Crew begins digging up body of confessed Boston Strangler

The grave of the man who confessed to being the Boston Strangler is exhumed Friday at a cemetery in Peabody, Mass. WHDH

Working with shovels and a backhoe, a crew dug into a Massachusetts cemetery plot Friday to retrieve the body of the man who claimed to be the Boston Strangler, one day after authorities said they had their first forensic link between the killer and one of his victims.

The body of Albert DeSalvo, buried for 40 years, was to be taken to the medical examiner, where technicians will take tissue or bone samples in an attempt to confirm the link.

DeSalvo confessed to all 11 of the killings attributed to the Strangler, a spree that gripped Boston in the early 1960s. But he was never convicted, and authorities had doubts about the confession. DeSalvo was stabbed to death in prison while serving an unrelated sentence.

On Thursday, authorities said they had linked DeSalvo to the death of Mary Sullivan, the serial killer’s last victim, who was strangled with stockings in her apartment in 1964.

Forensics experts had saved semen and scraps of a blanket from the crime scene and matched it to DNA left on a discarded water bottle in the present day by a nephew of DeSalvo.

It was only because of advances in DNA technology in the past decade that authorities could use the crime-scene material to get a usable DNA profile.

Authorities said it was a “familial match,” good for 99.9 percent accuracy, because of the Y-chromosomes that men pass down the family tree. But they said they needed DeSalvo’s body to be sure.

Sullivan’s nephew Casey Sherman, who had maintained doubts about DeSalvo’s confession, fought back tears at a news conference Thursday and said that the breakthrough offered “an incredible amount of closure” for his family.

The DeSalvo family maintains that independent, private testing in 2000 had found the presence of another man’s DNA on the body, so the match proves only that DeSalvo had sex with Sullivan, not that he killed her.