Hamptons Whodunit: Criminal Minds and the People Who Love Them

Casey Sherman Hamptons Mystery & Crime Festival,
Casey Sherman
Kristin Sherman

The Hamptons in springtime: Some people like to lounge among the tulips and cherry blossoms and take it slow before the summer people arrive. Others prefer to be viscerally immersed in true stories of savage acts and evil intentions.

If you’re a member of the latter group, bestselling true crime authors Casey Sherman and David Wedge would like to speak to you on Sunday, April 16 at high noon in East Hampton.

Their session, Tales of Suspense with True Crime Masters at the upcoming Hamptons Mystery & Crime Festival, promises to be one of the festival’s most intense.

“We want to let the audience sit back and let these thrilling true crime stories wash over them,” says Sherman. “Dave and I don’t just write about these stories. We really live them.”

Wedge is probably best known as the co-author of the 2022 bestseller Riding With Evil, the story of former ATF agent Ken Croke, who was the first federal agent in history to go undercover and successfully infiltrate the Pagans, a white supremacist biker gang.

Sherman brings an even more intensely personal connection to the genre. As he chronicles in his first book, Search for the Strangler, Sherman’s aunt, Mary Sullivan, was the youngest and final victim of the assailant who came to be known as the Boston Strangler.

In 1965, a man named Albert DeSalvo confessed to all 13 killings in the case. For the better part of 50 years, in the eyes of law enforcement and popular culture, DeSalvo was the infamous Boston Strangler.

But consistent with the best true crime stories, things get a bit more dark and twisty from there.

“I reinvestigated my aunt’s murder for 15 years,” Sherman explains. “I kind of turned the narrative of this lone killer on its head and explored the theory of multiple killers in the Strangler case — which is the prevalent theory today.”

In 2013, the Boston Police Department confirmed that DNA found on a blanket in Mary Sullivan’s apartment matched a DNA sample taken from DeSalvo. But Sherman argues that his research and other pieces of evidence tell a more complicated story.

“DeSalvo’s DNA was found on the blanket, but not on my aunt’s body,” he says. “I know that DeSalvo had access to the crime scenes. In those days, you could walk in and out of a crime scene, whether you were a cop, a journalist or just a bystander. I’m not defending Albert DeSalvo. He was a sexual predator and a con man and a really creepy guy. But did he kill my aunt, Mary Sullivan? That question is still being debated.”

Boston Strangler, a new film produced by Hulu and starring Keira Knightley, just began streaming in mid-March of this year. In it, Knightley plays a reporter who discovers glaring inconsistencies in the investigation which lead Knightley’s character to speculate that there might have been more than one killer in the Boston Strangler case.

“I wasn’t involved in the new film, but it certainly follows my reinvestigation of the case,” Sherman says. “Anybody who watches the film can understand the work that I put into it, which was discovering DeSalvo’s confession tapes and comparing the confession to the autopsy reports and the crime scene reports and realizing that they didn’t match up.”

If you like graveyard exhumations and deconstructed autopsies of suspected serial killers and their victims, Tales of Suspense is definitely a session you shouldn’t miss.

“There were two exhumations in the case, one of which I led with a group of forensic scientists,” Sherman notes. “We exhumed my aunt’s remains and DeSalvo’s remains.”

“I’ve held Albert DeSalvo’s skull in my hand,” he adds. “That’s how close you get to these cases.”

Though Sherman wasn’t involved in the recent Boston Strangler film, Hollywood has come calling more than once. In 2016, Patriots Day starring Mark Wahlberg was adapted from the book, Boston Strong by Sherman and Tales of Suspense session partner David Wedge. The movie tells the story of the Boston Marathon bombing and the intense manhunt that followed.

According to multiple industry sources, Amazon is currently developing an eight-hour limited series based on Sherman’s 2022 book, Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod. The book recounts the story of Tony Costa (aka the Cape Cod Vampire), who in 1969 was convicted of murdering, defiling and decapitating the bodies of two young women and burying them in the woods in North Truro, Mass., just outside Provincetown. Though convicted of only two killings, Costa was implicated in the deaths of at least eight women in the area.

Helltown weaves in the intersecting tales of two legendary authors and Provincetown residents, both of whom investigated and wrote about the killings: Norman Mailer, who was already an established author at the time of the killings; and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who was virtually unknown when the killings occurred, but was on the cusp of setting the literary world on fire with the pending publication of Slaughterhouse-Five.

Oscar Isaac is set to play Vonnegut in the series, and Ed Berger, director, co-writer and producer of All Quiet on the Western Front, which was nominated for multiple Academy Awards and took home the Oscar for Best International Film last year, has signed on to direct.

Besides presenting an entertaining and scary-in-a-good-way experience to Tales of Suspense session attendees this April, Sherman and Wedge hope to humanize a group of people that sometimes gets overlooked amidst the intensity of a ripping true crime yarn.

Sherman notes that there’s always plenty of focus on the villains in true crime stories — the perpetrators of horrific acts.

“But I’m drawn to victimology,” he says. “I want to make sure that the victims are flesh and bone in everything I write. Every book of mine has a certain heart to it. If I can create some empathy for the men and women who fall victim to brutal crimes, then I’m doing my job.”

For tickets and the full schedule of events, visit hamptonswhodunit.com.