A Massachusetts man has been indicted in the strangling death of a 20-year-old college student whose murder has stumped investigators for nearly four decades.
John Carey, 63, is charged with killing Claire Gravel, a sophomore at Salem State College, in 1986, Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett announced Wednesday.
Carey, who in 2008 was sentenced to 20 years in prison for attempted murder after trying to garrote a former neighbor with a necktie a year earlier, is currently incarcerated at MCI Concord, a medium-security facility in the northeastern part of the state, Blodgett said.
“For 36 years, Robert Gravel has carried this photo of his daughter Claire in his wallet,” Blodgett told reporters at a press conference, gesturing to a photo of the young woman projected onto the wall behind him. “And today I’m pleased to announce that the man we believe who’s responsible for her murder has been indicted.”
Claire Gravel was last seen at a local pub on June 29, 1986. She was there with friends after playing in a softball game, and was later given a ride home by a friend, Blodgett said. The next afternoon, her body was found by a work crew in the woods by the northbound lanes of Route 128 in Beverly. Investigators have spent years interviewing “dozens of witnesses and persons of interest,” according to Blodgett, who said detectives “followed through on every lead and tip they received.” A promising lead emerged in 2012, Blodgett added, but declined to provide details.
“Evidence recovered from Claire’s clothing was instrumental in solving this case,” said Blodgett, who would not elaborate further, saying that “evidence and facts that… have not been known previously” will come out when Carey is arraigned “at a later date.”
Carey is the same man who was dubbed the “Hamilton Strangler” for assaulting Rosemary Diskin of Hamilton, Massachusetts, in 2007, Carrie Kimball of the Essex County DA’s Office confirmed.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Diskin, now 70, told The Daily Beast that she was “shaking all over” when she heard the news of Carey’s indictment.
“I know what she went through,” Diskin said, referring to Gravel’s final moments. “I remember thinking [during the attack], ‘This is it, I’m gonna die.’ I know exactly what she went through. It was awful.”
Diskin, a real estate broker, was at home alone at the time with her 12-year-old son Jason. She knew Carey from the neighborhood. He said he was there to have a drink with Diskin’s husband, who wasn’t home. But instead of leaving, Carey wrapped a tie around Diskin’s neck and pulled it from both ends, according to court records.
Diskin struggled to break free from Carey’s grip, and “began to fade out,” a 2012 appellate brief states. When Jason ran downstairs to investigate, he saw Carey choking his mother, who told the boy to get a kitchen knife and stab her assailant. Jason knifed Carey in the back, whereupon Carey released his grip on Diskin and went after her son. After realizing Diskin was getting back up from the floor, Carey punched her in the forehead and mouth, according to the filing.
Diskin and Jason managed to run away, as Carey tried to run them down with his car, she recalled. She escaped to one neighbor’s house, while Jason fled to another.
The neighbors called the police, who recovered a piece of the necktie from Diskin’s back deck. A DNA test matched Carey’s, a forensic analyst testified in court. However, Carey—whose computer was found by cops to contain hundreds of “strangulation-oriented” images and videos—insisted that the encounter had been consensual, and that Diskin enjoyed rough sex. On Wednesday, Diskin fiercely disputed this, saying that Carey’s assertion only served to re-victimize her by planting a seed among people in the community that she was promiscuous.
“There are still people who believe that he was my boyfriend and I liked to get strangled,” Diskin said. “I was a wreck for years. I was afraid to cross the street… If it wasn’t for my son, this guy would have killed me.”
Blodgett’s announcement on Wednesday couldn’t have come soon enough for Diskin, she said.
“Someone had told me that he was getting out of jail early, and I was really scared,” Diskin continued. “I have no idea why he ever picked me to kill.”
Before he was sent to prison, Carey apologized to Diskin and her son in court, saying, “I did wrong.”
To Diskin, the words rang hollow.
“I’m glad he’s not getting out of jail now,” she said.
At the Wednesday morning press conference, Blodgett said investigators have not zeroed in on a motive for Gravel’s murder. She would have turned 57 on Aug. 7, according to Blodgett, who said his office remains focused on a long list of other as-yet-unsolved crimes, as well.
“We continually review cold cases hoping that new techniques and a fresh look result in a breakthrough,” he said. “We are mindful [that] the victims and their family members will continue to want answers. They are not forgotten.”