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Nearly 50 years later, prosecutor says convicted rapist murdered Harvard student in apartment

Authorities in Massachusetts announced Tuesday that they know who raped and killed a Harvard University graduate student in her apartment in January 1969.

In a statement, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan identified Michael Sumpter, a career criminal who died in 2001, as the person who killed Jane Britton, 23. They said Britton was found beaten to death in her bed the morning after she spent time with her boyfriend and classmates.

On the day before her murder, Britton reportedly went to dinner with some classmates before returning home to change to go ice skating with her boyfriend. The boyfriend is said to have left her Cambridge apartment at 11:30 p.m. Afterward, Britton had gone to her neighbor’s apartment and had a glass of sherry before returning home at around 12:30 p.m. That would be the last time she was seen alive.

Toxicology testing suggested she was killed a short time after returning to her apartment. An autopsy determined that Britton was sexually assaulted and struck multiple times with a blunt object, resulting in fractures of the skull, and contusions and lacerations of the brain.

While a weapon was never recovered from the scene, prosecutors said a witness claimed to have seen a man, approximately 6 feet tall and 170 pounds, running in the street near Britton’s apartment at around 1:30 a.m. on the night in question. Records from Sumpter’s 1972 arrest stated that he was  5’11” and weighed 185 pounds.

Prosecutors believe Sumpter entered Britton’s apartment through a window, assaulted her, and murdered her in her bed before fleeing the building. Sumpter and Britton didn’t know one another.

It was in October 2017 when the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab managed to obtain a male Y-STR profile from DNA samples that remained on file since the 1969 slaying. In July 2018, the Crime Lab notified investigators that Sumpter’s CODIS sample matched the sample taken from the crime scene.

Investigators then tested a DNA sample from Sumpter’s brother, who had the same Y-STR as Sumpter. This allowed them to confirm that Sumpter’s profile matched the Y-STR sample recovered from the crime scene.

Sumpter died of cancer in 2001, 13 months after being paroled into hospice care. Prior to that, he was serving a 15- to 20-year sentence for a “stranger rape” that occurred in Boston in 1975.

Alarmingly, the District Attorney’s Office mentioned that DNA testing has tied Sumpter to five additional rapes—three of which led to the victim’s murder.

“This case posed many challenges for investigators,” Ryan said in the statement. “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.”

 

[Featured image: Jane Britton, Micheal Sumpter/Middlesex District Attorney’s Office]