Boston Strangler

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For the 1968 film, see The Boston Strangler (film).
Albert DeSalvo
Albert deSalvo2.jpg
DeSalvo in 1967
Born September 3, 1931
Chelsea, Massachusetts
Died November 26, 1973(1973-11-26) (aged 42)
Cause of death
Stabbing
Other names Boston Strangler
Mad Strangler of Boston
Phantom Strangler
Phantom Fiend
The Green Man
The Measuring Man
Criminal penalty
Life in prison
Killings
Victims 13
Span of killings
June 14, 1962–January 4, 1964
Country United States
State(s) Boston, Massachusetts

The Boston Strangler is a name attributed to the murderer (or murderers) of 13 women in and near Boston, Massachusetts, United States, in the early 1960s. Though the crimes were attributed to Albert DeSalvo based upon his confession, details revealed in court during a separate case, as well as DNA evidence linking him to the last murder victim,[1] parties investigating the crimes have since suggested the murders (sometimes known as "the silk stocking murders") were not committed by one person.

The initial sobriquet for the perpetrator or perpetrators of the crimes was the "Mad Strangler of Boston".[2] The July 8, 1962, edition of the Sunday Herald, in an article entitled "Mad Strangler Kills Four Women in Boston", declared in its opening paragraph, "A mad strangler is loose in Boston."[3] The killer (or killers) also was known initially as the "Phantom Fiend"[4] or "Phantom Strangler"[5] due to the uncanny ability of the perpetrator (or perpetrators) to get women to allow him into their apartments." By the time DeSalvo's confession was aired in open court, the name "Boston Strangler" had become part of crime lore.

Victims[edit]

  • Anna E. Slesers, 55, sexually molested with unknown object and strangled with the belt on her bathrobe; found on June 14, 1962 in the third-floor apartment at 77 Gainsborough St., Back Bay[6] (source: Boston Globe Archives)
  • Mary Mullen, 85, died from a heart attack, but in the confession was said to have collapsed as DeSalvo grabbed her; found on June 28, 1962
  • Nina Nichols, 68,[7] sexually molested and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on June 30, 1962
  • Helen Blake, 65, sexually molested and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on June 30, 1962 in her apartment at 73 Newhall Street, Lynn, Mass.
  • Ida Irga, 75, sexually molested and strangled; found on August 21, 1962 at 7 Grove Street apt 10 in Boston.
  • Jane Sullivan, 67, sexually assaulted and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on August 30, 1962 at 435 Columbia Road, Dorchester
  • Sophie Clark, 20, sexually assaulted and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on December 5, 1962, Boston Back Bay
  • Patricia Bissette, 23, sexually assaulted and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on December 31, 1962, Boston Back Bay
  • Mary Brown, 69, stabbed, strangled and beaten, found on March 9, 1963 in Lawrence, Mass.
  • Beverly Samans, 23, stabbed to death on May 8, 1963 at 4 University Road in Cambridge, Mass.
  • Evelyn Corbin, 58, sexually assaulted and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on September 6, 1963 in Salem, Mass.
  • Joann Graff, 23, sexually assaulted and strangled on November 23, 1963 in Lawrence, Mass.
  • Mary Sullivan, 19, sexually assaulted and strangled with dark stockings; found by her roommates on January 4, 1964 in Boston.

Events[edit]

Between June 14, 1962 and January 4, 1964, 13 single women between the ages of 19 and 85 were murdered in the Boston area. Most were sexually assaulted and strangled in their apartments. Without any sign of forced entry into their dwellings, the women were assumed to have either known their assailants or have voluntarily allowed them into their homes, believing them to be an apartment maintenance man, delivery man, or some other service man. Despite enormous media publicity that would presumably have discouraged women from admitting strangers into their homes after the first few murders, the attacks continued. The killings panicked and frightened many Boston-area young females, causing some to leave the area. Many residents purchased tear gas and new locks and deadbolts for home doors.[8]

The murders occurred in several cities, making overall jurisdiction over the crimes unclear. Massachusetts Attorney General Edward W. Brooke helped to coordinate the various police forces.[8][9] He controversially permitted psychometrist Peter Hurkos to use his alleged extrasensory perception to analyze the cases, for which Hurkos claimed a single person was responsible.[8] When Hurkos provided a "minutely detailed description of the wrong person," the press ridiculed Brooke.[9] While the police were not convinced that all the murders were the actions of one person, much of the public believed so; the connection between a majority of the victims and hospitals was widely discussed.[8]

Confession[edit]

Gainsborough Street, site of the first murder attributed to the Boston strangler.

On October 27, 1964, a stranger entered a young woman's home posing as a detective. He tied the victim to her bed, sexually assaulted her, and then suddenly left, saying "I'm sorry" as he went. The woman's description of her attacker led police to identify the assailant as Albert DeSalvo. When his photo was published, many women identified him as the man who had assaulted them. Earlier on October 27, DeSalvo had posed as a motorist with car trouble and attempted to enter a home in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. The homeowner, future Brockton police chief Richard Sproules, became suspicious and eventually fired a shotgun at DeSalvo.

DeSalvo was not initially suspected of being involved with the stranglings. It was only after he was charged with rape that he gave a detailed confession of his activities as the Boston Strangler. He initially confessed to a fellow inmate, George Nassar. Nassar reported the confession to his attorney, F. Lee Bailey, who also took on DeSalvo's case. The police were impressed at the accuracy of DeSalvo's descriptions of the crime scenes. Though there were some inconsistencies, DeSalvo was able to cite details which had not been made public. However, there was no physical evidence to substantiate his confession. As such, he stood trial for earlier, unrelated crimes of robbery and sexual offenses in which he was known as The Green Man and The Measuring Man respectively. Bailey brought up the confession to the stranglings as part of his client's history at the trial in order to assist in gaining a "not guilty by reason of insanity" verdict to the sexual offenses but it was ruled as inadmissible by the judge.

DeSalvo was sentenced to life in prison in 1967. In February of that year, he escaped with two fellow inmates from Bridgewater State Hospital, triggering a full scale manhunt. A note was found on his bunk addressed to the superintendent. In it DeSalvo stated that he had escaped to focus attention on the conditions in the hospital and his own situation. The next day he gave himself up. Following the escape he was transferred to the maximum security Walpole State Prison where, six years later, he was found stabbed to death in the infirmary. His killer or killers were never identified.

Doubts[edit]

Prior to DNA confirmation in 2013, doubts existed as to whether DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler. At the time he confessed, people who knew him personally did not believe him capable of the vicious crimes. It was also noted that the women killed by "The Strangler" came from different age and ethnic groups, and that there were different modi operandi.

DeSalvo's attorney Bailey believed that his client was the killer, describing the case in The Defense Never Rests (1995).[8] Susan Kelly, author of the 1996 book The Boston Stranglers, accessed the files of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts "Strangler Bureau". She argues that the stranglings were the work of several killers rather than a single individual. Another author, former FBI profiler Robert Ressler, said that "You're putting together so many different patterns [regarding the Boston Strangler murders] that it's inconceivable behaviorally that all these could fit one individual."[10]

John E. Douglas, the former FBI special agent who was one of the first criminal profilers, wrote that he doubted that DeSalvo was The Boston Strangler. In his book The Cases That Haunt Us, he identified DeSalvo as a "power-assurance" motivated rapist. While such a rapist is unlikely to kill in the manner of crimes attributed to The Boston Strangler, a power-assurance motivated rapist would be prone to taking credit for the crimes.

In 2000, attorney Elaine Sharp took up the cause of the DeSalvo family and that of the family of Mary Sullivan. Sullivan was publicized as being the final victim in 1964, although other stranglings occurred after that date. A former print journalist, Sharp assisted the families in their media campaign to clear DeSalvo's name, to assist in organizing and arranging the exhumations of Mary Sullivan and Albert H. DeSalvo, in filing various lawsuits in attempts to obtain information and trace evidence (e.g., DNA) from the government and to work with various producers to create documentaries to explain the facts to the public. Sharp pointed out various inconsistencies between DeSalvo's confessions and the crime scene information (which she obtained). For example, she observed that, contrary to DeSalvo's confession to Sullivan's murder, there was no semen in her vagina and that she was not strangled manually, but by ligature. Forensic pathologist Michael Baden observed that DeSalvo also got the time of death wrong – a common inconsistency with several of the murders pointed out by Susan Kelly. She continues to work on the case for the DeSalvo family.[11]

In the case of Mary Sullivan, murdered January 4, 1964 at age 19, DNA and other forensic evidence were used by Casey Sherman to try to track down her presumed real killer. Sherman wrote about this in his book A Rose for Mary (2003), stated that DeSalvo was not responsible for her death. For example, DeSalvo confessed to sexually penetrating Sullivan, yet the original forensic investigation revealed no evidence of sexual activity. [12]

DNA evidence[edit]

On July 11, 2013, Boston Police Department released information stating that they had discovered DNA evidence linking DeSalvo to the murder of Mary Sullivan.[13] DNA found at the scene was a "near certain match" to DNA taken from a nephew of DeSalvo. To determine conclusively that it was DeSalvo's, a court ordered the exhumation of his body in order to test his DNA directly.[14]

On July 19, 2013 Suffolk County DA Daniel F. Conley, Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley and Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis announced the DNA test results proving Albert Henry DeSalvo was the source of seminal fluid recovered at the scene of Sullivan's 1964 murder.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The 1964 film, The Strangler was inspired by the (then unsolved) killings.[16]
  • The 1968 film The Boston Strangler starred Tony Curtis as Albert DeSalvo. Henry Fonda co-starred.
  • A 2008 film The Boston Strangler – The Untold Story, stars David Faustino as De Salvo.[17]
  • The 2010 movie "The Front" starring Andie MacDowell and Daniel Sunjata depicts a detective who reopens an unsolved 1960s murder of a woman who may have been the first victim of the Boston Strangler. This fictional movie suggests that DeSalvo was not the only perpetrator of the Boston stranglings.
  • The Boston Strangler became a central figure in the second episode of TNT's Rizzoli & Isles starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander; the episode was called "Boston Strangler Redux", featuring a new serial killer who killed women with the same names as the original Strangler's victims, and was eventually revealed to have been committed by one of the original detectives investigating the case attempting to 'frame' the man he believed to be the real Boston Strangler.
  • He along with the Zodiac Killer are featured in Image comics' The Roberts.[18]
  • Jack Valenti, former head of the MPAA compared the VCR to the Boston Strangler, by saying they had a comparable effect on the American public to the Strangler's effect on women.
  • The Rolling Stones song "Midnight Rambler" is based on the story of the Boston Strangler.
  • The Standells' song "Dirty Water" is an ode to Boston and asks listeners "have you heard about the Strangler?"
  • The movie Art School Confidential was a fictional take on the Boston Strangler.
  • Albert DeSalvo's ghost was summoned to kill another ghost in an episode of American Gothic entitled Strangler
  • A waxwork of Albert DeSalvo featured in an episode of the British comedy series Psychoville. The waxwork (along with others of John George Haigh, John Christie and Jack the Ripper) comes to life in a fantasy sequence, trying to persuade the character David Sowerbutts to kill a man by strangling rather than methods suggested by the other waxworks. The others accused him of having several personalities, referencing the 1968 movie.
  • In the episode of Childrens Hospital Staff Dance, Sy Middleton chooses The Boston Strangler as a nickname. When questioned about it, he states that he used to live in Boston and is smarter than the police.
  • In the 13th episode of the second season of Crossing Jordan, titled "Strangled", the characters have a Cold Case party where they role play the investigation into two murders that fit the MO of the Boston Strangler. Each character assumes the role of a major character in the investigation based on the case files of Jordan's father, Max Cavanaugh. The group determines that the two murders were copycats made to look like Boston Strangler killings.
  • In a Season 3 episode of the Sopranos, "He is Risen", Carmela Soprano sarcastically states the Boston Strangler is knocking at the front door.
  • There is a Boston hardcore band named The Boston Strangler.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Anglin, Robert J. (January 13, 1967). "Albert DeSalvo is ‘Boston Strangler’; Defense says he killed 13". Boston Globe. 
  2. ^ Gardner, Erle Stanley. "The Mad Strangler of Boston". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 27, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Mad Strangler Kills Four Women in Boston". Sunday Herald. Retrieved June 27, 2012. 
  4. ^ Bardsley, Marilyn. "The Boston Strangler". TruTV.com. Retrieved June 27, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Crime: The Phantom Strangler". Time. March 22, 1963. Retrieved June 27, 2012. 
  6. ^ "50 years later, Boston Strangler case still captures fascination - The Boston Globe". Boston.com. Retrieved 2013-07-12. 
  7. ^ Bardsley, Marilyn. "The Boston Strangler — More Older Ladies — Crime Library on". Trutv.com. Retrieved 2013-07-12. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Gardner, Erle Stanley (May 1964). "The Mad Strangler of Boston". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 12, 2010. 
  9. ^ a b "The Senate: An Individual Who Happens To Be a Negro". Time. February 17, 1967. Retrieved December 24, 2010. 
  10. ^ The Boston Strangler 48 Hours Mystery, February 15, 2001. CBS News
  11. ^ bostonstrangler.org
  12. ^ The Boston Strangler 48 Hours Mystery, February 15, 2001. CBS News Recent DNA Test Fails to Identify Boston Strangler, December 7, 2007
  13. ^ "New DNA Testing Ties Boston Strangler To 1964 Mary Sullivan Murder « CBS Boston". Boston.cbslocal.com. Retrieved 2013-07-12. 
  14. ^ Bidgood, Jess (2013), 50 Years Later, a Break in a Boston Strangler Case, New York Times (NY Times), retrieved July 11, 2013 
  15. ^ Authorities: DNA test of remains confirms link between Boston Strangler suspect, last victim, Washington Post (Washington Post), 2013, retrieved July 19, 2013 
  16. ^ Weaver, Tom (2005). "Burt Topper on The Strangler". Earth vs. the sci-fi filmmakers: 20 interviews. McFarland. p. 367. ISBN 978-0-7864-2210-4. Retrieved October 5, 2009. 
  17. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1198054/
  18. ^ Shady, Justin; Chinsang, Wayne; Rose, Erik (Illustrator) (2009). The Roberts: one retirement home, two serial killers. Berkeley, Calif.: Image Comics, Inc. ISBN 978-1607060673. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bailey, F. Lee. The defense never rests. Stein and Day, 1971. 0-8128-1441-X
  • Junger, Sebastian. A Death in Belmont. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. April 2006. ISBN 0-393-05980-4.
  • Kelly, Susan. The Boston Stranglers: The Public Conviction of Albert Desalvo and the True Story of Eleven Shocking Murders. Citadel. October 1995. ISBN 1-55972-298-3.
  • Rogers, Alan. New England Remembers: The Boston Strangler. Commonwealth Editions. May 2006. ISBN 1-889833-52-5.
  • Sherman, Casey and Dick Lehr. A Rose for Mary: The Hunt for the Boston Strangler. Northeastern University Press. September 2003. ISBN 1-55553-578-X.

External links[edit]