The True Story of a Cape Cod Killer in ‘Helltown’ by Marshfield Author
MARSHFIELD — Casey Sherman has written about murderers before, whose names and deeds are instantly recognizable.
The Boston Strangler. The Boston Marathon Bombers. Whitey Bulger.
In his 15th book, “Helltown,” for sale from source books, Sherman tells of a killer in his native Cape Cod, a killer who has been largely forgotten for the past half-century and who lives by the nickname of “Tony Chop-Chop”. “
Antone “Tony” Costa was once a carpenter and handyman, drug dealer and police informant. One weekend in late January 1969, Costa met two young women from Providence, Patricia Walsh and Mary Anne Wysocki, who chose the rooming house where he was living for a weekend getaway. Costa persuaded the young women to take him for his paycheck. Then he took them to a wooded area in North Truro, where he killed them both, dismembered them, and buried them in shallow graves.
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“For me, it was the worst serial murder case since Jack the Ripper roamed the streets of London’s East End a century earlier,” Sherman said. “I was shocked that the case was lost to history. History was truly forgotten. And, more importantly, these young women were forgotten.”
Sherman used police records, trial transcripts and interviews with surviving investigators to document the case against Costa, who was convicted of the murders and is suspected of three others. It also draws on Costa’s unpublished memoir titled “Resurrection”.
He won’t say how he got the manuscript.
“He turned everything upside down,” Sherman said of the manuscript. “I could take the reader to the crime scene through the eyes of the killer.”
He said Costa had ambitions to be a writer.
The case also sparked the interest of two literary heavyweights living in Cape Town at the time: Norman Mailer, who had a home in Provincetown, and Kurt Vonnegut, a struggling car dealer whose writing career took off with publication of “Slaughterhouse- Five.” One of Vonnegut’s daughters had met Costa.
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“It was a case that haunted Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut,” Sherman said.
Vonnegut wrote about the case for “Life” magazine and attended the trial. While not in the courtroom, Mailer closely followed developments and incorporated elements of the story into his novel and film “Tough Guys Don’t Dance.”
While the Cape Cod murders were initially national news, they were overshadowed a few months later by the Tate-LaBianca murders in California by Charles Manson and his followers.
New York Times bestselling author Sherman, 53, of Marshfield, got the idea for the book when he went for a drive in Provincetown with his brother, Todd, during the coronavirus lockdown, passing by sites that figure in history. He began his research as soon as he returned home.
“I didn’t want to glorify Tony Costa”, who was 29 when he committed suicide in prison in 1974. “I wanted to explain the monster in the most realistic way possible. Costa was brutal and barbaric and he was alive and lived on Cape Cod.”
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“He was arrogant, charming and thought he was smarter than the cops. He tried to stay one step ahead of the detectives, but the detectives were ultimately smarter,” Sherman said in an interview with Station 8 at Marshfield Center.
Detectives found the bodies, along with key pieces of evidence, without the high-tech equipment familiar to readers of more recent true-crime cases.
Sherman also wanted to write about the period, from the election of Richard Nixon, the Chappaquiddick incident, the Vietnam War protests and the moon landing, and the “hippie” community of which Costa was a part.
He is working with actor Robert Downey Jr.’s production company to develop “Helltown” into a limited-run television series.
He also started working on a book about Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato. He was killed in 1958 at Turner’s home, allegedly by his daughter during a domestic dispute. It’s a story that brings together “thugs and Hollywood glamour,” Sherman said.
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There are more with his friend and frequent collaborator Dave Wedge, from Milton, including a third season of their “Saints, Sinners and Serial Killers” podcast and polishing the live version of the show that was produced for the first time in April at the Wilbur in Boston and perform it in front of a live audience. And they are considering another book project, which would be their sixth together.
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Excerpt from “Helltown”
“(Massachusetts State Police Detectives) Tom Gunnery and Bernie Flynn then led the chained suspect out of the elevator to the first floor as the sound of flashes crackled through the lobby. is stopped to speak to reporters.
“Antone Costa is suspected in a double murder involving two girls who have been missing in Providence, Rhode Island since January 25,” he said. “We don’t have any more information at this time.”
The killer made no attempt to cover his face. He seemed to appreciate the attention.
Costa’s handcuffed hands were attached to a belt tied to his waist. He slowly made his way to the front door of the barracks, trying to enjoy the moment. Gunnery clenched his triceps and led him out the door to the parking lot where a convoy of police vehicles were waiting with their lights flashing. The killer smiled as he was placed in the back seat of the second cruiser.
“It’s quite a show,” Costa said aloud. “I wonder what reception I will have when I return to Cape Cod.”
Meet Casey Sherman in Hingham
Sherman will discuss “Helltown” at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27 in the Whiton Room of the Hingham Public Library, 66 Leavitt St. Reservations can be made for the free program on the library’s website, hinghamlibrary.org.