Boston Richard DeSalvo never believed his brother, Albert, was the Boston Strangler. Casey Sherman never believed his aunt, Mary Sullivan, was killed by Albert DeSalvo, even though he confessed.
Now the families of DeSalvo and Sullivan have come together in an odd alliance based on one shared belief: DeSalvo did not kill Sullivan.
If the families are right, they say it could cast doubt on the entire Boston Strangler case, in which 11 Boston-area women were sexually assaulted and murdered between 1962 and 1964.
It was DeSalvo's own taped confession that convinced the families he was not the killer.
"Police say he had to be the killer because he knew things only the killer would know, but when we listened to the confession tape, it's completely wrong," said Sherman, whose mother's sister was killed in 1964 at age 19. "He confessed to events that simply never happened."
DeSalvo, a blue-collar worker with a wife and children, confessed to the 11 Boston Strangler murders, as well as two others. But there was never any physical evidence putting him at the crime scenes. He did not match witness descriptions of possible suspects. He was never on investigators' lists of more than 300 suspects. And he was never tried in any of the killings.
DeSalvo was sent to prison for life for another string of rapes and sexual assaults and was stabbed to death in the maximum-security state prison at Walpole in 1973 but not before he recanted his confession.
In October, the two families had Sullivan's remains exhumed for DNA testing, a technology that was not available nearly 37 years ago. They hope the results, expected in February, will put further pressure on prosecutors to release to them old evidence they hope will clear DeSalvo.
For Sherman and his family, the motivation is to find his aunt's real killer. "The real killer of these women is still on the streets," he said.
For the DeSalvos, the motivation is to clear the family name. Richard DeSalvo said that members of the family have been berated and assaulted because of the Boston Strangler case and that it has led to rifts in the family.
All 11 women believed to be the Strangler victims were strangled with articles of their own clothing, and one was also stabbed repeatedly.
Sherman said that DeSalvo could have gotten details about Sullivan's slaying of Sullivan from the newspapers.
In his confession, DeSalvo said he strangled her with his hands. In reality, she was strangled with her own clothing. DeSalvo also claimed to have raped her; actually, she was sexually assaulted with a broomstick.
A forensic scientist who took part in an autopsy arranged by the families said experts were unable to find the effects of a blow DeSalvo claimed to have inflicted on Sullivan.
Also, the families said DeSalvo claimed to have left a knife and a sweater at the murder scene. They said neither was found.
Albert DeSalvo confessed to the Boston Strangler killings because he knew he was going to prison for life anyway and wanted to cash in on book and movie deals so he could take care of his family, his brother said.