Washington — The identity of the notorious Boston Strangler was cast into doubt Thursday by new DNA evidence that fails to link the man who confessed to the string of 1960s rape-murders to the last victim.
A team of forensic scientists who exhumed the body of Mary Sullivan more than a year ago revealed that tests on her clothing and remains found DNA from two individuals other than Sullivan.
Neither finding was a match for Albert DeSalvo, whose body was exhumed six weeks ago.
"It's indicative, strongly indicative, of the fact that Albert DeSalvo was not the rape-murderer of Mary Sullivan," said James Starrs, a George Washington University professor of law and forensic science, who headed the team.
But Julian Soshnick, a former Massachusetts prosecutor who interviewed DeSalvo twice after he confessed to the killings in 1965, said the results don't prove DeSalvo's innocence in the Sullivan murder or any of the other killings.
"It doesn't prove anything except that they found another person's DNA on a part of Miss Sullivan's body," said Soshnick, who said the strangler didn't sexually assault all of his victims.
The Boston Strangler struck between 1962 and 1964, killing 11 Boston-area women. Sullivan was killed Jan. 4, 1964, three days shy of her 20th birthday.
DeSalvo, a blue-collar worker with a wife and children, was never charged in the strangler killings. But he confessed to those murders, as well as two others, while serving time for unrelated sex offenses and armed robbery at the maximum-security prison at Walpole, Mass.
He was stabbed to death in 1973 in prison.
Those who question whether he was the Boston Strangler point to a string of circumstances that raise doubts. Among them: There was never any physical evidence putting him at the crime scenes; he did not match witness descriptions of possible suspects; and he was never on investigators' lists of more than 300 suspects.
But Soshnick said he specifically asked DeSalvo about the Sullivan case and seven or eight of the other murders, and DeSalvo knew details that "only the killer would know that were not known publicly."
For instance, DeSalvo described accurate details about what type of ligatures were used and how they were tied, he said.
Sullivan's nephew, Casey Sherman, who has maintained for years that another man killed his aunt, is convinced DeSalvo isn't the strangler.
He said police had a prime suspect in Sullivan's murder but dropped pursuit of the man after DeSalvo confessed. Sherman said the man is alive and urged police to focus on him.
The DeSalvo and Sullivan families believe DeSalvo confessed because he hoped to make money from book and movie deals.