, Gloucester, MA

May 10, 2013

Burying the unwanted dead

Peabody is final resting place for another terrifying criminal -- the Boston Strangler

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — According to Worcester police, Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was buried secretly in an undisclosed location yesterday. This followed days of uncertainty as local officials and cemetery directors made clear that he wasn’t wanted in their communities.

There was always one place where Tsarnaev was absolutely never going to be buried, and that’s right here at Puritan Lawn Cemetery in Peabody. And that’s despite the fact that Puritan Lawn has long been the final resting place for a man regarded as one of the most terrible figures in the history of the commonwealth.

Even so, as to Tsarnaev, Lawrence Glynn, the director of funeral services, explains, “We buried Sean Collier here. We wouldn’t consider it.”

An MIT police officer and Salem State University graduate, Collier is believed to have been gunned down by Tsarnaev and his brother days after the bombing as he sat in his cruiser.

Despite his insistence that Tsarnaev wouldn’t be welcomed here, Glynn believes that everyone must be buried. “I’ve always had the motto that the way a society treats its dead is a reflection of the moral fiber of that society.”

In the case of Tsarnaev, however, he concedes, “I’m not sure if people see him as part of our society.”

He wonders if sending the killer back to Russia or burial at sea, employed for Osama bin Laden, wouldn’t have been better alternatives.

Meanwhile, buried somewhere on the grounds at Puritan Lawn is a man who was in his day considered as dreadful as Tsarnaev: the man believed to be the notorious Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo.

“We have a request from the family,” Glynn said, “that we don’t reveal the location.”

DeSalvo was buried in 1973.

“That was before my time here,” Glynn said. Nevertheless, the grave of the man who confessed to murdering more than a dozen women in the early 1960s continues to attract attention. DeSalvo was stabbed to death in prison, where he was serving a sentence for crimes other than the strangling.

“People still come in, and they are looking to see that grave,” Glynn said. “We don’t show it to them.”

The Strangler inspired a time of terror, when people were afraid to so much as open their doors to strangers. The atmosphere was comparable to the days when the Tsarnaev brothers remained at large and swaths of eastern Massachusetts were in a semi-lockdown.

Providing a resting place for a notorious individual, be it a DeSalvo or Tsarnaev, can cause problems for the cemetery’s caretakers.

“There’s the possibility of vandalism,” Glynn said. “That comes into play.”

Puritan Lawn, which opened in 1933, has no headstones. Its memorial plaques lay flush with the ground, providing less opportunities for vandals and making it more difficult to find someone like DeSalvo.

Even with a plaque placed low to the ground, however, dead celebrities can’t always escape attention. In 2001, as new questions were raised about his supposed role as the Strangler, DeSalvo’s body was disinterred for DNA testing in front of multiple reporters. The results were not considered conclusive.

“I don’t think that’s something anyone wants to do,” Glynn said, recalling the difficulties of overseeing the process. “We prefer to leave people at rest.” A court order left no choice, however.

Glynn declined to cite any other infamous individuals taking their final rest at Puritan Lawn.