James Costello

Victim: Palmira Piciulo, 84

Age at time of murder: 15

Crime location: Boston

Crime date: April 6, 1981

Partner in crime:  Donna Westbrooks & Phillip Pennellator

Crimes:  Robbery & murder

Murder method: Beating and slitting her wrist

Murder motivation: Robbery

Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to 15 years to life

Incarceration status:

Summary of the crime

The offenders tricked Palmira into inviting them into her apartment and then beat the retired librarian with a telephone cable and hammer and slit her wrist.



In March and April of 1981, the second-floor apartment of Donna Westbrooks on Hyde Park Avenue in Boston was occupied at various times by Westbrooks, the defendant, Costello, and a number of other individuals, most of whom were youths of junior high school or high school age. The victim lived alone upstairs in a third-floor apartment. On March 30, Westbrooks observed that the victim owned several valuable items of jewelry, and this fact was communicated to a number of the occupants of her apartment. A subsequent plan was hatched to steal these items. On April 6, 1981, Westbrooks and Costello went to the victim’s apartment, ostensibly for a visit. They were invited in and served orange juice by the victim. Costello rose from the table in order to put the glasses in the sink. He then walked up behind the victim, removed a length of heavy black telephone cable from his sleeve, and struck the victim several times with the cable on the back of her head.

Westbrooks returned to her apartment and told the defendant that Costello needed his assistance. By her account, the defendant asked, “What happened? . . . Did he hit her yet?” The defendant ran upstairs and saw the victim lying on the kitchen floor screaming in pain. As the victim began to rise up from the floor, the defendant took the cable and by his account struck

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the victim fifty or sixty times until she lay motionless on the floor.

The defendant and Costello then proceeded to steal items from the victim’s apartment. Just prior to their departure, they noticed that the victim was still alive. An attempt was then made to suffocate her with a pillow, and her face was struck several times with a hammer. Finally, her wrist was slit, and the defendant and Costello departed.