BOSTON (Reuters) - Almost 50 years after the "Boston Strangler" murders of 11 women terrified the city, prosecutors on Thursday said new DNA evidence linked a man, who confessed to the killings but was never convicted, to the last of the homicides.
But even as they said the new evidence suggests that Albert DeSalvo - who confessed to the crimes while serving an unrelated prison sentence - killed 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, they warned that the full string of murders might never be solved.
"These developments bear only on Mary Sullivan's murder. They don't apply to the other 10 homicides popularly attributed to the Boston Strangler," said Suffolk Country District Attorney Daniel Conley. "Even among experts and law enforcement officials there is disagreement to this day about whether they were in fact committed by the same person."
The evidence came from DNA extracted from a water bottle that one of DeSalvo's nephews had drunk from. It showed a strong family link to DNA recovered from the scene where Sullivan was raped and killed in January 1964.
Based on that link, a judge authorized investigators to exhume DeSalvo's remains for final DNA testing, Conley said. He added that the body would be exhumed "sometime this week" and that the testing would be a "quick process."
DeSalvo was serving a prison sentence for armed robbery and sexual assault when he was stabbed to death by another inmate in 1973.
Eleven women were murdered in the greater Boston area from 1962 through 1964 in the "Boston Strangler" killings, after sexual assaults that took place in their homes. The assaults, which targeted unmarried women, terrified the city.
"In most people's eyes, Albert DeSalvo had been known as the Boston Strangler, but without direct evidence linking him ... legitimate questions lingered about that perpetrator," said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, at the press conference in which authorities revealed the new evidence.
Sullivan's nephew, Casey Sherman, who has written a book on the case, praised the investigators for their work and said he looked forward to knowing the truth about the death.
"I've lived with Mary's memory every day, my whole life, and I didn't know, nor did my mother know, that other people were living with her memory as well," Sherman said. "It's taken 49 years for police to legitimately say they got their man and they'll probably be able to say that very soon."
Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Steve Orlofsky