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The Horrifying Crimes of Tony Costa, the Cape Cod Killer Who Crossed Paths with Kurt Vonnegut

He turned a small patch of land into a garden of horrors.

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  • Photo Credit: Wikipedia

In the late 1960s, when most young men were either worrying about the draft, experimenting with growing their hair long, or discovering their love for Eric Clapton, a Massachusetts resident named Antone Charles Costa was butchering young women and dumping their bodies in shallow graves on and around a seemingly innocuous patch of land in Truro, Massachusetts.

Tony, as he was known to friends and family, began showing signs of predatory violence at the age of 16, according to a Murderpedia entry that references Michael Newton's Hunting Humans: An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers. During an early attack in November of 1961, Costa broke into an apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he lurked over the bed of a sleeping teenage girl. Her startled screams frightened the would-be attacker away that night, but his disturbing predilections could not be kept at bay. A few days later, Costa returned to the home and tried to drag the girl down the stairs, but heroic neighbors stepped in to save her life. Had they not, who knows what terrors she would have suffered at Costa’s hands.

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Who Was Tony Costa?

Tony Costa was born in 1944. His father died in World War II not long after his birth. At the age of seven, Costa reportedly told his mother that a man was entering his room at night, whom he later identified as his father, long since deceased: a sign of a troubled mind in the making.

In a 1969 Life magazine article written by famed author Kurt Vonnegut, a fellow Cape Cod resident, Vonnegut describes hearing Costa referred to as “a spoiled little boy” who “was never punished for anything.”

Vonnegut goes on to assert that his own daughter, then-19-year-old Edith, met Costa one summer when he invited her to go see his marijuana patch—an invitation she declined. In response to the news of Costa’s crimes, Edith told her father, “If Tony is a murderer, then anybody could be a murderer.”

Filmmaker, writer, and artist John Waters, who has been summering in Provincetown, Massachusetts for decades, writes about Costa’s string of murders in his 2019 book, Mr. Know-It-All. He describes speaking with local legend Victor “Moulty” Moulton, a member of the band The Barbarians, and asking if he knew Costa. “Very well,” Moulty replies. “There were many other girls killed, and nobody knows about [that].” Moulty goes on to say that Costa’s predatory ways were common knowledge around that area at the time, making his arrest unsurprising to those who had their eyes open.

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According to the documentary Twisted - Tony Costa: "The Cape Cod Casanova, Costa was living in a boarding house at the time of the murders, and gave off an impression of being “a little bit off.” Other locals chimed in to say that he was a loner who seemed “a bit into himself,” and was known to have made a hobby out of taxidermy.

A divorcé and father of three children, Costa spent his time working odd jobs here and there, mostly as a carpenter or handyman. Two of his victims stayed at the same boarding house where Costa lived. He even helped them bring in their luggage. As Vonnegut noted, “Who says chivalry is dead?” Costa’s room at the boarding house was searched after his arrest, and a rope with red stains on it was discovered in the closet.

Though local accounts appear to disagree on their characterization of Costa, one thing is for sure: his deviant crimes would soon bring him out of obscurity as a local handyman, and launch him into notoriety as the reviled Cape Cod serial killer.

How Was Tony Costa Caught?

In January of 1969, a resident tipped local police off to an abandoned Volkswagen parked on a dirt road in Truro, Massachusetts. Police looked into the matter. They noted that the car hadn’t been reported stolen, and they didn’t see anything strange in the area.

However, in February and March of that same year, the mutilated remains of four young women were discovered in shallow graves near that very spot. According to Vonnegut’s Life article, the victims had been dismembered with what local police guessed at the time to be a brush hook or an ax. Two of the women were said to have been shot with a .22 rifle. The remains were later identified as Patricia Walsh (23), Mary Ann Wysocki (23), Susan Perry (17), and Sydney Monzon (18).

Related: Lake Bodom Murders: 60 Years Later, Finland’s Infamous Unsolved Killings Remain a Mystery 

Murderpedia states that the remains “bore human teeth marks,” and the coroner saw signs indicating possible necrophilia. Costa was tied to the crimes when detectives discovered that he was growing marijuana at the site where the bodies were discovered. He’d also been seen driving the Volkswagen that had been reported abandoned near the makeshift graves, and was identified as the man who had inquired at a local body shop about the cost to have that very same car repainted.

Tony Costa’s Day in Court

Though he was linked to the remains of four women, Tony Costa was thought to have killed up to eight victims total. Sources report that Costa was “asked if he had anything to say before sentencing,” and his reply was, “keep digging.”

In May of 1970, Costa was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of Mary Ann Wysocki and Patricia Walsh. On May 12, 1974, Costa committed suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell.

Now, Costa’s garden of horrors is said to be overgrown. However, the haunting memory of his brutal crimes lingers in the small Cape Cod town where he left behind a vicious legacy.

Sources: Murderpedia; Kurt Vonnegut’s Life magazine article via Provincetown History Project; Mr. Know-It-All by John Waters; Twisted - Tony Costa: "The Cape Cod Casanova”; Ptown: Art, Sex, and Money on the Outer Cape by Peter Manso

Featured photo: Wikipedia