Solved: The Boston Strangler (1962-1964)

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This next case we have is about the Boston Strangler that happened during the early 1960’s. Let’s jump right in.

 

The Boston Strangler is the name given to the murderer of 13 woman in Boston, Massachusetts, during the early 1960’s. The crimes were attributed to Albert DeSalvo based on his confession, details revealed in court during a separate case, and DNA evidence linking him to the final victim.

In the following years after DeSalvo’s conviction – but prior to the emergence of the DNA evidence- various parties investigating the crimes have suggested that the murders were committed by more than one person.

Initially, the crimes were assumed to be the work of one unknown person dubbed “The Mad Strangler of Boston.” Then on July 8th in an edition of the Sunday Herald, it had suggested a headline as follows “ A mad strangler in loose in Boston,” in an article titled “Mad Strangler Kills Four Woman in Boston.” The killer was also known as the “Phantom Fiend” or “Phantom Strangler” due to his ability to get women to allow him into their apartments. In 1963, 2 investigative reports for the Record American, Jean Cole and Loretta McLaughlin, wrote a four-part series about the killer and dubbed him as “The Boston Strangler.” By the time DeSalvo’s confession was aired in open court, the “Boston Strangler” had become part of crime lore.

Between June 14, 1962 and January 4, 1964, 13 woman between the ages of 19 and 85 were murdered in the Boston Area. Most were sexually assaulted and strangled in their apartments, police believed that one man was the perpetrator. With no sign of forced entry into the homes of the victims, the women were assumed to have let their assailant in, either because they knew him or because they believed him to an apartment maintenance man, delivery man, or other service man. The attacks continued despite extensive media publicity after the first few murders, which presumably should have discouraged woman from admitting strangers into their homes. Many residents purchased tear gas and new locks and deadbolts for their doors. Some woman even moved out of the area.

The murders occurred in several cities, including Boston, complicating jurisdictional oversight for prosecution of crimes. Massachusetts Attorney General Edward W. Brooke helped coordinate the various police forces. He permitted a parapsychologist, Peter Hurkos to use his alleged extrasensory perception to analyze the cases for which Hurkos claimed that was a single person responsible. Theis decision however was controversial. Hurkos provided a “minutely detailed description of the wrong person,” and the press ridiculed Ed. The police were not convinced that all the murders were the actions of one person, although much of the public believed so. The apparent connections between a majority of the victims and hospitals were widely discussed.

Here are the list of victims.

  • Anna Elsa (Legins) Šlesers, 56, sexually assaulted with unknown object and strangled with the belt on her bathrobe; found on June 14, 1962 in her third-floor apartment at 77 Gainsborough Street, Fenway, Boston
  • Mary Mullen, 85, died from a heart attack; found on June 28, 1962, in her apartment at 1435 Commonwealth Ave, Boston. In his confession, DeSalvo said she collapsed as he grabbed her.
  • Nina Frances Nichols, 68, sexually assaulted and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on June 30, 1962, in her home at 1940 Commonwealth Ave., Boston
  • Helen Elizabeth Blake, 65, sexually assaulted and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on June 30, 1962, in her home at 73 Newhall St., Lynn, Massachusetts.
  • Ida Odes Irga, 75, sexually assaulted and strangled; found on August 19, 1962, in her apartment at 7 Grove Street, Beacon Hill, Boston.
  • Jane Buckley Sullivan, 67, sexually assaulted and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on August 21, 1962, in her home at 435 Columbia Road, Dorchester, Boston.
  • Sophie Clark, 20, sexually assaulted and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on December 5, 1962, in her apartment at 315 Huntington Ave., Fenway, Boston
  • Patricia Jane Bullock Bissette, 23, strangled with her nylon stockings; found on December 31, 1962, in her home at 515 Park Drive, Fenway, Boston
  • Mary Ann Brown, 69, raped, strangled, beaten, and stabbed; found on March 6, 1963, in her apartment at 319 Park St., Lawrence, Massachusetts.
  • Beverly Samans, 25, stabbed to death; found on May 6, 1963, in her home at 4 University Road in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Marie Evelina (Evelyn) Corbin, 58, raped and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on September 8, 1963, in her home at 224 Lafayette St., Salem, Massachusetts.
  • Joann Marie Graff, 22, strangled with her nylon stockings; found on November 23, 1963, in her apartment at 54 Essex St., Lawrence, Massachusetts
  • Mary Anne Sullivan, 19, sexually assaulted and strangled with nylon stockings; found on January 4, 1964, in her apartment at 44-A Charles st, Boston.

The murders of Margaret Davis, 60, of Roxbury and Cheryl Laird, 14, of Lawrence were originally attributed to the Boston Strangler, but were later found to be unrelated cases.

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 suddenly left, saying “I’m sorry” as he went. The woman’s description of her attacker led police to identify the assailant as 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 strangling murders. After he was charged with rape, he gave a detailed confession of his activities as the Boston Strangler. He initially confessed to fellow inmate George Nassar. Nassar reported the confession to his attorney who also took on defense of DeSalvo. The police were impressed at the accuracy of DeSalvo’s descriptions of the crime scenes. There were some inconsistencies, but DeSalvo was able to cite details that had been withheld from the public. F. Lee Bailey states in The Defense Never Rests that DeSalvo got one detail right that one of the victims was wrong about: DeSalvo described a blue chair in the woman’s living room. She stated it was brown. Photographic evidence proved DeSalvo was correct.

No physical evidence substantiated his confession. Because of that, he was tried on charges 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 DeSalvo’s confession to the murders 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. Immediately after his escape, DeSalvo disguised himself as a U.S. Navy Petty Officer Third Class, but the next day he gave himself up. Following the escape, he was transferred to the maximum security Walpole State Prison. Six years after the transfer, he was found stabbed to death in the prison infirmary. His killer or killers were never identified.

Prior to DNA confirmation in 2013, doubts existed as to whether DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler. At the time when he confessed, people who knew him personally did not believe him capable of such vicious crimes. Creating doubt of a serial killer, who characteristically has a certain type of victim and method of murder, the women killed by “The Strangler” were from a variety of age and ethnic groups, and there were different Modi operandi.

In 1968, Dr. Ames Robey, medical director of Bridgewater State Hospital, insisted that DeSalvo was not the Boston Strangler. He said the prisoner was “a very clever, very smooth compulsive confessor who desperately needs to be recognized.” Robey’s opinion was shared by Middlesex District Attorney John J. Droney, Bridgewater Superintendent Charles Gaughan, and George W. Harrison, a former fellow inmate of DeSalvo’s. Harrison claimed to have overheard another convict coaching DeSalvo about details of the strangling murders.

DeSalvo’s attorney Bailey believed that his client was the killer, and described the case in The Defense Never Rests (1995). Susan Kelly, author of the book The Boston Stranglers (1996), drew from the files of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts “Strangler Bureau”. She argues that the murders were the work of several killers rather than a single individual. Former FBI Profiler, Robert Ressler said, “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.”

John E. Douglas the former FBI special agent who was one of the first criminal profilers, doubted that DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler. In his book The Case that Haunts Us, he identified DeSalvo as a “power-assurance” motivated rapist. He said that such a rapist is unlikely to kill in the manner of crimes attributed to the Boston Strangler; a power-assurance motivated rapist would, however, be prone to taking credit for the crimes.

In 2000, attorney and former print journalist 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 strangling murders occurred after that date. Sharp assisted the families in their media campaign to clear DeSalvo’s name. She helped organize and arrange the exhumations of Mary Sullivan and Albert H. DeSalvo, filed various lawsuits in attempts to obtain information and trace evidence from the government, and worked with various producers to create documentaries to explain the facts to the public.

Sharp noted 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, the woman was found to have no semen in her vagina and she was not strangled manually, but by ligature. Forensic pathologist Michael Baden noted that DeSalvo got the time of death wrong. This was a common inconsistency also pointed out by Susan Kelly in several of the murders. She continues to work on the case for the DeSalvo family.

On July 11, 2013, the Boston Police Department announced that they had found DNA evidence which linked DeSalvo to the murder of Mary Sullivan. DNA found at the scene was a “near certain match” to Y-DNA taken from a nephew of DeSalvo. Y-DNA is passed through the direct male lines with little change and can be used to link males with a common paternal-line ancestor. A court ordered the exhumation of DeSalvo’s to test his DNA directly. On July 19, 2013, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conely, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis announced the DNA test results proving that DeSalvo was the source of seminal fluid recovered at the scene of Sullivan’s 1964 murder.

 

Sources:

Boston Strangler – Wikipedia

Boston Strangler | American serial killer | Britannica

The Boston Strangler | Criminal Minds Wiki | Fandom

The Boston Strangler – Crime Museum