I never signed up to be a forensic journalist, but here I am. It happened about two months and ten boxes into my research on The Babysitter. Those ten boxes, and a few more since, had been collected by Liza in the years since her fateful nightmare in which she finally saw the face of her nocturnal stalker—Tony Costa, her babysitter turned serial killer. When it came my turn to delve into her exhaustive trove of documents, as well as online articles about Costa and his bloody brethren of serial killers, one “fact” about his case was particularly horrific: his victims showed signs of having been bitten. That “fact” was revealed when the District Attorney at the time held a press conference and announced that Costa’s victim’s body parts found in the Truro woods had shown teeth marks, and that some had even been chewed. And just like that, Costa was dubbed the Cape Cod Cannibal, a modern day vampire, in newspapers across the country.

In order to fully understand what I was now confronting, I called a friend and doctor to read through the victims’ autopsy reports with me. A kind and gentle man dedicated to healing, Dr. Kent DiFiore specializes in oncology not forensic medicine but I knew he’d be able to walk me through the technical jargon. As we sat in his sunny kitchen, my tape recorder capturing his explanations of the carnage done to Costa’s victims, I kept waiting for “teeth marks,” or “bites,” or “chewed” to appear in order to explain the DA’s statement. Suddenly Kent read, “incised wounds.” Ah ha!

“Can you explain what an incised wound is?” I asked, fully expecting him to confirm the grisly details.

“That’s a wound caused by a sharp object. Think incision.”

“So, not bitten or chewed?”

Kent looked at me over the rim of his reading glasses, a look of painful shock on his face; these were clearly not your run-of-the-mill autopsy reports. 

“What? Chewed? No! These women were brutalized, but they weren’t chewed.”

And I suddenly realized what had happened at that press conference back in 1969. The DA had read the same autopsy report, seen the same “incised wound,” and instead of incision had thought “incisor,” as in tooth. And so the catchy but entirely erroneous moniker of Cape Cod Cannibal was born. In fact, given how sloppy and often lazy most chroniclers of Costa’s crimes have been, if you Google his name, in many online sources you still will read that he “ate his victims’ body parts.” But you won’t read it in this online source because we did our research. 

As unspeakable as Costa’s crimes were, they didn’t include feasting on his victims. The women Costa murdered and buried in the Truro woods deserve a better epitaph than having been victims of a so-called vampire and we hope The Babysitter will help rewrite that legacy.

Newspaper clipping from The Boston Globe, March 6, 1969.