“The 1969 Cape Cod murders were the most vicious serial murders since ‘Jack the Ripper’ stalked the women of east London in the 1880s,” says Casey Sherman, author of the new book, “Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod.”
Sherman’s book explores the story of serial killer Tony Costa and the horrific murders of four women in the seaside community of Provincetown.
“Sydney Monzon, Susan Perry, Patricia Walsh and Mary Anne Wysocki were shot, stabbed, dismembered and buried in shallow graves, all because they trusted a polite and seemingly harmless young man,” Sherman said. .
He says the case was largely lost to history because the Manson murders happened around the same time, and it was also right after “the assassinations of RFK and MLK, a war that rages in Vietnam and the bloody violence of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.”
Sherman, who grew up on Cape Cod, says he learned of the case “almost in jest, as serial killer Tony Costa was nicknamed ‘Tony Chop Chop’ by local residents.”
Once he learned of the depravity, however, he sifted through more than 2,000 pages of police reports, trial testimony, crime scenes and autopsy photos and, he said, “I didn’t I’ve never seen anything more outrageously brutal in nearly 30 years as an investigative journalist.”
“Helltown” is available Tuesday, July 12. Join us for an EXCLUSIVE LIVE interview with Sherman on the NBC10 Boston and NECN Facebook pages on Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Sherman is one of America’s best-known true crime journalists, co-author of “Hunting Whitey,” the story of the hunt and capture of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, and co-host from the “Saints, Sinners, & Serial Killers” podcast.
His attraction to crime reporting, he says, is personal: “My aunt, 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, was the youngest and last victim of the famous Boston Strangler case. I re-examined the case and I wanted to give my Aunt Mary a voice she didn’t have during the original investigation where she was only discussed as a crime stat.”
In “Helltown”, time and place become characters: 1969, for the chaotic reasons mentioned above, and Provincetown, because the outskirts of Cape Town are, and always have been, known as a place where artists can be themselves without fear.
There is also an additional dimension of truth designed for television. At the time of the murders, famous writers Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut were living in Provincetown.
“It was a very rare thing to have two literary icons such as Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer reporting on a serial murder case in their own backyards as both men were living in Cape Town at the time. By early 1969, Vonnegut had yet to become a literary star, while Mailer had been a successful writer since his first novel, “The Naked and the Dead,” in 1948,” Sherman explains.
He adds: “In 1969, the two writers face the ultimate evil and become obsessed with ritual murders in their community and are drawn to the killer himself – Tony Costa.”
In the book, Sherman uses his knowledge and digs deeper into the murders from Costa’s perspective. “I had access to an unpublished manuscript that serial killer Tony Costa wrote before he committed suicide at Walpole State Prison in 1974. In it he describes the murders in vivid detail through an alter ego that ‘it had created itself,’ Sherman said. .
“Helltown” is already set to be made into a limited series in collaboration with Robert Downey Jr.’s production company, Team Downey. Sherman’s other books have translated well to the screen, including “The Finest Hours” and “Patriots Day.”
What’s next for Sherman? A book about the amazing movie star Lana Turner.
Fascination of evil. The adrenaline of fear. Play detective. Classic board game “Clue” and Dateline’s Keith Morrison give us some insight into why we’re so obsessed with true crime stories.