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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Was He or Wasn't He the Boston Strangler?

Aired January 23, 2002 - 07:40   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: This morning we heard a question, "Was he or wasn't he the Boston strangler?" Nearly 30 years ago you may remember Albert Desalvo's death -- nearly 30 years after his death, his identity as a notorious serial killer is being called into question by new DNA evidence.

Just yesterday, lawyers for Desalvo's family and the family of Mary Sullivan, one of the Boston strangler's victims -- the last victim, in fact -- were in court trying to clear Desalvo's name once and for all.

Joining us now from New York, Dr. Michael Baden, who performed autopsies on both Desalvo and Sullivan. And from Boston, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, Attorney for the families. Thank you both for being with us this morning.

Dr. Baden, I want to start off with you. What did you find in the autopsies that you performed?

DR. MICHAEL BADEN, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: Well, there were findings as to the cause of death of Mary Sullivan that didn't match Desalvo's confession as to how he strangled her and injured her. And there was DNA found on her body that didn't match Desalvo and didn't match Mary Sullivan that came from somebody else. And that's an area that has to be further evaluated. Whom did that DNA come from.

COOPER: Is there any evidence that you know of that would indicate anyone else's DNA?

BADEN: Well, yes, because before Desalvo confessed -- the confession he later recanted -- there were -- there was a very significant suspect, as with the other dozen or so women who were murdered. These are -- there are a dozen unsolved murders from the time that John F. Kennedy was present, and all of the investigations stopped when Desalvo confessed and years later recanted. And before he was going to give additional information, he was murdered in the prison while under custody guard. And his murder has never been solved.

COOPER: Elaine, let me bring you in at this point. We should point out, Albert Desalvo confessed to being the Boston strangler, but there was never any physical evidence which actually linked him to it. He was never actually convicted on those charges. He was jailed for some other rapes. ELAINE WHITFIELD SHARP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILIES: That's correct.

COOPER: You were -- Elaine, now you have filed an appeal trying to get the state to release evidence to you. What evidence is there that the state has that you want?

WHITFIELD SHARP: Well, there's evidence from the six or seven of the crime scenes, including, but not limited to, semen samples. There's a semen sample from Mary Sullivan's crime scene, and then, you know, six or seven other crimes scenes as well. Obviously, we would like to have that evidence as well, because no one can ever make an allegation that, you know, the semen was deposited at a different time on the dead body, when it comes directly from the crime scene.

So, of course, even though we feel that at this point we have proved beyond a reasonable doubt, as Dr. Baden has said, that there's DNA evidence on Mary Sullivan's body that calls into question whether Albert Desalvo was, in fact, the Boston strangler. We still want to get the semen from the crime scene, because, of course, there will be naysayers (ph) who will say, "Well he didn't kill Mary, but what about the others?" And we want to go ahead and rule out all of those other killings as well.

COOPER: Why has the state said that they don't want to give you this evidence?

WHITFIELD SHARP: Well, their claim is that it's an open and active investigation. However, Judge Young (ph), in the federal court where we were a few months ago, said he would question any claim that this was an open and active investigation. Because, of course, in 37 years they haven't assigned a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) detective to this case.

COOPER: Elaine, is this, I mean, a fishing expedition on your part? Or do you know that this evidence does exist? You just want to get a look at it.

WHITFIELD SHARP: We know that it exists, indeed. In fact, the state has admitted to us that they do have six semen slides from the crime scene of Mary Sullivan. And we also know from the work that Susan Kelly (ph) did on her book, "The Boston Strangler," which is coming out again this February, that there are semen samples from six or seven other crime scenes as well. So we know that that is existing today and we want to try to get that.

COOPER: Elaine, you've been hired by the family of Mary Sullivan, as well as the family of Albert Desalvo. It's sort of a strange combination. Why are both those families uniting on this issue?

WHITFIELD SHARP: Yes, it is a strange combination. It's a very potent mix of interests, if you will. But they both have a common interest in this case, and that is they wholeheartedly believe that Albert Desalvo was not the killer of Mary Sullivan. And then on the Desalvo side, they believe that he wasn't the killer of any -- on any of the women and, in fact, confessed when there was a book contract on the table to be the Boston strangler, hoping he'd make money. And did so with the help of his attorney, F. Lee Bailey, who actually spoon- fed him information and details that only the killer would have known. And we now have in our possession those transcripts of the early interviews proving, in fact, that F. Lee Bailey did, in fact, lead Albert in the major details of the crime.

COOPER: All right. Dr. Baden and Elaine Whitfield Sharp, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

WHITFIELD SHARP: Thank you. Thank you so much.

BADEN: Thank you.

COOPER: We would love to have you back. It's a case we will be following.

(COMMERCIAL)

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