Albert DeSalvo Investigators in Boston have made a major breakthrough in one of America's most infamous unsolved killing sprees with the help of advances in DNA technology and a water bottle discarded by an unwitting relative of the main suspect.
Fifty years after the city was gripped by fear of the Boston Strangler, prosecutors said new forensic evidence identified the late Albert DeSalvo as the likely killer of the last of the 11 victims killed between 1962 and 1964.
Mary Sullivan, 19, was found strangled in her flat in January 1964, just three days after she moved to the city. Specimens taken from the crime scene provided a "familial match" to DNA recovered from a water bottle thrown away by a nephew of DeSalvo, authorities said.
DeSalvo's body will be exhumed in coming days to confirm the findings. He was stabbed to death in prison in 1973 where he was serving a life term for armed robberies and sexual assaults.
DeSalvo had confessed responsibility for the Strangler murders to a fellow inmate, but he was never prosecuted and he later recanted his confessions. The killings terrorised the city and long fascinated America. Tony Curtis played DeSalvo in a 1968 film about the murders and the Rolling Stones song Midnight Rambler is based on the story of the Boston Strangler.
Most of the victims, who were aged between 19 and 85, were sexually assaulted and strangled, often with their stockings, in their own apartments.
There has long been controversy about whether DeSalvo was the killer or whether the murders were committed by just one person. With no DNA samples from the other killings, Daniel Conley, the county district attorney, acknowledged those doubts would probably never be answered.
Boston detectives followed male DeSalvo family members to obtain material that could be used for DNA testing and eventually recovered the water bottle. Conley defended the surreptitious operation as "fair and legal".