pick one.' And you're sitting inside the door saying, 'Wait a minute - this can't be the Strangler. He's got goodies for me. Come right in!'"

In other cases, Bailey says DeSalvo would tell the women that they had been recommended to his modeling agency by a friend who insisted that he go meet the women for himself. He would then ask to take their measurements, which is why he was sometimes referred to as "the measuring man."

DeSalvo eventually gave police 60 hours worth of taped audio confessions. He was stabbed to death by another prison inmate in 1973. But there were always doubts about whether DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler. There was no forensic evidence linking him to any of the crimes. And they occurred before DNA testing had been established.

But Boston Chief Ed Davis now says advances in technology have allowed them to turn a corner in the case. "And the only way that we could do that is to follow one of the DeSalvo family members until one of them discarded a water bottle," Davis told reporters today. "That water bottle was tested and the match came back."

Speaking at a news conference in Boston Thursday, Davis and Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley said the "familial match" has been linked to the rape and murder of 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, who was found strangled in her apartment in January, 1964. Conley says a judge has agreed to allow DeSalvo's remains to be exhumed for further testing, which he expects will confirm DeSalvo as her killer.

"I want to make clear that these developments bear only on Mary Sullivan's murder," Conley said. "They don't apply to the other 10 homicides popularly attributed to the Boston Strangler."

Conley says even among experts and law enforcement officials, there remains disagreement about whether the crimes were committed by the same person. But for defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, that question was settled long ago when DeSalvo revealed excruciating and sordid details of the crimes that had never been made public. At the time, Bailey says it was enough to convince three seasoned Massachusetts detectives that DeSalvo was their man.

"They all interrogated DeSalvo. They all agreed that his story checked out," Bailey says. "There was always enough to charge DeSalvo with one big exception: He was given an immunity."

Albert DeSalvo's family members still believe there is reasonable doubt that he killed Mary Sullivan. And their attorney, Elaine Sharp, says they are outraged that police secretly followed his nephew to collect the DNA.


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