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Boston Strangler

Boston Strangler

The term "Boston Strangler" refers to the person or persons who committed a series of thirteen brutal murders of women in Boston and the surrounding area in the early 1960s. Although Albert DeSalvo did eventually confess to the killings, neither he nor anyone else ever went to trial for them.

The murderous activities of the Boston Strangler began in June of 1962 and lasted until January of 1964. In twelve of the thirteen murders, the victim was strangled, and some of the victims were also struck violently on the head and/or stabbed. One victim was stabbed repeatedly in the throat and breast in lieu of strangulation. The victims were usually attacked sexually, and the bodies were generally left in degrading positions. The first six murder victims were between 55 and 85 years of age, as were two of the later ones. Five victims were between the ages of 19 and 23.

The serial killings greatly frightened the community. Responding to public concern, Edward Brooke, the Attorney General of Massachusetts, created what was popularly called a "Strangler Bureau" whose mission was to hunt down the murderer(s). A Medical-Psychiatric Committee was constituted in order to develop a profile of the criminal(s). The Committee came up with a multiple-strangler theory, positing one man ("Mr. S") as the killer of the older victims and another man or men as the killer of the younger women. The profile described Mr. S to be a man suffering from impotence and an oedipal complex, both of which supposedly drove him to murderous rages against his victims. This profile did not match DeSalvo, causing the science of profiling to lose esteem in criminal justice circles, although more sophisticated profiling techniques would subsequently be developed.

The Strangler Bureau even called in a Dutch psychic who claimed to be able to learn about people from being in their presence or touching items associated with them. The psychic gave a description of the killer, allegedly based on the auras given off by items associated with the murders. Again, the killer described by the psychic did not match DeSalvo's characteristics.

Neither psychological nor psychic investigation was able to solve the case. Then Albert DeSalvo, a man with a long criminal history, confessed to being the Strangler. After serving time in a juvenile home, he committed a string of burglaries until he joined the Army at 17. While serving in the American forces in Germany, he met and married a German woman, and also became the Army's middle-weight boxing champion. He was also accused of molesting a nine-year-old girl, but he was not convicted because the child's parents did not want to pursue the matter. DeSalvo was awarded an honorable discharge in 1956, and brought his wife back with him to the United States.

Convinced that his wife could not satisfy his sexual needs, DeSalvo started visiting the apartments of young women, gaining entrance by pretending to be from a modeling agency. Using this ruse, he tried to fondle the women. Police knew DeSalvo as the "Measuring Man" because he pretended to take the measurements of the women he was molesting. He served a few months in prison for breaking and entering, and soon after his release his activities escalated from molestation to rape. This time, he was known as the "Green Man" on account of the color of the clothes he wore while seeking victims. It was as the Green Man, not as the Boston Strangler, that DeSalvo was finally arrested in 1964.

DeSalvo confessed to being the Strangler while awaiting trial in a psychiatric facility at Bridgewater. The confession was quite detailed, displaying a knowledge of details about the murders that were not available to the public. Either DeSalvo had been fed the information by police, or else he was describing crimes he had actually committed. In 1967, DeSalvo went on trial for the Green Man sexual assaults. He was represented at trial by the nationally famous Boston attorney F. Lee Bailey. The jury convicted DeSalvo on a range of charges, and he was sentenced to life in prison for the Green Man crimes. He was never charged with the Strangler killings, however. In 1973, DeSalvo was killed by a fellow-inmate.

In addition to the obligatory true-crime book, the murders inspired a 1968 movie entitled The Boston Strangler, with a cast that included Tony Curtis as Albert DeSalvo, and Henry Fonda. In 1971, the Texas House passed a resolution that commended Albert DeSalvo for his work in the area of population control. The resolution was a practical joke by a legislator who wanted to demonstrate how little attention his colleagues paid to the bills they passed.

—Eric Longley

Further Reading:

"Boston Strangler" (video). Great Crimes and Trials of the Twentieth Century. Arts and Entertainment Network, 19992.

DeSalvo, Albert. Confessions of the Boston Strangler. New York, Pyramid Books, 1967.

Frank, Gerold. The Boston Strangler. New York, New American Library, 1966.

Kelly, Susan. The Boston Stranglers: The Wrongful Conviction of Albert DeSalvo and the True Story of Eleven Shocking Murders. Secaucus, New Jersey, Carol Publishing Group, 1995.

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