Rise of the Cape Cod Vampire

Los Angeles had Charles Manson, Seattle had “The Green River Killer” Gary Ridgway, but before that, Provincetown had Tony Costa. This is the untold story of the Cape’s most notorious serial killer. Read on for an exclusive excerpt from Casey Sherman's Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod, out July 22.

Illustration by Benjamen Purvis

The year was 1969 and Provincetown’s hippie scene was in full swing. Long-haired teenagers roamed the streets, strumming guitars and preaching peace and love. Tony Costa was at the center of the action, handing out hallucinogenic drugs like candy to all takers and leading a group of young followers who called him “Sire.”

Costa cultivated an intellectual air, possessed a charismatic personality, and often displayed a harmless demeanor. Beneath it all, though, lived a murderous streak that threatened to erupt at any moment, putting the many young women who came into contact with him in danger.

That is exactly where Patricia Walsh and Mary Ann Wysocki, two of Costa’s victims, found themselves when they came to P-town for a weekend getaway. Up from Providence, Rhode Island, they had the bad luck of rooming at the same boardinghouse as Costa.

The following is an excerpt from bestselling author Casey Sherman’s forthcoming book, Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod, a dramatized account of the gruesome murders that stoked fear in the hearts of people across the Cape and unleashed one of the most terrifying periods in the area’s history.

Cory, Tony Costa’s murderous alter ego, began planting more dark thoughts in his mind.

We need a gun. We need a gun to keep our deeds clean, Cory told him. One shot, two shots, then it’s all over, and we can get to our business.

“But we didn’t need any bloodshed with Chrissy,” Costa reminded Cory. “Wasn’t that clean enough for you? Police still think it was suicide.”

She wanted to die, remember? She wanted to commit suicide just like her favorite poetess Sara Teasdale had done, overdosed in a bathtub.

“My God, my God. Why did this have to happen?” the killer yelled out, startling both the counter clerk and the pharmacist working at the back of the store. “My mind is bent! I need a way out.”

His stomach convulsed, his brain pounded, and his eyes were red and sore.

Attempting to calm himself, he recited a poem by Teasdale that famously had been mistaken for her suicide note after she swallowed all those sleeping pills in 1933.

“When I am dead and over me bright April shakes out her rain-drenched hair, Tho’ you should lean above me broken-hearted, I shall not care,” he whispered. “And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted than you are now.”

Illustration by Benjamen Purvis

A short time later, on January 18, 1969, Costa rode his blue English racer bicycle to a white-shingled Victorian rooming house at 5 Standish Street that advertised for guests by the day or week on a freshly painted sign hung on the side of the building. He hopped off his bike and climbed a short set of stairs leading to the front door and then knocked. He waited for a few minutes outside, stomping his boots against the wooden stair planks to help fight off the frigid cold. He heard the shuffling of shoes inside, and the door opened just slightly.

Broad-shouldered, thickly bosomed, and wearing a housecoat with her bleached hair in rollers, Patricia Morton, the owner of the boardinghouse, peeked outside.

“Who is it?” she asked.

“My name is Antone Costa,” the young man replied. While most people called him Tony, he felt that introducing himself as Antone, his proper name, might sway the matronly landlady in his favor. “I would like to inquire about a room for rent.”

Morton had just returned from an extended stay in the Virgin Islands and was sporting a dark tan. The rooming house had been shuttered all winter while she was gone, and she had yet to take in new tenants.

“Where are you from?”

“I live right here in Provincetown.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t serve locals here, only transients,” Morton replied.

“I’m a carpenter and can help you with any repair work you might have,” Costa offered.

There were a few minor jobs still to be done around the house, and Morton liked the calm, eloquent tone of Costa’s voice, so she let him inside.

She gave him a tour of the available rooms and asked him a battery of questions about his work history and repair skills. Costa was very knowledgeable about carpentry and acted the perfect gentleman, which put Morton at ease, as she lived alone and was leery of strangers.

“Why do you need a place to stay?” she asked.

“Most recently, I’ve been sleeping on the sofa at a friend’s house,” he explained. “Patches and his wife, Dolly, are expecting a baby any day now, so they will need all the space they have. I have been staying at my mother’s place, but she’s getting old and I like to go out nights, which disturbs her rest.”

“I don’t put up with partiers, druggies, or hippies,” Morton warned him. “I run a very respectable place here.”

“Oh, it’s nothing like that. I spend nights at the library, and when the weather is decent, I like to stroll the beach in the evening.”

“Okay, that seems reasonable,” the landlady replied. “I charge $20 a week and I ask for payment in advance. If I rent you a room, I’ll have to open up the rest of the house to other people. Let me know if you can round up more tenants. I prefer boys to girls. They’re much cleaner and take care of the place better.”

“Thank you, Ms. Morton,” the killer replied, smiling. “I will let you know.”

Tony Costa shook the landlady’s hand gently before departing the rooming house and pedaling off into the night. He returned to Patricia Morton’s doorstep the following week with a duffel bag full of clothes and books and three fresh $20 bills.

“I would like to pay for most of the month in advance,” Costa told her. “I should be able to supply you with another $20 next week when I get paid again.”

Morton took the money happily, had him sign his name in her guest ledger, and showed him to his room. Costa smiled at the décor. The hallway floors and stairs were painted blood orange and the walls a dull blue and gray.

“The orange imparts a warm, welcoming glow,” Morton said proudly, “while the blue offers a cooling effect for those hot summer days. The house was once owned by the sheriff of Provincetown. It had a big wraparound porch when I bought it, but I had it removed. It was too much upkeep.”

For the first two nights, Costa stayed in the “register” room adjacent to Morton’s office, which she operated out of her basement-level living room off the garden.

But despite the frigid temperatures outside, the room was too hot for Costa because it was so close to the boiler. He asked Morton if he could switch rooms. The landlady thought hard for a moment, as she did not want her best room to be rented for an entire month for a mere $20 a week.

But Costa charmed her, and she finally relented, telling him to take his belongings to another room with a double bed on the opposite side of a shared bathroom on the first floor. This room had a large bay window that looked out onto Standish Street. Costa unpacked, neatly unfolding and then refolding a spartan collection of sweaters and jeans before pulling a small stack of 45s from his duffel bag. He placed the A side of a single called “Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl” on the turntable of his small record player and let it spin. The song was performed by the Barbarians, a band that had formed in P-town a few summers before. They had scratched the surface of success after appearing alongside James Brown and Jan and Dean in the 1964 concert film The T.A.M.I. Show, only to flame out afterward.

Costa knew all of the band members and had sold drugs to their teenage groupies. He played the record at a low volume and opened his worn copy of Manual of Taxidermy, which was months overdue from the town library, and began to read “Section II—Shooting.”

“Although…many valuable species can be secured by trapping, snaring, etc., yet the collector relies mainly on his gun,” the author wrote. “For ordinary collecting, a 12-gauge is perhaps better than any other, as such birds as ducks, hawks, and crows can be readily killed with it…. The student of nature possesses an innate love of his pursuits, which causes him to respect even a dead bird.”

Costa knew what he was doing was not “ordinary collecting.” After all, he was not hunting warblers, jays, or even golden-winged woodpeckers. The wolf of the steppes had much bigger prey in mind.

On March 5, 1969, Antone Costa, center, was charged with the murders of two Rhode Island women at the Massachusetts State Police Headquarters in Boston. Their bodies were discovered on Cape Cod in Truro’s woods. / Photo by Bill Brett/Boston Globe via Getty Images

Twenty-six-year-old Russell Norton took a swig from his draft beer and checked his watch. He was seated with a buddy inside a booth at Armando’s Bar & Grille in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. Norton was waiting for two more friends to show up: Mary Anne Wysocki and Patricia “Pat” Walsh. After about an hour, the two beautiful young women walked into the dark bar and both immediately apologized for being late. Norton ordered a round of drinks for the group and shared his package of cigarettes with Mary Anne and Pat.

“We’re wicked excited for the weekend,” Mary Anne announced as she blew a plume of smoke toward a ceiling fan. “We’re blowing out of Providence and heading for the Cape.”

“We’ve called ahead and booked a place in Provincetown. I’m gonna call in sick to work on Friday so we can leave early,” Pat added mischievously. Pat worked as a second-grade teacher at the Laurel Hill School in Providence. It was not like Pat to just skip school and leave her principal in the lurch on a Friday, but the 23-year-old dark-eyed brunette was angry over the inauguration of President Richard Nixon and needed a mental break. Mary Anne was also exhausted from her workload at Rhode Island College. A change of scenery would do them both good. Norton also wanted in.

“I’d love to go with you guys,” he told them. “But I just switched jobs and wouldn’t be able to leave until Saturday. I can hop a bus to Hyannis, though, and thumb my way up to P-town for the night.”

“Great, you can ride back with us on Sunday,” Mary Anne said. “This is gonna be so much fun!”

They raised their beer mugs and toasted the weekend to come.

Two days later, on the morning of Friday, January 24, 1969, Pat Walsh faked a scratchy throat and cough while telling the school secretary that she was too sick to teach class that day. Her performance was convincing enough that the secretary wished her well and hoped that she would feel better soon. Pat hung up the phone and started to pack. It would be a short trip, so she packed light, fitting a change of clothes and other essentials into a small bag. She swung by Mary Anne Wysocki’s apartment to pick her up and then filled up the gas tank of her 1968 light-blue Volkswagen Beetle to begin the 120-mile drive to land’s end on the outer Cape. Leaving the city limits of Providence behind, they drove southeast past the bleak old textile city of Fall River and the historic former whaling port of New Bedford, toward the town of Bourne, where they crossed the steel bridge over a wide canal, entering Cape Cod. On the car radio, the young women listened to the sounds of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which at that moment was the number one song on the Billboard charts and had dominated the airplay at local radio stations.

The Volkswagen Beetle chugged along Route 6, passing exits that led to places like Hyannis and Brewster. Traffic along the Mid-Cape Highway was scarce during this time of year, and Pat drove well over the speed limit in an effort to fuel the vehicle’s force-fed heater. The faster they drove, the warmer it got inside their small car, which was necessary on such an ice-cold day.

Pat and Mary Anne arrived in Provincetown at approximately 10:30 that morning, where, peering out the car windows, they noticed the breathtaking views of P-town’s snow-capped dunes, where artists and writers such as Jackson Pollock, Henry David Thoreau, and Jack Kerouac had once spent their summers. Pat flipped on her turn signal and took a left off Route 6A into Provincetown village toward Commercial Street. The two women were hungry and considered the idea of stopping at the A&P supermarket on Conwell Street, where Sydney Monzon had worked before vanishing a year before, to pick up some snacks for lunch. But instead, they decided to get food somewhere along Commercial Street after checking into their room. Pat parked her Volkswagen next to the sidewalk at 5 Standish Street and popped the hood to retrieve their travel bags from the front boot.

Perched next to the large bay window of his room, Tony Costa studied the two specimens that were about to be ensnared in his trap. Both looked pretty enough, as far as he could tell.

Pat and Mary Anne knocked on the front door and were greeted pleasantly by Patricia Morton. The landlady showed the women around her house and explained that they would have to share a bathroom with other guests, which Pat and Mary Anne did not seem to mind. They approached Costa’s room, and Morton noticed that the door was ajar.

“This is Patricia, and this is Mary Anne,” the landlady said, pointing to each of them individually.

“Hi.” They waved in unison.

“Girls, this is Antone. He was our first guest this winter. He’s a carpenter and also does a few jobs for me here. If you have any complaints, he’s the man to see.” Morton chuckled. “Just kidding about bringing your complaints to him. They’re my department.”

The landlady asked Costa for a favor. “I’ve given the girls the small room upstairs, the one at the head of the stairway. Well, I have all those hippies staying up there using the kitchenette and bath. I was wondering if the girls could use the bath next to your room instead.”

Morton did not like renting to hippies, but this was winter on Cape Cod, and their money was as green as anyone’s.

“Of course,” he replied. “I do not mind at all. The living conditions upstairs are a bit ridiculous, to say the least.”

He then turned his attention to Pat and Mary Anne.

“Make yourselves at home, girls,” he said with a smile. “You will get used to all the hang-ups this place has after a while. So feel free to do your thing and if you need any help finding your way around town, I will be glad to help if I am able.”

With that introduction, Morton walked the two women upstairs to their small double room, where they left their overnight bags before returning to the cellar office so that Mary Anne could pay Morton $24 for a two-night stay and sign her name in the registration book.

Morton left them alone for the afternoon. Just after nightfall, the landlady decided to go to bed early. She changed into her nightgown and climbed the stairs to the girls’ room. She found Pat and Mary Anne sitting up in their beds. Both were fully dressed, and a blanket covered each of their narrow shoulders.

“I’m so sorry it’s so cold,” Morton told them. “The thermometer just dipped below 5 degrees.”

“That’s no worry,” Mary Anne said. “We’re cozy enough.”

“We’ll make sure to bundle up when we go out later,” Pat chimed in.

Morton said goodnight and walked back to the staircase. On her way down, she passed Costa climbing the stairs, her tight velour bathrobe brushing against his body. He could feel the side of her large breasts pressing against his arm. The killer was not stimulated, though. Patricia Morton was not his type, and if she were, she would be dead by now.

Costa reached the top landing and knocked on the bedroom door. “Hello, girls, it’s Antone. May I come in?”

Pat jumped off the bed and opened the door, welcoming Costa inside.
This move appeared to upset Mary Anne, who hugged the blanket tighter around her body to cover her chest and knees.

“Where are you girls from?” he asked.

“Providence, Rhode Island,” Pat offered. “Have you been there before?”

“I’ve been through there. Never stayed long enough, though. I do not believe in staying too long in one place. I thought you might be from Boston.”

Mary Anne raised her eyebrow, annoyed. “What made you think that?”

“I don’t quite know,” he replied, examining the women once more.

“It could be your attire. You’re wearing army surplus jackets, bell-bottom dungarees. It’s hippie attire. I know many women in Boston who dress as you do. I guess I was just curious. It was just an empty assumption.”

“You’ve got a nice name,” Pat told him. “Antone sounds so sophisticated, intellectual. You speak well also. Do you read much?”

“I’ve been reading Hesse,” he revealed nonchalantly. “I enjoy the existential writers. Camus is a favorite of mine also.”

Feeling more comfortable now, he asked them if they smoked. Pat took out a package of Pall Mall cigarettes and offered him one. “I did not mean that kind of smoke,” he said. “I meant grass or hash. I do not mean to get you so uptight by asking you so bluntly, and, of course, if you’d rather not answer, you do not have to. But I have some excellent hash and would gladly share it with you.”

“Your offer sort of caught me off guard,” Pat told him. “I don’t know what to say. I guess I will say that yes, we do smoke grass.”

Mary Anne jumped into the conversation to correct her friend. “I’ve only smoked pot once or twice. I don’t think I’d like to smoke now, but you two should enjoy yourselves. I’ll go take a shower.”

Costa led them downstairs to his room. Mary Anne disappeared into the adjacent bathroom, and moments later, Costa and Pat could hear the sound of water running. Pat sat on the bed while he filled his pipe with hash and cracked a window.

“I’ve never seen such a large chunk,” Pat said, referring to the clump of hash that Costa was stuffing into the pipe. “It smells great. I love the smell of it.”

“Yes, I do, too,” he replied. “It has a fabulous aroma. It is very exotic. It’s the concentrated pollen of a marijuana plant. It is about seven to 10 times stronger than grass. It is a beautiful high.”

Costa then felt the presence of his alter ego. Pat could not see him, but he was undressing her with his eyes.

Look at her, Cory urged Costa. She’s perfect for us. Her long, dark hair reminds us of Sydney.

Costa glanced over and realized that his alter ego was right. She was perfect.

He lit the pipe, inhaled deeply, and passed the porcelain tube to Pat, who inhaled as well. The smoke affected her immediately, and her head began to spin. She declined another puff, got off the bed, and walked around the room, attempting to stabilize herself. She noticed the dog-eared copy of Steppenwolf sitting on the wide windowsill. She picked it up and thumbed through it briefly before spotting another book that was tucked underneath on the sill. Pat grabbed it and studied the cover.

Manual of Taxidermy,” she said. “You’re reading this stuff?”

“That was left here by the previous tenant,” Costa lied. “I haven’t opened it.”

She opened the book and browsed its table of contents. “Skinning birds, making skins of mammals? Sounds pretty creepy.” She turned to a random page and began reading aloud. “‘Peel away the skin about the tail, place the forefinger under its base, and cut downward through the caudal vertebra and the muscles of the back….’ I don’t know about this stuff, Antone.”

He took the book from her hand gently and placed it back on the windowsill.

“I would have to agree with you, Pat. I find those things to be disturbing. I would never harm an animal. I could not even hurt a fly.”

In an effort to lighten the mood, Costa focused her attention on his collection of 45s. “Do you like the Stones?” he asked, holding up the A-side single “She’s a Rainbow.” “It’s from the album Their Satanic Majesties Request. Mind if I play it?”

Pat shook her head no. “I like that song, too!”

Costa played the record and began to serenade Pat: “‘She comes in colors everywhere, she combs her hair. She’s like a rainbow.’”

Pat started laughing as Costa drew closer. The moment was broken up by Mary Anne, who had emerged from the bathroom following her shower with her wet hair tied up in a towel.

“Pat, I’m going to use the hair dryer, and then we should get dressed for dinner,” Mary Anne said. “I’m getting hungry.”

Pat glanced at Costa and shrugged. “It’s been fun, but gotta go.”
“Enjoy your evening, ladies,” he told them. “And please be careful out there. There is not a lot of craziness here in the off-season, but it’s still P-town.”

Pat and Mary Anne thanked him for the advice and returned to their room.

The wolf of the steppes closed his door, collapsed on his bed, and continued to fantasize about what the next hours and days would bring.

Around 8 p.m., Pat Walsh and Mary Anne Wysocki decided to go out. Pat wore bell-bottom jeans while Mary Anne dressed more conservatively in tweed slacks, a buttoned-up blouse, and penny loafers. They stepped out of the rooming house, hugged themselves against the biting wind and cold, and walked one block up to Commercial Street, which was nearly deserted. They noticed a lantern beaming over the front door of the Fo’csle and strolled over toward the tavern. When they got inside, the place was warm and inviting with a mix of townsfolk and those tourists hearty enough to travel to P-town in the dead of winter. Pat and Mary Anne both found the interior décor charming and exactly what they were looking for. Cork flotation rings hung on the walls along with several ornate ship compasses. One half of a weather-beaten dory protruded from a wall as if it had crashed into the pub, while behind the bar, aged fishing nets drooped down from the ceiling like cobwebs.

Pat ordered two cocktails, and they both sat down at a long wooden table that faced the street. They soon were joined by two other women, strangers from Shrewsbury named Irene Hare and Brenda Dreyer. Pat and Mary Anne wondered if they were giving off the wrong vibe, that they might be mistaken for lesbians. But neither Irene nor Brenda tried hitting on them, as they were also just two single women who were enjoying a night out on the outer Cape. After about 15 minutes, Brenda introduced herself and Irene to Pat and Mary Anne. They ordered a round of beers and began to talk about their lives back in Providence and also in Shrewsbury, which was a thriving metropolis compared to Provincetown. They took turns feeding quarters into the jukebox, selecting “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell and “Abraham, Martin and John” by Dion. Pat wished to dance, so she added Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” to their playlist, and she began snapping her fingers and shaking her hips to the beat. Everyone at the bar seemed to be enjoying themselves as they shook off their cabin fever and partied like it was the Fourth of July.

Shortly after 10 p.m., Irene Hare suggested that they head over to the nearby Pilgrim Club for more drinks and fun. The foursome stayed at the club until last call was announced, and Irene and Brenda walked their new friends back to the guesthouse at 5 Standish Street and said goodnight.

Tony Costa had also returned to his room for the evening. While Pat and Mary Anne were pub-crawling on Commercial Street, the killer had pedaled his bike to an apartment shared by two attractive girls known as Sadie and Thumper to trip the night away on LSD. The girls were members of his so-called hippie clique. Normally, Costa had plenty of pot, pills, and tablets to satisfy his needs, but the hash he had shared with Pat Walsh was his last. He would have to find some way to replenish his stock in the morning. The idea of pedaling his bike all the way to Truro where he had a stash, especially in icy weather, had zero appeal to him.

While tripping on acid with Sadie and Thumper, Costa suggested they head over to the Fo’csle for some excitement. They pedaled their bicycles to the bar and slipped inside the dimly lit shanty. Costa ordered two beers and a glass of Chianti and sipped them quietly at the bar while Thumper and Sadie made the rounds, chatting up their hippie friends as well as the local fishermen. He spotted Pat Walsh and Mary Anne Wysocki seated at a distant table with two other women. Neither Pat nor Mary Anne seemed to notice him, so the killer sat in silence, watching Pat sway to the music. His thoughts retreated back to the pages of his taxidermy manual. “The hunter must be guided by circumstances,” he muttered to himself between sips of wine. “A skin is of little value unless labeled with date, locality, and sex.”

Under the evening’s circumstances—he was without his killing tools and his mind was muddled by LSD—it would be most difficult for Costa to hunt his prey. But tomorrow would be different. Saturday was open season. He labeled the skins of Pat Walsh and Mary Anne Wysocki in his mind.

“January 25, Cape Cod, and females,” he said to himself.

Soon after, Pat and Mary Anne left the Fo’csle while the killer remained seated at the bar. Sadie and Thumper hooked up with a couple of guys, and they left, too. Costa drained another glass of Chianti and heard the clock inside the town hall bell tower chime 11 times. He paid his tab and returned to 5 Standish Street just after 11 p.m. Once inside, he went to the communal kitchen and made himself a cup of hot chocolate. He then stood by the bay window waiting for Pat and Mary Anne to return. Costa heard them before he saw them. The women were saying goodbye to their friends and giggling as they walked up the front steps of the guesthouse.

Their loud voices lowered to dull whispers as they navigated the staircase to their rooms. The killer suddenly tensed for a moment, thinking they may knock on his door for a late-night visit. What if they wanted to hang out? Could he stop the growing urge to kill them both right there inside his room? Fortunately, he did not have to decide just then, as the girls continued on beyond the landing and retreated to their small double room and closed the door.

A short time later, Costa scrawled a note to Pat and Mary Anne and pinned it to their door before returning to his room and picking up his Hesse novel from the windowsill. He collapsed on his thin mattress, turned again to page 7, and read. “A wolf of the Steppes that had lost its way and strayed into the towns and the life of the herd, a more striking image could not be found for his shy loneliness, his savagery, his recklessness.”

Costa laid the book on his chest and drifted off into a sound sleep.