Serial rapist admits he attacked, killed elderly woman in the South End 22 years ago

Charles Brook, 67, was sentenced to life in prison today after he admitted he raped and strangled Zahia Salem, 87, in her South End apartment in 1989, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office reports.

By accepting a plea to second-degree murder, Brook could be eligible for parole in 15 years. However, there's a good chance he could die before then since he now has cancer, the DA's office says.

Investigators had little to go on in the case until 2011, when samples of DNA from a cigarette butt found in her Union Park apartment and scrapings from under her fingernails were checked against an FBI database, which matched them against Brook's genetic profile.

Brook had submitted samples following rape convictions in 1989 and 1991.

Boston Police used a federal grant for clearing cold cases to pay for the testing and investigation.

Salem had no children, but a niece addressed the court on her behalf, remembering her as somebody who walked to church every day - she never drove:

"My father remembers our aunt talking to him about retirement planning and worrying about Social Security being charity, which she didn't want to accept," the niece said in an impact statement.

"We felt lucky to have spent time with her in October of 1989, just a month before her untimely, unfortunate, and shocking death. We were all very saddened and angry ... We thank the Boston Police Department and detectives for collecting DNA evidence at that time and securing it for this long. We are thankful for the grant that was awarded to open this very cold case and for the tenacity of the detectives who followed through so that we could see justice being served. We hope that other families will be touched in the same way we have been and to find some closure to their misfortune as well."

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