It was 14 June 1962 when The Boston Strangler first struck. Over the next 18 months, Boston was gripped by fear.
Eleven women were strangled – and some sexually assaulted – by a killer who usually left a gruesome signature: bodies contorted into strange positions, the victims’ own scarves or nylon stockings tied around their necks in large bows, foreign objects protruding from their bodies.
Women stopped walking in the street alone and bought new locks and guard dogs. Mothers told children to call them every hour on the hour.
In 1965, the city breathed a collective sigh of relief when a 34-year old factory worker named Albert DeSalvo confessed to being the strangler. He was already being held in Bridgewater State Hospital (a mental institution) awaiting trial on rape charges in a string of sexual assaults on women when he confessed to the 11 strangler killings plus two others – first to his lawyer, F Lee Bailey, and later to a state investigator.
During DeSalvo’s 1967 trial on the sexual assault charges, Bailey tried to bolster his insanity defence by citing DeSalvo’s confession to being the Boston Strangler, but DeSalvo – a former military policeman and middleweight boxing champion – was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
He was stabbed to death by another inmate in November 1973 at the state prison in Walpole.
Controversy surrounds the identification of DeSalvo as the Boston Strangler. There was never any physical evidence putting him at the crime scenes. He did not match witness descriptions of potential suspects. He was never on investigators’ lists of more than 300 suspects. And he was never tried in any of the killings.
His brother, Richard, said DeSalvo confessed to the Strangler killings because he knew he was going to prison for life anyway and wanted to cash in on book and movie deals so he could take care of his family.