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Serial Rapist Admits to Killing 87-Year-Old Woman in South End 20 Years Ago

Police used DNA evidence to make an arrest in the cold case of rape and murder of Zahia Salem.

A man accused of assaulting and strangling an 87-year-old woman 20 years ago in her South End home pleaded guilty to all charges, and was sentenced to life in prison for the crime, according to a statement from Suffolk County District Attorney's office. 

Charles H. Brook, Jr. 67, admitted on Thursday that in 1989, he gained entry to the Union Park Street apartment where Zahia Salem, 87, lived alone, beat her, sexually assaulted her, and strangled her to death.

Brook – who has cancer – was given the mandatory term for that offense, life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years.

A Cold Case
Although Boston Police detectives never found a suspect during their initial investigation 20 years ago, Conley said the case was investigated actively by police, who preserved biological evidence from the scene for later testing.  

Because those investigators maintained a cigarette butt and scrapings from beneath Salem’s fingernails under laboratory conditions, they were still viable for DNA testing when the Boston Police Cold Case Squad reviewed the matter in 2011 under a federal grant intended to help clear unsolved crimes with new forensic techniques.

Criminalists at the Boston Police Crime Laboratory developed a DNA profile from the evidence at the scene and submitted it to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a database of DNA profiles from known offenders and unidentified subjects. That submission led to a match with Brook, who had been ordered to submit a sample to the database after rape convictions in 1989 and 1991.

Family Reactions
Salem had no children, but a niece addressed the court on her behalf, remembering the immigrant seamstress as a spry old woman who had never driven a car and walked to church every day.

“My father remembers our aunt talking to him about retirement planning and worrying about Social Security being charity, which she didn’t want to accept,” the niece said in an impact statement.

“We felt lucky to have spent time with her in October of 1989, just a month before her untimely, unfortunate, and shocking death,” she continued. “We were all very saddened and angry … We thank the Boston Police Department and detectives for collecting DNA evidence at that time and securing it for this long. We are thankful for the grant that was awarded to open this very cold case and for the tenacity of the detectives who followed through so that we could see justice being served. We hope that other families will be touched in the same way we have been and to find some closure to their misfortune as well.” 

Michael Schultz was the DA’s assigned victim-witness advocate. Brook was represented by attorney Bruce Carroll.

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