Who was the Boston Strangler?

The Boston Strangler serial killer murdered 13 women in the Boston area, state of Massachusetts between June 1962 and January 1964, most of whom were elderly victims and alone. At that time, and even to this day, speculations are pointing to the fact that there might have been more than one murderer. The man arrested for the Boston Strangler killings was Albert DeSalvo, who confessed all the killings. During a separate trial, some details connected him to the murders while DNA evidence linked him to the last victim.

The killings were also referred to as “the silk stocking murders” and the media at that time “confiscated” the Boston Strangler phenomenon and created widespread panic in the area. If DeSalvo is indeed the Boston Strangler, than he is considered to be one of the firsts modern serial killers in U.S. history.

What is interesting to know is that the killings were not considered by police to have been committed by one person, but rather the city was convinced by the media of the existence of a serial killer.

How did the killings start?

On the evening of June 14, 1962, 55 years old Anna Slesers was just finishing her dinner when she decided to get a bath before her son picks her up to attend a Latvian memorial service being held at her church.

When her son arrived, he did not get an answer while knocking on the door, but being certain that she is at home and getting worried, he forced the door open. She was discovered lying dead in the bathroom with the cord of her bathrobe tied around her neck. There were no signs of forced entry.

Boston Strangler

Location of first victim discovered

Homicide Detectives James Mellon and John Driscoll found Anna Slesers nude, as if the victim was stripped of her dignity. Her house looked as if someone went through it looking for something and despite the fact that valuable objects were still in plain sight, the murder was considered to be a robbery gone wrong.

The killing spree

On June 28, 1968, 85 year old Mary Mullen was found murdered in her apartment. Just two days later, another body was discovered in the same area. Again, no signs of any forced entry.

She was 68 years old Nina Nichols. Like the first murder, it was considered a burglary gone wrong, but police wasn’t able to make sense of the fact that valuable jewelry was left at the scene. It just didn’t make sense. The victim’s body was left in an indecent posture and with her stocking tops tied in a bow. Why would a burglar go through this victim staging? And why are there no signs of forced entry.

The same day, another victim was discovered about few miles north of Boston. 65 years old Helen Blake was a divorced elderly woman, living alone. Her death was also ruled as being a burglary gone wrong, despite the fact that valuable objects were still on the scene and the victim had similarities with the previous one. A bra was tied to her neck in a bow. But this time, the victim had visible signs of lacerations to her private areas.

Police warns the area

It is not sure if police believed at this time that all murders are committed by the same person, but Police Commissioner Edmund McNamara cancelled all police leave, and a warning went out via the media to all women living in the Boston area, advising them to lock their doors at all times and be aware of any strangers.

But if the crimes were committed by the same individual, police believed it has to be someone showing signs of psychopathy and hatred towards older women. They had now four victims in just two weeks, all murdered in a similar manner.

Boston Strangler Headline

Boston Strangler Headline

The killings continue

On August 19, 1962, 75 years old Ida Irga was found dead in her home. She too has been strangled and her body was posed with her legs apart, resting on two chairs with a cushion placed under her buttocks. She was wearing a nightdress which seemed ripped off, exposing her body. Like in the previous murders, police didn’t find any signs of forced entry.

The next victim was 65 years old Jane Sullivan. She was discovered on August 21, 1962 and like the previous victims, she was strangled using her own nylons.

The killer takes a short break

Some months have passed and looked like the killer vanished. The terror however, continued while city feared another attack might happen at any time. The fears came true when on December 5, 1962 the body of 21 year old Sophie Clark was found few blocks away from the first victim, Anna Slesers.

Sophie Clark

Sophie Clark

She was found nude and there were signs of sexual aggression. She died being strangled by her own stockings. There were few things different with this case. First of all, the victim this time was a young woman. She was also an African American and for the first time, semen was discovered at the crime scene.

Detectives were convinced that it was the same killer and he had returned terrorizing the city. While investigating, a female neighbor came forward saying that a man had knocked on her door asking to come in, as he was sent to paint her house. She did not open the door however and told the man that her husband is at home and sleeping. The man left.

On December 31, 1962 the body of another young woman was found. 23 years old Patricia Bissette was at home alone when she was killed. She was also pregnant. Her body was discovered in her own bed, covered with sheets and strangled with her own stockings. The victim was sexually assaulted as well. 

It looked like the killer switched to younger victims. Investigators were desperate to find any clues that might help them get a suspect. All sexual offenders were on radar, but nothing came out of it.

1963 Murders

After another months of break, the killers strikes again on March 9, 1963. 68 years old Mary Brown is found dead in her house. 

On May 6, 1963, the 10th victim is discovered. 23 years old Beverly Samans was found in her house with her hands tied around her back, strangled with her stockings and stabbed four times in the neck and 22 times in her body. She was also raped. 

The MO was changing slightly. The killer started stuffing clothing items in the victim’s mouth.

The next victim was found on September 8, 1963. 58 years old Evelyn Corbin was found naked on her bed. The killer staffed her underwear in her mouth. Semen was also found at the scene.

Boston Strangler Victims

Boston Strangler Victims

On November 25, 1963, 23 year old Joann Graff became the next victim. She was murdered in her apartment; one of the neighbors described seeing a man wearing dark green slacks and a dark shirt and jacket knocking on one of the doors when the neighbor opened his to check on him. The man asked if Joann lives there and the neighbor told him that she lives one floor bellow. One minute later he heard Joann’s door opened and he assumed she let the man in.

Two nylon stockings had been tied in a bow around her neck and there were teeth marks on her breast. The outside of her vagina was bloody and lacerated.

Another female neighbor said that one day before, she was at home when suddenly she heard movement outside her door. No one knocked, but a piece of paper was slipped under her door, moved silently from one side to another until it vanished.

The last murder

On January 4, 1964, Mary Sullivan, 19 years old was found dead by her other two roommates. Same as the other victims, she had been strangled with stockings and a pink scarf tied in a bow around her neck.

Mary Sullivan

Mary Sullivan

But this scene was more gruesome than the previous ones. When she was discovered, the body was posed in a sitting position on the bed. She had what appeared to be semen dripping from her mouth onto her exposed body and a broom stick handle was used to rape her. A “Happy New Year” card was also found placed against her feet.

The apartment looked ravaged, same as in the previous murders.

The Manhunt

Investigators became anxious and all possible efforts were put into capturing the strangler terrorizing the city. It was unclear, even with all the warnings made, why would the victims let the man him. Was he someone they knew? Or he was convincing them in some manner to let him in for whatever reason.

On January 17, 1964, Massachusetts Attorney General Edward Brooke, who was the highest ranking officer at the time, took over the case, making it the top priority of law enforcement. A special task force was created, with people assigned exclusively only on this case and it was ordered that all police departments share all information they have and collected, regardless of jurisdictions.

Things were getting serious. Experts analyzed all forensic evidence, analyzing all murders to determine if they were looking for one man, or multiple killers.

A suspect is brought in

On October 27, 1964 a young married woman was at home alone when suddenly a man appeared in her room. The man put a knife to her throat, threatening to kill her.  He began stuffing her underwear into her mouth and tied her with her clothes. He began kissing her when in what appeared to be a change of heart, he asked her to stay quiet, apologized and left the house.

The woman called the police and gave a description of the man, when detectives realized that the description reminds them of someone else.

Some years earlier a man was arrested for pretending to be an agent from a model agency an convinced women to let him in and take measurements of their body, promising that his boss will call them if the measurements are good enough.

On March 17, 1961, Cambridge police caught a man trying to break into a house and when interrogated the man confessed to being the “Measuring Man” as well. His name was Albert DeSalvo. He received to 18 months and was released on good behavior in April of 1962.

Albert DeSalvo

Albert DeSalvo

In November 1964, DeSalvo was brought in for questioning and released on bail. His photo went over the police network and soon it was realized that he might be the sexual predator police in Connecticut are looking for, nicknamed “Green Man”, because he wore green work pants.

The arrest

Police arrested DeSalvo at his home. He was married at the time and was horrified of the idea of his family seeing him in handcuffs. He admitted to breaking into hundreds apartments and a couple of rapes.

“If you knew the whole story you wouldn’t believe it….It’ll all come out. You’ll find out.” – said DeSalvo

Albert DeSealvo's building

Albert DeSalvo’s building

The Confession

DeSalvo was not considered to be the Boston Strangler, but that was something soon to be changed.

His lawyer at that time, Jon Asgiersson, had an interesting conversation with DeSalvo. It looked like he was confessing to the Strangler murders.

“What would you do if someone gave you the biggest story of the century?”

“Do you mean the Boston Strangler?”


“Are you mixed up in all of them, Albert? Did you do some of them?”

“All of them,”

Asgiersson wasn’t sure if DeSalvo speaks the truth or he was insane, so he began n inquiry.

Soon after, DeSalvo was sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for evaluation where he befriended another inmate, George Nassar. He first talked with Nassar about the killings and apparently the two might have came up with the idea to take the ransom money for any information about the murders and split it.

George Nassar

George Nassar

Nassar’s lawyer, Lee Bailey, learned about DeSalvo and decided to pay him a visit, recording the conversation with a dictaphone.

Lee Bailey

Lee Bailey

Albert confessed to Bailey all the murders; the eleven “official” victims, and two other women, Mary Brown and another elderly woman who died of a heart attack before he could strangle her.

Bailey believed him, but at the same time he wanted to make sure that DeSalvo speaks the truth and he, as a lawyer, can protect him as his client.

On March 6, 1965, Bailey visited DeSalvo again, recording the conversation. DeSalvo described his attack on  Ida Irga in August, 1962. The deatails he provided were astonishing. It was impossible for someone not being at the crime scene to have known such things. He then proceeded describing the attack on Sophie Clark.

DeSalvo described apartment details, how he convinced the victim to let him in with his modelling proposal, her clothing details. It was clear that DeSalvo knows or committed the murders.

Police look at DeSalvo as the Boston Strangler main suspect

Bailey shares the recording with a detective. There was something very striking about the details he provided. He even described knocking off a pack of cigarettes in Sophie Clark’s apartment, describing the brand and where exactly the pack hit the ground. When the detective pulled out a picture from the crime scene, it was clear that the details DeSalvo provided matched perfectly.

The Boston Strangler task force is brought in and 50 hours of confession are collected. The interrogation was finished on September 29, 1965. Now, the investigators had to check out all details confessed.

After comparing all details from DeSalvo’s confession with crime scenes, it was more than clear that they had the Boston Strangler in custody.

The Doubts

With all the confessions and details provided, something wasn’t adding up. For example, no physical evidence could tie him the crime scenes. Further more, none of the witnesses identified DeSalvo as being the man they saw. The young man who had a brief interaction with the man looking for Joann Graff, didn’t recognize DeSalvo when confronted with his picture. And no one was able to place DeSalvo at any of the crime scenes.

Could it be that DeSalvo was just a thief and rapist trying to capitalize fame and make money with this case? But if so, how was he able to provide such vivid details of the crime scenes?

When digging a bit more into the confessions, it was noticeable that some details were exactly on point, but some were not. Also a very important thing to know is that many leaks came out from the special task force, details about autopsies, victims and their bobbies, the press published many more details, including pictures. The possibility that DeSalvo actually had memorized all these details leaked to the public was taking shape. Especially when his confession also contained misinformation intentionally published in the papers.

John Bottomly

John Bottomly (Left) and Attorney General Edward Brooke (Right)

Assistant Attorney General John Bottomly, who was part of the special task force, intentionally fed DeSalvo with information during his confession, this possible explaining the heavily redacted confession published.

Did DeSalvo memorize all these details? Or maybe, DeSalvo had all this information from the actual murderer: his “friend” at the  Bridgewater State Hospital, George Nassar. Or Maybe, Lee Bailey, Nassar’s lawyer, the one first time interrogating DeSalvo, played along to detract attention from his client.

George Nassar

George Nassar

What on earth was going on? None of the people knowing DeSalvo personally believed he could be the killer. None of the witnesses seeing the man at crime scenes even recognized DeSalvo.

The Trial

On January 10, 1967, Albert DeSalvo was tried on the Green Man charges. Lee Bailey, his lawyer, stated that “the basic strategy by which I hoped to convince a jury to find Albert not guilty by reason of insanity was simple: I would attempt to use the thirteen murders he had committed as the Boston Strangler to show the extent of his insanity. To do this, I would try to get both his confession and its corroboration by police into evidenceCertainly the problem was unusual: I wanted the right to defend a man for robbery and assault by proving that he had committed thirteen murders.”

Bailey tried to prove “his Green Man crimes were the result of an irresistible impulse.” and DeSalvo is insane. The prosecution instead, pointed out that lying to get inside the house or jimmying the locks and stealing objects from the houses were not the act of a man who can’t control his impulses. The expert evaluating DeSalvo’s mental state agreed implying that only the sexual urges could be considered as impulses DeSalvo couldn’t control.

The Sentence

The jury deliberated a couple of hours and found DeSalvo guilty on all acounts and he was sentenced to life in prison.

His lawyer, Lee Bailey said: “My goal was to see the Strangler wind up in a hospital, where doctors could try to find out what made him kill. Society is deprived of a study that might help deter other mass killers who lived among us, waiting for the trigger to go off inside them.”

His Death

On November 1973, DeSalvo as stabbed to death in the infirmary.

DeSalvo's Cell where he was stabbed

DeSalvo’s Cell where he was stabbed

While in prison he wrote this poem:

“Here is the story of the Strangler, yet untold,
The man who claims he murdered thirteen women,
young and old.
The elusive Strangler, there he goes,
Where his wanderlust sends him, no one knows
He struck within the light of day,
Leaving not one clue astray.
Young and old, their lips are sealed,
Their secret of death never revealed.
Even though he is sick in mind,
He’s much too clever for the police to find.
To reveal his secret will bring him fame,
But burden his family with unwanted shame.
Today he sits in a prison cell,
Deep inside only a secret he can tell.
People everywhere are still in doubt,
Is the Strangler in prison or roaming about?”

The Aftermath

Albert DeSalvo was never officially charged with the Boston Strangler murders, leaving many to speculate weather he killed the women or he was just trying to become famous, concealing the true identity of the murderer.

The case for the Boston Strangler remained open.

On October 16, 2000 the body of the last victim was exhumed to be examined for signs of her killer’s real identity. A private autopsy was conducted following a request by her family and the family of DeSalvo. Both families believe that DeSalvo was not the killer and that he confessed to being the killer only to make money with the possible book deals.

Mary Sullivan's Family

Mary Sullivan’s Family

The DNA evidence

In 2001, forensic scientists compared DNA from the clothing of the last victim and of the exhumed body and found tow other sets of DNA, out of which none was matching DeSalvo.

“We have found evidence, and the evidence does not and cannot be associated with Albert DeSalvo,…I, as a juror, would acquit him with no questions asked.” – James Starrs, a professor of forensic science and law at George Washington University

Four decades later, the case remains open and the identity of the killer seems far from being confirmed.

Victim List

DateVictim NameVictim Age
June 4, 1962 Anna Slesers55
June 28, 1962 Mary Mullen85
June 30, 1962 Nina Nichols68
June 30, 1962 Helen Blake65
August 21, 1962 Ida Irga75
August 30, 1962 Jane Sullivan67
December 5, 1962 Sophie Clark20
December 31, 1962 Patricia Bissette23
March 9, 1963 Mary Brown69
May 6, 1963 Beverly Samans23
September 8, 1963 Evelyn Corbin58
November 23, 1963 Joann Graff23
January 4, 1964 Mary Sullivan19



Boston Strangler Victims

Boston Strangler Victims

Latest Updates

On July 11, 2013, investigators announced that new tests were done and they have a match that places DeSalvo as being Mary Sullivan’s murderer.

“We may have just solved one of the nation’s most notorious serial killings,” said Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general.

Investigators on the Boston Strangler’s cold case, took DNA samples found on Mary Sullivan’s body and a blanket and they identified a “near-certain” match with Albert DeSalvo. Early attempts to recover usable samples from the blanket failed. So the lab kept the evidence until new technology would improve.

After 5 decades, forensic experts matched the DNA from one of DeSalvo’s nephews. The judge granted permission to exhume Albert DeSalvo’s remains to run further tests. The samples matched. It was clear that DeSalvo was involved in the murder of Mary Sullivan.

But this huge breakthrough only proves that DeSalvo might have killed Mary Sullivan, but not the other victims.

So maybe Albert DeSalvo might have told the truth about him being the Boston Strangler.






Boston Herald