Zahia Salem lived a humble life. She was born in Syria in 1920, immigrated to the United States, and became a citizen in 1939. She worked as a seamstress making women’s dresses. She never drove and would walk to church almost every day. As a widow, she refused to accept Social Security for almost two years because she thought it was welfare.
Salem, 87, was found murdered inside her South End apartment on Nov. 30, 1989, and her case went unsolved for more than two decades. But last year, a DNA sample that had been preserved from a cigarette butt found in her apartment matched a sample taken from a convicted felon in 1991 after a rape conviction. That felon, Charles Brook Jr., pleaded not guilty to Salem’s murder at his arraignment last year, but on Thursday, he changed his plea to guilty.