CAMBRIDGE, MA – In January 1969, someone murdered Jane Britton, a 23-year-old grad student at Harvard. Police never publicly identified a suspect, and no one was ever arrested in connection with her death. Until now.
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Nearly 50 years later, and following several requests for the DA to share information with the public, the mystery has been solved. Michael Sumpter, a serial rapist who has since died, was identified as the killer, the Middlesex district attorney said Tuesday in a press conference.
“This is the oldest case that the Massachusetts District Attorney’s office has been able to bring to resolution,” said District Attorney Marian Ryan.
Ryan said based on forensic evidence, Sumpter’s connection to Cambridge and witness statements, she was confident that he was the one who climbed through a window and sexually assaulted and killed Britton.
This is the third homicide to be linked to Sumpter since his death, Ryan said, including a 1973 rape and a murder in a Mount Vernon Street apartment.
Sumpter died in 2001 and has since been linked to the murders of two others he didn’t know.
“Crimes committed by strangers are some of the most challenging to solve,” said Ryan who added the forensic developments allowed the connection to be made.
The District Attorney’s office did DNA testing in 2006, and during the past year did further testing on evidence taken from the 1969 Cambridge homicide. Multiple teams of investigators looked into tips from the public over the past five decades, following leads and ruling out other suspects, said Ryan. This year, in a last-ditch effort, they tested the last of the forensic evidence from the crime scene as well as an updated DNA sample.
The evidence pointed to Sumpter.
On Jan. 6, 1969, Britton had gone to dinner, then stopped at home to change clothes to go ice skating with her boyfriend. The two went to Charlie’s Pub to have a beer, then returned to her apartment. After her boyfriend left an hour later, she went across the hall, had a drink with her neighbors and collected the cat that they’d been watching for her.
At 12:40 p.m. the next day, Britton’s boyfriend went looking for her after she missed an exam that morning. When he couldn’t get into the apartment, he went across the hall to her neighbors for help. They were able to get into the apartment and found the girl’s body. Britton, a Needham native, was a graduate student in anthropology at Harvard.
Police said she died of multiple blunt injuries to the head and had been sexually assaulted. The medical examiner estimated she had been dead for 10 to 12 hours by the time she was found.
According to the Harvard Crimson, police at first speculated that the killer had performed an ancient burial rite over her body after finding iodine oxide, a reddish-brown powder, on the walls, ceiling, and floor of the apartment and on her body. The chief of police also said the department had found a sharp-edged stone, an archaeological souvenir, which had gone missing from her apartment.
Ryan said it appears the powder on the walls was one of multiple red herrings in the case.
Two days after she was found, with rumors flying, the Cambridge police declared a media blackout. That lasted for decades, and researchers and journalists asking for information on the case were rebuffed.
But during the press conference Tuesday the DA thanked the press and public for pushing to find answers in the case. Ryan said the news puts to rest rumors of other theories.
The press conference:
Read more here: Development In 1969 Cambridge Murder Of Harvard Student
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Photos courtesy DA’s office