BOSTON, MA — On November 25, 1973, Albert DeSalvo, the man popularly believed to be the serial rapist and murderer known as “The Boston Strangler,” died from stab wounds at the maximum security Massachusetts Correctional Institution then known as Walpole.
Another inmate stood accused of the murder, but his trial resulted in a hung jury. No one was ever convicted for killing DeSalvo.
It’s an outcome eerily in keeping with the fact that, despite DeSalvo’s association and even confessions regarding the case, no one has ever actually even brought up on charges — let alone found been guilty — of being the Boston Strangler.
The government considers the case closed. Some criminologists and other investigators question if the real Boston Strangler — or multiple Boston Stranglers — got away with the crime spree.
Either way, Albert DeSalvo appeared to have paid with his life.
In specific terms, the Boston Strangler case refers to a set of sexual assaults and choking murders perpetrated against 13 women in Massachusetts between 1962 and 1964.
On top of terrifying local residents, the Strangler captivated the public with macabre fascination like no other maniac-on-the-loose since Jack the Ripper. It is from this case, in essence, that our modern fixation on serial killers first arose.
Anna Slesers, 55, fell prey to the Boston Strangler first. Her son discovered Slesers dead on her bathroom floor with a cord tied around her neck in a careful bow. She had been sexually assaulted. Her house was ransacked and robbed, although the attacker had left valuables behind. Police initially concluded it was an attempted burglary gone haywire.
A few weeks later, Mary Mullen, 85, was discovered murdered in similar conditions. Two days after that, Nina Nichols, 68, turned up strangled with legs spread and silk stockings tied around her neck in a bow. Later that very same evening, authorities found Helen Blake, 65, dead with lacerations on her vagina and anus — and the bra straps used to strangle her tied in a bow around her neck.
Clearly, a pattern had appeared. Thus was born the notorious “Boston Strangler.”
The recognizable killings continued with Ida Irga, 75, and Jane Sullivan, 64. Mature and elderly women appeared to be the Strangler’s targets until he next murdered 21-year-old student Sophie Clark. From there, the victims ranged from old to young, although they remained always female and were almost always choked to death with their stockings or other articles of clothing.
The cruelty of the attacks ramped up, however, with the Strangler stabbing one victim 18 times in the shape of a bull’s-eye and violating another with a broom handle that he left inside her body.
At the same time, Boston-area police were on the hunt for a serial rapist known as “The Measuring Man.” The nickname stemmed from the assailant knocking on a woman’s door, posing as a modeling scout, and asking if he could take her measurements. He would then rape her.
It was the same modus operandi employed a few years earlier by former juvenile delinquent, Army veteran, and peeping tom Albert DeSalvo. He used this trick to fondle a series of women and ultimately served 18 months in jail for it.
Now, mere fondling was no longer the issue. “The Measuring Man” had tied one victim up, held a knife to her throat, sexually assaulted her, and then left, saying “I’m sorry” on his way out. The woman provided investigators with a detailed description of her assailant, leading officers quickly to DeSalvo.
While incarcerated, the victim picked out DeSalvo from a lineup, and he came clean. He admitted not only to the rapes, but also to hundreds of burglaries, and even claimed that he was the Boston Strangler, providing police and his own attorney — future celebrity defender F. Lee Bailey — with incredibly detailed accounts of each killing.
A judge sentenced Albert DeSalvo to life in prison. Someone with a knife saw to it that DeSalvo completed that stint less than a decade later.
In the years since, doubt has consistently arisen as to whether DeSalvo was actually the Boston Strangler. Several noted criminologists point to the disparity in the victims’ ages and the degree of sadism involved in individual attacks as being inconsistent with the work of a lone killer. It’s often proposed that two or more Stranglers were at work at the same time.
Regardless, this particular set of crimes did appear to cease once DeSalvo went to jail. More tellingly, a court order exhumed the bodies of both DeSalvo and teenage victim Mary Sullivan, reaping DNA evidence that conclusively proved that he committed at least that one murder.
Whether he acted alone or not, Albert DeSalvo brought wrath and tragedy upon himself, and — for better or worse — awakened the world at large to the phenomenon of serial murder… and the chilling possibilities of those that remain unsolved.