For Immediate Release: November 20, 2018
For more information contact: (781) 897-8325
WOBURN – Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan announced today that Michael Sumpter, a career criminal with ties to Cambridge has been identified as the person responsible for the 1969 murder of Jane Britton. Using DNA testing investigators were able to initially exclude other potential persons of interest and affirmatively identify Sumpter as the perpetrator of this crime. Sumpter has been linked to two other homicides of women in the Boston area.
“The murder of Jane Britton has raised many questions, and piqued the interest of members of the community over the past 50 years,” said District Attorney Marian Ryan. “Multiple teams of investigators have been assigned to this case looking into tips from the public and ruling out multiple suspects. As a direct result of their perseverance and utilization of the latest advances in forensic technology by the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab today I am confident that the mystery of who killed Jane Britton has finally been solved and this case is officially closed.”
On January 7, 1969 at 12:40 p.m., the body of Jane Britton, 23, of Needham, a graduate student in Anthropology at Harvard University, was found in her fourth floor apartment, located at 6 University Road, in Cambridge by her boyfriend who came to check on her after she had failed to appear to take an examination that morning. She had been sexually assaulted and struck multiple times in the head.
“This case posed many challenges for investigators. Over the years we followed up on many leads regarding individuals with suspected ties to Jane Britton. Additionally, this case had several ‘red herrings’ including the presence of red ochre at the crime scene which ultimately were unrelated to the crime. Over time as people’s memories faded and witnesses died it became even more difficult to follow up on new investigatory leads. We are grateful to the many members of the public who have expressed an interest in this case. Today we are able to provide closure to Jane’s family, friends and those who knew her.”
In 2017 the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office received several requests for the Jane Britton file to be released to the public. Although prosecutors continued to hold out hope that there might be a DNA match to the partial profile taken from the scene that might identify the person who had killed Jane Britton, the case seemed to have hit a dead end. Lacking any new information, a team of experienced investigators began a review of the file in order to potentially release some information. With fresh eyes on the file investigators also sought to determine whether there were any further investigative actions that could be taken, including consulting with the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab about whether any new advances in forensic DNA technology might be of assistance in yielding a more comprehensive evidence profile.
The decision was ultimately made to perform additional DNA testing with the most up to date testing on the remaining evidence samples. For the first time, the Massachusetts State Police Crime lab was able to obtain a Y-STR, or male-specific profile, from the remaining DNA samples on file from the original swabs in October of 2017.
In July of 2018 the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab notified the investigators that there was a match between the 2017 Y-STR profile from the evidence sample and Michael Sumpter’s CODIS sample on file with the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab. Although Sumpter was already deceased, investigators were able to locate and obtain a DNA sample from Michael’s biological brother who has the same male Y-STR profile. Testing on this sample excluded 99.92% of the male population as a contributor of the DNA and confirmed that Michael Sumpter’s profile matched both the original soft hit and the Y-STR profile. Sumpter’s brother was excluded as a possible contributor.
On the day she died, Jane went to dinner with some of her classmates at the Acropolis Restaurant in Cambridge then stopped at home to change before going ice skating with her boyfriend on the Cambridge Common. They also visited Charley’s, a pub across from Jane’s apartment, before returning to Jane’s apartment around 10:30 p.m. After her boyfriend left the apartment at around 11:30 p.m. Jane then went next door to her neighbors’ apartment for a glass of sherry before returning home around 12:30 a.m. The next morning she was found dead in her bed.
The Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy on Jane and was able to collect forensic evidence. He ruled that she had been struck by a blunt object multiple times resulting in fractures of the skull, and contusions and lacerations of the brain which were the cause of death. A murder weapon was never positively identified.
Subsequent toxicology testing revealed that her blood alcohol was negative but her stomach alcohol was 0.08% suggesting that the alcohol she ingested did not have time to metabolize and make it to the bloodstream before death. This indicated that Jane was killed shortly after returning to her apartment.
On January 7, 1969 a resident of Jane’s apartment building reported hearing someone on the fire escape that connected to Jane’s apartment earlier on the evening of her murder and a second witness account detailed that a man who appeared to be approximately 6’ feet tall and 170 lbs. was seen running in the street near Jane’s apartment at 1:30 a.m., Mr. Sumpter was 5’11” and weighed 185 lbs. when he was arrested in 1972. It is believed that Mr. Sumpter entered Jane’s apartment through a window, assaulted her and murdered her in her bed before fleeing the building.
Sumpter had ties to Cambridge including having lived in Cambridge as a young child, having attended first grade in Cambridge Public Schools, being involved with Cambridge police as a juvenile and having had a girlfriend who lived in Cambridge in the late 1960s. In 1967, less than two years before Jane’s murder Sumpter was working on Arrow Street in Cambridge approximately a mile from Jane’s apartment. Sumpter was also arrested and convicted of a physical assault on a woman whom he had met at the Harvard Square MBTA station, blocks from Ms. Britton’s apartment, three years after Jane Britton’s murder.
This is the third homicide linked to Michael Sumpter since the time of his death. In 2010, the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office was informed that Mr. Sumpter’s DNA was a match to DNA taken from the 1972 murder and rape of 23-year-old Ellen Rutchick in her Beacon Street apartment and in 2012, a second CODIS hit matched Mr. Sumpter to the evidence taken from the 1973 rape and murder of 24-year-old Mary Lee McClain in her Mount Vernon Street apartment. None of the victims are believed to have known, or had any relationship with, Mr. Sumpter.
Sumpter had been convicted of committing the stranger rape of a woman in her Boston apartment in 1975. Mr. Sumpter died of cancer at the age of 54 in 2001, 13 months after he was paroled from his 15 to 20 year sentence for this 1975 Boston rape. In 2002, after his death, Sumpter was identified by another CODIS hit in connection with a 1985 stranger rape of a woman in Boston committed after Sumpter escaped from work release.
Since his death, DNA testing and the CODIS database identified Michael Sumpter in connection with five sexual assaults, three of which involved the murder of the victim.
The lead investigators assigned to this case were Chief of Homicide Adrienne Lynch (in 2017) and Sergeant Peter Sennott, Massachusetts State Police (in 1998).