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Albert DeSalvo's body exhumed in effort to resolve questions about his death and the Boston Strangler case

Sunday, October 28, 2001

By Tina Moore, The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- A team of scientists gathered at a central Pennsylvania college yesterday began a second autopsy on the nearly three-decade-old remains of the confessed Boston Strangler -- to identify his killer and possibly prove his innocence in the notorious murders.

The body of Albert DeSalvo was exhumed from his Massachusetts grave Friday and transported by hearse to a forensic laboratory at York College.

"The family has been unsatisfied all these many years concerning the death of Albert DeSalvo and failure to find anyone guilty of the death," said James E. Starrs, professor of forensic sciences at George Washington University who is heading the scientific team. "They wanted a re-autopsy using some of the more modern techniques."

Starrs said the scientific investigation is being conducted primarily to satisfy DeSalvo's family and help identify his killer, not to prove his innocence in the string of murders.

"Our primary motive is to determine whether the unsolved murder of Albert DeSalvo can be solved so the family can get closure. If there are any secondary benefits, we'll be glad to take them," Starrs said.

DeSalvo was blamed for the string of murders that spread fear throughout Boston between 1962 and 1964.

He claimed to be the strangler while he was serving a life sentence for unrelated crimes. But he was never charged in the strangler murders and recanted his confession before he was stabbed to death in prison in 1973.

The families of DeSalvo and one of his victims -- Mary Sullivan -- don't believe DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler, and are looking for DNA and forensic evidence to make their case.

More than a dozen forensic experts will conduct an autopsy this weekend and collect DNA samples.

"This is still an unsolved murder. Richard [DeSalvo] would like to try to get some closure as to how his brother was murdered -- and possibly by who," said Elaine Whitfield Sharp, Richard DeSalvo's attorney. She accompanied the body from Boston and was at the small, private college about 20 miles south of Harrisburg yesterday.

The DeSalvo and Sullivan families believe DeSalvo confessed to the crime hoping to receive money from book and movie deals.

DeSalvo's second autopsy comes just over one year after that of Sullivan, the last of the strangler's 13 victims. Starrs headed a similar team to investigate her death.

DeSalvo claimed he raped Sullivan and strangled her with his hands, but his confession did not match the autopsy report, Sharp said.

Mary Sullivan's nephew, Casey Sherman, has accused Attorney General Thomas Reilly of stonewalling the 37-year-old murder investigation because he wants to cover up prosecutors' past misdeeds.

"I think the DeSalvos want answers. What answers it may hold in Mary's case, we don't know yet," he said.

Sharp said other victims' families are also not convinced that DeSalvo killed their loved ones and are seeking closure. She declined to say whether she was working with other families toward more exhumations.

Sharp has been in a battle with Reilly over the release of investigation information and filed suit against him in September 2000, demanding DNA and crime scene evidence.

"The way we look at it is that the Sullivan family and the DeSalvo family have been forced to open old graves and old wounds because the attorney general wouldn't open old files," she said.

A telephone page to Reilly yesterday was not immediately returned. His office has repeatedly said that the Sullivan murder is still an open case and officials do not share evidence in such cases.

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