From June 1962 to January 1964, thirteen women between the ages of 19 and 85 were killed in the Boston area. All crimes with similar modus operandi: the victims were raped – sometimes with objects – and their bodies exposed naked, as if for a pornographic snapshot. A terrified city, frightened women, blood flowing. That of Albert DeSalvo it was a very famous case of serial killer in American history, still in the center of media attention until a few years ago.
The reason? Doubts about his real guilt by many experts. And there is a detail that should not be underestimated: already serving a life sentence for a series of sexual assaults, he has never been convicted of the thirteen murders he also confessed to due to the absence of hard evidence. Between private investigations and reopened investigations, there was no shortage of twists in one of the most macabre stories in US history.
Albert DeSalvo was born on September 3, 1931 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, to an Irish mother and an Italian immigrant father. That of the future “Boston Strangler” is a childhood marked by violence and abuse: abused, exposed to the most deviant conduct, with distorted ideas since early childhood. The alcoholic father he brings prostitutes home and has sex with them in front of his children. A brutal, inhuman, violent man: so much so that he knocked out all his wife’s teeth and broke several of her fingers during a heated argument.
Albert learns to steal from shops at the age of six, he is already at that stage showing the first signs of extreme cruelty towards animals. At twelve the first arrest for burglary, then a stint as a delivery boy and again in reform school, this time for the theft of a car. DeSalvo then enters the army, but things don’t get better: discharged and reinstated, he risks ending up on trial by the court martial for molesting a nine-year-old girl. The young man manages to get away with it, complete with an honorable discharge.
“Measuring man” and “Green man”
After leaving the military, Albert DeSalvo begins to molest more and more women. In order not to meet resistance, he introduces himself to the young girls as a talent scout from an agency looking for new models. So he takes the measurements and stretches out his hands. The reports begin to multiply and he is referred to as “Measuring man”. In March 1960, also as an accomplice to a theft, he was identified and arrested: sentenced to a year and a half in prison, he was released after 11 months for good behaviour.
Back on the loose, a new crime spree in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Always dressed in green and therefore renamed “Greenman”, Albert DeSalvo breaks into over 400 homes and sexually assaults over 300 women. But that’s not all, on the contrary: the level of violence rises exponentially.
The first gruesome executions
Sexual abuse is no longer enough, Albert DeSalvo decides to raise the bar of violence. On June 14, 1962 the first murder: the victim the seamstress Anna Slesers. Her fifty-five year old is murdered at 77 Gainsborough Street: her body is discovered in the bathroom, with a rope tied in a bow around her neck. What will become her serial killer signature of hers. The woman’s son, Juris, immediately thinks of suicide, but the investigators discover another truth: sexual violence. The apartment is in a mess, but it’s hard to believe a theft gone wrong: a gold watch and other jewels have not been touched. the first act in a series of crimes without parallel.
A little less than three weeks later, on June 14, 1962, Albert DeSalvo kills the 85-year-old Mary Mullen. Two days later, the 68-year-old’s body was discovered Nina Nichols in her house in Brighton: she too without clothes, with her legs wide open and with stockings tied in a bow. Also in these two episodes, the detectives evaluate the burglary, but even here the valuables are not looted. On the same day, a few thousand further north, in the suburb of Lynn, another body is discovered: that of the 65-year-old Helen Blake. his murder is the most gruesome, with deep injuries and violent sexual abuse. The signature is always the same: a bow with a bra. Albert DeSalvo still in action.
Boston in a panic
In the summer of 1962 the city of Boston is shaken by an unprecedented series of heinous murders and the echo of the crimes is enormous: the vicious murders and of a sexual nature are on the front pages of newspapers and the fascination of the media fuels the climate of fear. The city is simply in hysteria. The three bodies discovered between 28 and 30 June 1962 prompt the police to warn the female population. The first thought goes to a psychopath who hates older women, perhaps due to a bad relationship with his mother. Albert DeSalvo never enters the radar of investigators, engaged on other profiles and on other roads.
On August 19, 1962, the Boston strangler struck again, this time at 7 Grove Garden, in the West End. The victim was the 75-year-old widow Ida Arga: strangled and stripped, legs apart. Again, no sign of forced entry. Less than twenty-four hours later it’s time for Jane Sullivana 65-year-old nurse strangled with her own nylon stockings.
Albert DeSalvo stops his action for a few months, but the city is shocked: women arm themselves with knives and guns to defend themselves, terror spreads in every street, in every house. When he strikes again, the strangler changes strategy: on December 5, 1962 he kills the twenty-one year old Sophie Clarke, African American student. The young woman’s body is found naked, with evident signs of sexual violence. And there’s more: for the first time, investigators find traces of blood.
Three weeks go by and Albert DeSalvo strikes again: he strangles and rapes twenty-three-year-old Patricia Bissette. And again: on March 6 he kills the sixty-eight year old Mary Brown23-year-old Beverly Samans on May 6, 58-year-old Elevyn Corbin on 8 September and the 24-year-old designer on November 25 Joann Graff. Particularly cruel was the murder of Samans, which ended with twenty-two stab wounds.
The last murder signed by Albert DeSalvo is dated January 4, 1964 and is among the most gruesome: the man strangles with a sock and rapes, even with a broomstick, the nineteen year old Mary Sullivan at his home at 44-A Charles Street. The young woman is left sitting on the bed with her back against the headboard and a New Year’s card between her feet.
The arrest, the confession, the death
The police are desperate, so much so that they even ask for the advice of a clairvoyant. 2,600 police officers from three counties work to solve the case, but no clues are found. Albert DeSalvo still doesn’t end up on the suspect list, but ends up in jail just the same. In October 1964 he breaks into the flat of a young woman in East Cambridge posing as a policeman: he ties her to her bed, rapes her and leaves apologizing. The victim manages to identify him, triggering a rain of recognitions from the others victims of harassment. He is therefore identified and captured on November 3rd.
Roommate of psychopathic killer George Nassar at Bridgewater State Hospital, Albert DeSalvo decides to get in touch with the lawyer Francis Lee Bailey: only then does he confess to the thirteen murders, recounting particulars and details of the executions. In March 1965 the lawyer takes the field and says he is ready to offer the person responsible for the trail of crimes on a silver platter. But on one condition: his confession cannot be used against him in court. Albert DeSalvo is heard by the investigators, who have no doubts: the confession is irrefutable, he knows things that only the killer could have known. But the case will never go to court.
But is Albert DeSalvo really the strangler or a mythomaniac looking for advertising? This is the question posed by various experts on the basis of the alleged gross errors committed in the reconstruction of the murders. Some doubts about the veracity of his confession, strengthened by the mysterious death behind bars: DeSalvo is in fact stabbed to death in the infirmary of the maximum security penitentiary of Walpole. The hand? Unknown.
Between media campaigns and review requests of the case, the investigation was reopened in 2001 thanks to the DNA research. Professor James Starrs of George Washington University claims to have found biological traces belonging to two different subjects on the body and clothes of one of the victims of the Boston Strangler, neither of whom would be Albert DeSalvo. Then in 2013 the almost definitive point: the Boston police announced in an incontrovertible manner that the examination of the DNA of the sperm connects DeSalvo to the murder of Mary Sullivan. Finished speculation, the rest is history.
The Trail of Blood and the Hunt with the Medium: The Mystery of Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler