How I discovered my babysitter Tony Costa was a serial killer

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Liza (third from left) and her sister Louisa as children.

Liza Rodman hadn’t thought about Tony Costa in three decades when, in 2005, she had a nightmare about him. 

Tony had been her favorite babysitter when she was a kid in Cape Cod in the 1960s — handsome, charming, fun. But in her dream, he pushed her up against the wall of a long hallway and held a gun to her head. 

“I had had many of these incredibly violent dreams, but they always had an anonymous man with a weapon of some kind,” Rodman told The Post. “So when I had that dream of Tony with his face, I knew it was something [significant].” 

Still, she wasn’t prepared for her mother’s response when Rodman asked whatever happened to their beloved babysitter. 

“It was one of those moments where everything slows down, like you’ve done bad drugs,” Rodman, now 61, recalls. Her mom was drinking gin, and after pausing a moment said, calmly, “Well, I remember he turned out to be a serial killer.” 

“The cavalier way [she] described it like it was no big deal — it just really pierced me, stopped me in my tracks,” Rodman said. 

Liza (third from left) and her sister Louisa as children.
Liza Rodman Collection

Rodman had vague memories of a string of murders that occurred in Provincetown, Mass., where her family spent summers in the late 1960s: scary stuff about missing girls and shallow graves and dismembered bodies. But she had no idea that Tony — the handyman at the motel where her mom worked when she wasn’t teaching home economics — was involved. 

In fact, she couldn’t believe it: Tony was one of the few adults in her life who treated her with kindness. Plus, he spent so much time with Rodman and her little sister, Louisa, buying them ice cream, letting them ride around in his utility truck, even taking them to see his “secret garden” in the woods. How could he have been a serial killer, responsible for the brutal deaths of at least four young women? 

“I started researching him and going back through my own memories to see where my life and his life lined up,” Rodman said. “I just needed to know the whole story.” 

Mary Anne Wysocki (near right) and Patricia Walsh went missing in 1969, their bodies later found in nearby woods.
Mary Anne Wysocki (left) and Patricia Walsh went missing in January 1969, their bodies later found in nearby woods.
Ancestry.com (2)

Sixteen years later, she’s told that story with her new book, “The Babysitter: My Summers With a Serial Killer” (Atria), out Tuesday, which she wrote with investigative journalist Jennifer Jordan. 

“This really was a personal excavation,” Rodman said. “It was incredibly hard and often soul-crushing to do.” But, “I would not have done it in this way if I didn’t have to.” 

He seemed to really like being with us. He never yelled. He was really gentle.

Liza Rodman on serial killer Tony Costa

Rodman was 7 years old in 1966 when she first met Tony Costa. That was the first year her mom, Betty — a divorced home-ec teacher struggling to raise two girls on her own — got a summer job in Provincetown. (Rodman’s dad had left when she was 4.) So Betty, Liza and Louisa set out from their house in West Bridgewater, Mass., to a single room at the Royal Coachman, the seaside motel where their mom worked as director of housekeeping. 

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One day, 21-year-old Tony drove up to the motel in his beat-up Oldsmobile. “He was tall and suntanned, with thick dark hair and straight white teeth,” Rodman writes. He had come to say hi to his mother, Cecilia, one of the Royal Coachman’s housekeepers, and to inquire if he could get a job there too. 

Soon, Tony wasn’t just patching up screens and fixing leaky faucets in the motel, but also watching Rodman and her little sister Louisa. 

Liza thought Tony Costa was gentle. But he was actually a violent drug addict with terrible secrets.
Liza thought Tony Costa was gentle. But he was actually a violent drug addict with terrible secrets.

“We had a lot of babysitters in those days,” said Rodman. Not only did Betty work full time, she also liked to go out drinking and dancing, and she wasn’t too choosy about who would look after her children. 

“One woman used to cut our fingernails down till they bled,” Rodman said. “This is why Tony Costa seemed like a day at the beach.” 

Tony would take Liza and Louisa for long drives in his truck, blaring Jefferson Airplane and indulging the girls as they sang along. 

“As soon as Tony jangled his keys in our direction,” Rodman writes, “Louisa and I would bound to the truck like puppies, excited just to drive through town with him.” 

The boarding house, 5 Standish Street, where Tony met his victims Walsh and Wysocki.
The boarding house, 5 Standish Street, where Tony met his victims Walsh and Wysocki.
Courtesy of Jonathan D. Finn

He bought them treats, pushed them on the swings and asked them questions about their lives. He also told them about his own father, a “war hero” who died in World War II when Tony was young, and his wife and kids. 

“A lot of adults we knew just didn’t want anything to do with children; the more children can be seen and not heard, the better,” Rodman said. “Tony was not like that. He seemed to really like being with us. He never yelled. He was really gentle.” 

Betty only worked at the Royal Coachman one summer, but the family continued to spend summers in Provincetown. And for the next two years, they continued to see Tony, who occasionally watched the girls when their mom was busy. 

But Tony had a troubled past. When he was 12, he was allegedly raped by an older teenage boy. In 1960, when he was 16, he was charged with assault and battery for allegedly trying to rape his 14-year-old neighbor. He was already taking a lot of drugs by the time he began working at the Royal Coachman, and by 1967, he was selling them, too — doling out amphetamines, barbiturates, LSD and more. His wife, Avis, with whom he had an on-off relationship, told a family doctor that Tony had hit her and their first child more than once. In 1968, she filed for divorce. 

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“It was not surprising [that he did drugs] given the context of the time,” Rodman said. “And it was not surprising given the slight discomfort I felt at times,” such as when he would go on his tirades against his wife and the vast network of people out to get him. “But . . . I was stunned to learn everything else.” 

After Susan Perry (left) and Sydney Lee Monzon disappeared, Costa was suspected — but his lies about their whereabouts convinced people.
After Susan Perry (left) and Sydney Lee Monzon disappeared, Costa was suspected — but his lies about their whereabouts convinced people.
Ancestry.com/Find A Grave (2)

Things really went south for Tony in 1968, when the doctor who had been supplying him with many of his drugs dropped him as a patient. That April, Tony robbed his practice and buried the drugs he stole behind the Provincetown Dump and in Truro Woods, both places where he also occasionally took Liza and Louisa. 

Then there were the disappearing girls. In May 1968, a pretty local waitress named Sydney Monzon went missing. She was last seen by her sister getting into Tony’s car. Another young woman, Susan Perry — one of Tony’s troubled teen acolytes, who he called his “kid chick” — vanished in September. Tony said that Sydney had set off for Europe and that Susan had joined a bunch of druggies on their way to Mexico. Most people believed him, given the huge number of teen runaways at the time, assumed to be lost to drugs and the hippie counterculture. 

That wasn’t the case with Patricia Walsh and Mary Anne Wysocki — two women in their 20s who spent a weekend in Provincetown in January 1969. They had stayed in the same boarding house where Tony had been living, and that Saturday, Jan. 25, had given him a ride into town. Walsh was a second-grade teacher and Wysocki was finishing her education degree at Rhode Island College. So when they didn’t show up for work or school, the police were suspicious. 

Once arrested, Tony Costa was given a polygraph, blamed drugs and admitted to dismembering the bodies of Walsh and Wysocki, but not killing them.
Once arrested, Tony Costa was given a polygraph, blamed drugs and admitted to dismembering the bodies of Walsh and Wysocki, but not killing them.
Courtesy of Fred Zimmerman and the Estate of Charles Zimmerman

Their car was spotted in Truro Woods — where Tony stashed his drugs and grew marijuana — a few days later, on Feb. 2, before that disappeared too. 

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On Feb. 7, police and detectives went to the woods, when they noticed a patch of dirt with some fabric sticking out. Soon, they found a woman’s body, hacked to pieces. It was “kid chick” Susan Perry. 

Meanwhile, Tony had absconded to Boston and then Burlington, Vt., in Walsh’s car. When finally questioned by cops, he claimed Walsh had given the vehicle to him. Then, on March 5, another search party found two more women’s mutilated corpses in the woods — Walsh and Wysocki — along with another partially decomposed body identified as Sydney Monzon. 

Tony was arrested and tried only for the deaths of Walsh and Wysocki, and he maintained his innocence, blaming the crimes on both actual acquaintances and made-up alter egos. He would admit to dismembering the bodies of Walsh and Wysocki but not killing them; then he’d insinuate that the drugs made him do it. One time, he said, “I do remember committing these murders. Why? I don’t know . . . There’s a lot I don’t remember.” 

Some analysts thought he was a cold-blooded psychopath; another posited that by raping and dismembering the corpses he was “acting out a horrific drama of incest and matricide” due to his mother “abandoning” him by remarrying and having another son. 

Author Liza Rodman
Author Liza Rodman today.
Joel Benjamin

In May 1970, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He died four years later, and while his death was ruled a suicide, some believe that the other inmates might have killed him. 

When 10-year-old Liza arrived in Provincetown for the summer of ’69, she wondered where her favorite babysitter had gone. But she didn’t think too much about it: She was used to men disappearing from her life. 

Her mother seemed careful to shield her from any news, and eventually Liza had other things to worry about. Betty remarried and the family continued to spend summers in Provincetown until she graduated high school. 

Even after her mother revealed, decades later, that Tony had been a serial killer, she was reluctant to talk about the case. 

"The Babysitter" by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan

“So what?” Betty told her daughter. “He didn’t kill you, did he?” 

“We had a difficult relationship,” Rodman said of her mother, adding that Betty died this past December. 

Fortunately, Rodman’s husband and children encouraged her “excavation.” Several people close to the case told her she was lucky she was so young when she met Tony, and that he was probably grooming her to be one of his “kid chicks.” 

“Its just stunning to think about,” Rodman said. 

And yet, even today, Rodman — who works as a tax accountant — has trouble reconciling the real-life monster with her summer babysitter. 

“The person I knew certainly was not the person I researched,” she said. “It was like two different people.”



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