“DeSalvo Is the Strangler!” declared the headlines after handyman Albert DeSalvo confessed to eleven brutal rape-murders that terrorized Boston from 1962 to 1964. The repeat sex offender boasted he had raped an additional two thousand women. His depraved story became the subject of a bestselling book and major Hollywood movie. But, it turns out, DeSalvo was not the Boston Strangler.
This detailed investigation exposes the true DeSalvo as a pathological liar, burglar, and rapist whose hunger for celebrity drove him to false confessions. The Boston Strangler reveals that the stranglings were actually committed by at least eight—possibly eleven—different killers. In all likelihood, DeSalvo was not among them. In an eye-opening update that explores stunning DNA findings, a shocking re-autopsy, and expert profiling evidence, journalist Susan Kelly uncovers the facts behind a savage, unsolved case that continues to haunt and fascinate.
“Raises disturbing questions about one of our nation’s most notorious crime sprees.” —Gail Zimmerman, producer of 48 Hours
“Taut with suspense . . . Crackles like a bestselling novel.” —Barry Reed, author of The Verdict
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About the Author
Susan Kelly is the author of the novels of How Close We Come, Even Now, The Last of Something, Now You Know, and By Accident. She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with her husband and three children.
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A Time of Terror
The first one to die was Anna Slesers.
Slesers, a fifty-six-year-old Latvian immigrant, lived at 77 Gainsborough Street in Boston. On the evening of June 14, 1962, she was due to attend a memorial service for the victims of the Russian invasion of Latvia during World War II. Her son Juris would escort her.
Juris knocked on the door of Apartment 3-F a little before 7:00 P.M. No answer. No sound of movement from within the apartment, either. Thinking his mother might have gone to the store, Juris went downstairs to the foyer to await her.
She did not appear.
Juris went back upstairs and knocked again at the apartment door. No response. He returned to the foyer. It was then he noticed that his mother had forgotten to retrieve her mail.
At a quarter to eight, there was still no sign of Mrs. Slesers. Juris, probably now very worried, decided to break into her apartment.
His mother was at home. She had been at home the whole time.
Her body lay in the hall leading from the bathroom to the kitchen. The blue housecoat she'd worn had been ripped open to leave her torso nude. Her left leg was out straight, her right, the knee bent, at a nearly forty-five-degree angle.
She had been strangled with the cord of the housecoat, which had been drawn very tightly around her neck and tied under her chin in a sort of bow. There was blood in her right ear and a gaping laceration on the back of her skull. Her neck was scratched and abraded and her chin contused.
The blood in her vagina indicated that she had been sexually assaulted, probably with an object.
Except for a small amount of blood on the kitchen floor and an overturned wastebasket, there was no sign that a struggle had taken place in the apartment. It had apparently been searched. For a reason no one could guess, a chair had been placed in the front hallway just inside the door.
The following day, the Boston Traveler carried a story with the headline MOM FOUND STRANGLED IN BACK BAY. The Boston Globe story on the murder described the victim as "an attractive divorcee."
Slightly over two weeks later, on June 30, the body of Nina Nichols, sixty- eight, was found on the bedroom floor of her apartment at 1940 Commonwealth Avenue in the Brighton section of Boston.
The pink housecoat she wore was open. Her bra had been yanked up above her breasts. Her slip had been pushed up to her waist. On her feet were blue tennis shoes. She lay on her back.
The two nylon stockings around her neck had been tied and knotted very tightly. There was blood in and around both ears, and a small abrasion on the lower right side of her face.
Her external genitalia had been lacerated and there was blood and mucus in her vagina.
One of the Boston police detectives called to the crime scene took from it an empty wine bottle, a woman's black plastic purse, and a small cardboard box. These were brought to headquarters for further examination.
That same day in Lynn, a small industrial city fifteen miles northeast of Boston, Helen Blake met a terrible death. According to the autopsy report, "this sixty-five-year-old white female was found by her housekeeper about 6 P.M., July 2, 1962, lying upon her bed within her ransacked apartment. The housekeeper had last conversed with the victim at 4:30 P.M., June 29, 1962 ... Decedent was lying prone on her bed, clad in pajama tops, with legs equally abducted [pulled apart] and face turned toward the left." There was dried blood in both ears and on the outer part of the left one. The two stockings around her neck were knotted at the nape. Over the stockings was wrapped a bra, tied in front below the chin.
Her pajama top, which had been pushed up over her shoulders, bore reddish- brown stains. So did her pajama pants and the bed sheets.
Her vagina and anus had been lacerated, although the medical examiner found no spermatozoa in either.
Another Silk Stocking Murder was how the next day's edition of the Globe described the crime.
On Tuesday morning, July 11, 1962, a chambermaid named Eva Day entered Room 7 on the second floor of the Hotel Roosevelt, a now no longer extant fleabag on lower Washington Street in Boston.
Eva Day retreated shrieking from the room she had intended to clean. On the bed lay an elderly woman, naked and dead. An autopsy would establish that she had been manually strangled.
Accompanied by a man, she had checked into the hotel the previous night. They gave their names as Mr. and Mrs. Byron Spinney. The address the man wrote on the registration card was as phony as the names he and the victim had assumed.
The dead woman was identified first as Ethel Johnson, wife of one Johnny Johnson. Someone else identified her as Anne Cunningham, alias Annie Oakley. She was known to a third party as Winnie Hughes, and to a fourth as simply Tobey. Ultimately she was correctly identified as Margaret Davis, age sixty, by her nephew Daniel O'Leary. She was an alcoholic who had been treated, apparently with little success, at City Hospital. She had also been a patient at the House of the Good Shepherd in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, where she had worked as a domestic until the beginning of June.
At 7:47 P.M. on August 21, 1962, the Boston police arrived at 7 Grove Street, at the bottom of Beacon Hill, to find the body of a woman who had been more grotesquely done to death than any of the previous victims.
Seventy-five-year-old Ida Irga had actually died on August 19. She lay on her back on the living room floor of Apartment 10. She wore, according to the police report, "a light brown nightdress which was torn, completely exposing her body. There was a pillowcase wrapped tightly around her neck, her legs were propped up on individual chairs, and were spread approximately four to five feet from heel to heel, and a standard bed pillow, less the cover, was placed under her buttocks; there was dried blood both under her body and covering the entire head, mouth, and ears."
The police also "found the [bed] room light burning; and on the floor was a sheet and blanket and a pair of women's underpants and a quantity of dried blood and two brown hair combs. Also a trail of blood leading from where she was apparently attacked in the bedroom, and then apparently carried or dragged out into the living room."
There were slight injuries to her external genitalia. No spermatozoa were found in her vagina. She had died of manual strangulation and strangulation by ligature.
Her body had been positioned so that her pubic area faced the front door of the apartment. It was this sight that greeted the person who found her, her younger brother Harry Halpern.
On August 22, the Globe ran a front-page article about Ida's death headlined Widow 5th Victim of Strangler.
Sixty-seven-year-old Jane Sullivan had moved to 435 Columbia Road in the Dorchester area of Boston on July 1, 1962. She died there on August 21, 1962.
Her body was not found until ten days later. The discovery was made by her nephew, forty-four-year-old Dennis Mahoney, at 3:10 P.M. His mother, Jane's sister, had been worried about Jane because she hadn't heard from her in a while. Dennis's mother asked him to check up on his aunt.
He found her on her knees in the bathtub, partially submerged in six inches of water. Her feet were up over the back end of the tub, her buttocks thrust into the air. Her head was beneath the faucet. A housecoat covered the upper part of her body; her underpants were pulled down on her legs.
Although the corpse was badly decomposed, the autopsy found no evidence of trauma to the vagina or anus. There was matted blood on the right side of Jane's scalp. Two stockings were twined around her neck and knotted, and the right side of the hyoid bone had been fractured. Her bra was on the bathroom floor.
There was no evidence of forcible entry to the apartment (nor had there been in any of the previous cases), but there was blood on the floors of the kitchen, hall, and bathroom. Jane's handbag was open on the living room sofa. There was no evidence that the apartment had been ransacked.
A partial fingerprint was found at the scene. It could not be identified.
There were also bloodstains on the handle of a corn broom.
About 6:35 A.M. on October 13, 1962, Violet Prioleau of 618 Columbus Avenue in Boston happened to glance out her apartment window at the rear of 791 Tremont Street. She saw in the ward what appeared to be a body. She caught the attention of John Reese, who worked at 791 Tremont. He investigated and confirmed that what Violet Prioleau had spotted was indeed a corpse. It was that of thirty-seven-year-old Modeste Freeman.
Reese called the police. They arrived five minutes later.
Modeste, who had lived at 394 Northampton Street in Boston, was not only far younger than the previous murder victims, but of a different race — black — as well.
If Ida Irga's slaying had been the most grotesque to date, Modeste Freeman's was surely the most barbaric. Her body was nude except for a piece of clothing wrapped around her neck. What had been a beautiful face was now a distorted pulp, the nose virtually flattened. Her skull was battered into a lump. She had died of strangulation by ligature and multiple blunt force trauma.
Her blood alcohol level was staggeringly high, something not found in any of the other victims.
A wooden stick had been shoved up her vagina.
At five-thirty in the afternoon of December 5, 1962, a student at the Carnegie Institute of Medical Technology, Gloria Todd, returned to the apartment at 315 Huntington Avenue in Boston that she shared with two fellow students, Audri Adams and Sophie Clark. What confronted her when she opened the door made her turn and rush headlong back down the building stairway. In her flight she encountered a neighbor, Anthony Riley of 313 Huntington Avenue. Later that evening, at police headquarters, Gloria told investigators, "He [Riley] spoke to me and I said, 'Hi, Tony.' I stopped, and he said, 'What's the matter?' and I said, 'I don't know what to do,' and I felt as if I was going to faint, and he said 'What's the matter?' and I told him what I had saw [sic]."
What she had seen was the body of twenty-year-old Sophie Clark.
Sophie lay on her back, legs apart, partially dressed in a print housecoat, a garter belt, black stockings, and black tie shoes. Beneath the garter belt she wore a menstrual harness with a fragment of the tab of a sanitary napkin attached to the metal clasp. Around her neck was a half-slip, and beneath that, a nylon stocking tied very tightly. Near her body were a ripped bra, bloodstained pink flowered underpants, and the sanitary napkin that had clearly been torn from her.
Gloria and Riley, accompanied by Nat Nelson, the janitor of the building, went back to Apartment 4-C. Riley, a nurse, felt Sophie for a pulse. There was none. With a surgical scissors, he removed a gag from her mouth. He attempted resuscitation.
A male friend of the victim arrived at the apartment nearly simultaneously with Gloria, Riley and Nelson.
The nurse's effort to revive Sophie failed. He called the police.
Sophie had suffered no external genital injuries, nor was there any trauma to her scalp, skull, or brain. Smears taken from her vagina and rectum showed no fresh blood, nor was there any menstrual discharge. She had died of strangulation by ligature.
A Salem cigarette butt was found in the toilet. The roommates smoked Salems, Newports, Pall Malls, and Marlboros.
A seminal stain was found on the rug in the living room near where Sophie lay.
And also among the effects in the apartment was discovered a typed document headed "'Silk Stockings' From an Old Story Entitled, 'The New Look' Or 'Mother Should Have Stayed At Home.'" It was an adolescent, quasi-literate fragment of pornography that told from the woman's point of view the tale of her seduction — which took place all because she wore silk stockings.
Like Modeste Freeman, Sophie Clark was black, although of mixed-race ancestry. Her lovely features, reproduced in newspaper photographs the day following the murder, had an almost Polynesian cast.
In six months, eight women had been savagely murdered. Six were white and late middle-aged to elderly (although Anna Slesers had looked somewhat younger than she was). The two most recent victims were young, black, and beautiful.
What were the other differences?
Modeste Freeman had been killed on the street, unlike any of the others. Anna Slesers, Nina Nichols, Helen Blake, Ida Irga, and Jane Sullivan, all widowed, divorced, or never married, had lived alone. Sophie Clark, engaged to a young man from her home state of New Jersey had not. Margaret Davis, a street person, had lived wherever she could find shelter.
If there was any sort of pattern to these crimes, the next murder would introduce a further aberration to it.
Twenty-three-year-old Patricia Bissette, a secretary at the Boston firm of Engineering Systems Incorporated, was supposed to get a ride to work from her boss on the morning of December 31, 1962. When he knocked on her apartment door a little before 8:00 A.M., though, she didn't answer. He left for work. The phone calls he placed to Patricia from there went unanswered as well. Finally he became worried enough about his secretary to return to her apartment at 515 Park Drive in Boston. With the help of the building's custodian, Pat's boss climbed through a window into her living room.
The young woman lay in bed, the sheet and blankets pulled to her chin. She looked peacefully asleep, according to one of the forensic investigators called to the scene. She was not asleep; she was dead. Around her neck, concealed by the bedclothes, had been tightly knotted a white blouse, a single stocking, and two other stockings wound together. All were tied in front, extremely tightly.
She had had sexual intercourse very shortly before her death, and there was some injury to her rectum.
She was not married, nor ever had been. She lived alone, although she had previously shared apartments elsewhere in Boston and New York. The owner of 515 Park Drive sometimes used Pat's living room to conduct rental business.
At the time of her death, she was one month pregnant.
Lawrence, Massachusetts, lies twenty-five miles northwest of Boston. A mill and factory city incorporated in the mid-nineteenth century, its principal enterprises today are arson and the sale of illegal drugs. For a city of seventy thousand, it has a very high rate of violent crime. Thirty years ago, however, it was a far safer place in which to live or work.
Unless you were Mary Brown. At 8:15 P.M. on March 6, 1963, she was found dead in the living room of her apartment at 319 Park Street. She was white, sixty-eight years old, and lived alone.
She had been bludgeoned over the head, stabbed, and strangled. It was the beating that caused her death.
The abundance of partially degenerated spermatozoa in her vagina indicated that she had also been raped. What the Lawrence Police Department found when some of its members entered her apartment was a "body on the floor with her head about a foot from the south wall of the room and the rest of her body facing in a direct northerly direction. She was nude and her girdle was pulled down to her left foot. Her rubber overshoes and stockings were still on and a black dress and other articles of clothing were pulled up over her head. Her throat was badly bruised and the floor in the vicinity of her head was covered with blood. What appeared to be a knife or a fork was stuck in her left breast up to the handle."
Cambridge Girl, 26, Strangled read the headline of the May 9, 1963, editions of Boston's tabloid Record American.
In fact, Beverly Samans had been stabbed to death — seventeen times in and around the left breast, according to the autopsy report. Her neck bore four horizontal incised wounds, two on the right side, two on the left, almost like parallel gill slits.
Although the body was nude, the victim had neither been raped nor sexually assaulted by means of an object. No injuries were found to her genitalia, nor were any spermatozoa found in either her vagina or rectum.
Beverly was found dead by a friend, Oliver Chamberlain, at 7:00 P.M. on May 8. She lay on her back on a studio bed. A white scarf had been tied around her neck. Beneath this were two nylon stockings. Her hands were bound behind her back with a multicolored scarf. Each wrist was individually tied. There were no ligature marks on her neck.
Beverly had been an accomplished singer, a part-time counselor to the mentally disturbed, and a graduate student at Boston University. Among her possessions the Cambridge police found a wirebound notebook she used for her course in educational research. The last entry in the book was dated May 4. Above the notes she had taken on that day's lecture, Beverly printed her exasperated reaction to what was evidently a colossally boring professorial discourse. The comment read: "What sins in my life did I ever commit to deserve this?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Boston Stranglers"
Copyright © 2013 Susan Kelly.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
An Acclaimed Account of a Notorious Murder Case,
Also by Susan Kelly,
1 - A Time of Terror,
2 - Police Under Fire,
3 - The State Takes Over,
4 - Psychiatrists and Psychics,
5 - The Measuring Man,
6 - The Green Man,
7 - A Murder in the Suburbs,
8 - Enter George Nassar ... And F. Lee Bailey,
9 - The Cuckoo's Nest,
10 - Bailey Takes Action,
11 - Wheeling and Dealing,
12 - The Green Man Goes to Trial,
13 - A Great Escape, a Musical Interlude, and More Wheeling and Dealing,
14 - Hooray for Hollywood,
15 - From Jet Plane Lawyer to Helicopter Lawyer,
16 - The Burnim and Bailey Circus, I,
17 - The Burnim and Bailey Circus, II,
18 - Endgame,
19 - Grave Doubts,
20 - Origins of a Hoax,
21 - The Confessions of Albert DeSalvo, I,
22 - The Confessions of Albert DeSalvo, II,
23 - The Confessions of Albert DeSalvo, III,
24 - The Confessions of Albert DeSalvo, IV,
25 - The Murders of Anna Slesers, Nina Nichols, Helen Blake, Margaret Davis, and Jane Sullivan,
26 - The Murder of Sophie Clark,
27 - The Murder of Patricia Bissette, I,
28 - The Murder of Patricia Bissette, II,
29 - The Murder of Patricia Bissette, III,
30 - The Murder of Beverly Samans, I,
31 - The Murder of Beverly Samans, II,
32 - The Murders of Evelyn Corbin and Joann Graff,
33 - The Murder of Mary Sullivan,
34 - Final Thoughts,
35 - Last Moments,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In a class by itself, "The Boston Stranglers" is a true-crime book with meticulous research, great narrative technique, and a theory that has been hard to disprove, although other less talented authors have ripped it off. A good read, and a good model for other looking to write in this genre.