Similar to his predecessors, Tony Costa possessed a debonair and cunning demeanor, marked by overconfidence that ultimately led to his downfall. Despite the gruesome nature of his crimes, including dismemberment and necrophilia, Costa remains a relatively obscure figure in true-crime narratives.
Dubbed the "Cape Cod Vampire" and "Cape Cod Cannibal," he committed suicide in 1974 while serving a life sentence for the murders of Patricia Walsh and Mary Anne Wysocki, both of whom were found mutilated. Although convicted for these two killings, investigators and Costa's defense team suspected his involvement in the brutal deaths of at least three other women.
Author and journalistCasey Sherman, in his new book "Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod," meticulously examines Costa's 1969 Massachusetts killing spree. Beyond unraveling the intricacies of Costa's crimes, Sherman delves into a broader exploration of the "culture of toxic masculinity and systematic misogyny" prevalent during that era, contending that it continues to influence contemporary perspectives on violence against women.
The exploration of Tony Costa's unpublished memoir, where he attributed his crimes to an alter ego named Cory, offers valuable insights into his mindset during the commission of the murders. How did the review of this memoir contribute to your understanding of Costa's psychological state and the rationale behind his actions?
Examining Tony Costa's unpublished manuscript is a groundbreaking endeavor, as it marks the first instance of a killer placing himself or his alter ego at the crime scene. The extensive review of over 2,000 documents, encompassing crime and police reports, trial transcripts, autopsy and crime scene photos, reveals the heinous details of the crimes.
However, it is the unpublished manuscript that uniquely immerses readers into the scenes, offering an unprecedented glimpse into the unsettling circumstances faced by the victims lured into the woods by this serial killer. For the first time, Costa's narrative provides an eerie and visceral understanding of the harrowing experiences endured by these unfortunate women.
How did the drug environment during the period of the women's murders impact the course of the police investigation?
The drug landscape during the time of the women's murders significantly shaped the police investigation. In 1969, Provincetown and similar areas like Greenwich Village and San Francisco served as transient hubs for hippies, fostering a lifestyle of movement and exploration.
Consequently, when young women went missing, law enforcement initially perceived it as a common occurrence, assuming they were embarking on cross-country journeys in VW buses, a common practice among young people at the time. The transient nature of the community contributed to a delayed response from authorities, taking weeks and even months to initiate investigations into the disappearances.
Contrastingly, if these murders had occurred in 2022, investigators would likely have acted promptly. Astonishingly, some families of the victims exhibited a laissez-faire attitude towards the prolonged absence of their daughters, unaware of their whereabouts. The disappearances of Patricia Walsh and Mary Anne Wysocki, however, prompted immediate concern from their families, signaling a distinctive response in those cases.
Costa, operating as a drug informant, managed to garner favor with the police department, establishing a close relationship with law enforcement. This affiliation enabled him to commit multiple slayings and evade capture. How did Costa cultivate this alliance with the police, and what factors allowed him to carry out his gruesome acts while maintaining his freedom?
Tony Costa possessed an exceptional ability to adapt and blend in seamlessly, making him the ultimate chameleon. His charm emerged as his most potent tool, allowing him to infiltrate the Provincetown Police Department and establish connections with investigators, particularly when they intensified their focus on the disappearances of Mary Anne Wysocki and Patricia Walsh.
Simultaneously, he operated on the other side of the spectrum, using his charisma to lure young women to their tragic fates while maintaining access to drugs. Costa skillfully navigated the investigation, keeping a finger on its various aspects. Intriguingly, he didn't shy away from law enforcement; instead, he openly engaged in a cat-and-mouse game, confident in his perceived intellectual superiority over them.
This audacious behavior added a layer of complexity to the investigation and highlighted Costa's brazen confidence in outsmarting those pursuing him.
The book delves into several alarming red flags concerning Tony Costa's adolescent behavior, including graphic animal abuse and attempted sexual assault. How does this information contribute to our comprehension of serial killers, and what insights does it provide into the early indicators and behaviors that may foreshadow such criminal tendencies?
With a background in covering 30 to 50 homicides, including the Boston Strangler case, where my aunt, Mary Sullivan, was the youngest and final victim, I've been immersed in tracking and studying serial killers for over 30 years. It's a common observation that the childhood experiences of these individuals often foreshadow their adult identities.
In the case of Tony Costa, his adolescent fascination with taxidermy and a complex, love-hate relationship with his mother became pivotal aspects that he projected onto his victims. Drawing parallels to the character Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho, Costa emerges as a real-life embodiment of the psychological intricacies often observed in the early lives of serial killers.
Having written extensively about the victims of serial killers, what aspects of Tony Costa's victims stood out to you the most and left a lasting impact on your perspective?
The reluctance to focus on Tony Costa's murders before writing the book stems from growing up in Cape Cod, where these crimes occurred. The case was initially trivialized, with Costa being referred to as "Tony Chop Chop" due to the dismemberment of his victims. Having delved into the dark investigation of a family member's murder, there was a hesitation to revisit another serial murder case.
However, during the height of the pandemic, a deeper exploration revealed the disturbing nature of Costa's crimes and how quickly they faded from public memory. Drawing from the understanding gained through personal experiences, the aim in writing "Helltown" was to portray the victims not merely as subjects for Costa's amusement but as fully developed individuals with hopes, dreams, and significant connections.
Highlighting them as daughters, sisters, and best friends, the narrative aimed to ensure that the profound impact of their loss on numerous lives was not overlooked or overshadowed in the portrayal of the Helltown murders.
The suggestion that Tony Costa had an attraction to his mother raises questions about how this dynamic may have motivated his killing spree. If not rooted in such feelings, what other factors or motivations do you believe played a role in driving Costa to commit these heinous acts?
The belief is that Tony Costa harbored a love-hate relationship with his mother, serving as a triggering factor for his murderous spree. The killings were characterized by an unprecedented level of brutality, surpassing any encountered in numerous homicide cases. Examining autopsy and crime scene photos, it's evident that the victims endured shootings, stabbings, slashings, and dismemberment, marking Costa as one of the most brutal serial killers since Jack the Ripper.
The roots of this extreme brutality are thought to trace back to Costa's complex relationship with his mother. After his father's death in World War II, Costa wanted to maintain exclusive possession of his mother, but her remarriage and the arrival of another child created a void in Costa's heart and mind, intensifying his deep-seated emotional turmoil.
What factors do you believe contribute to the relative lack of mainstream awareness regarding Tony Costa's crimes?
Tony Costa's murders, occurring in 1969, preceded the infamous Manson murders of the same year. While the Manson murders continue to be extensively discussed, Costa's crimes have not garnered comparable attention.
The enduring fascination with Charles Manson may be attributed to the notoriety of his victims, including well-known individuals like Sharon Tate, contributing to the prolonged cultural impact and discussion surrounding the Manson family's atrocities.
In what ways do you believe Tony Costa's case contributes to the public's comprehension of true crime?
Tony Costa's case has largely faded from historical memory, and the book aims to rectify this by providing context and ensuring that the public doesn't forget the case and its victims. While many readers may be familiar with infamous serial killers like Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Jack the Ripper, or John Wayne Gacy, Tony Costa's name may not be as widely recognized.
Despite this, the author contends that Costa's crimes were equally, if not more, disturbing. The haunting impact of autopsy and crime scene photos continues to resonate with the author. The narrative serves as a reminder for everyone, both women and men, to be vigilant and have a better understanding of their surroundings. It underscores the importance of caution when forming connections with others, as charm and kindness can sometimes mask darker intentions.