The Boston Strangler was known by a few other names at the time of his crimes. He was also The Mad Strangler of Boston, the Phantom Strangler, the Phantom Fiend, The Green Man, and The Measuring Man. Even if you had never heard of him before just now, looking at his long list of nicknames, you would have to guess that he was probably not a very nice chap.
In fact, he was a serial killer that terrorized Boston in the 1960s. True to his name, he strangled women to death – with 13 thought to be his victims. There has been some speculation about this during the years, but first we’ll give you the story as the official record tells it.
Between 1962 and 1964, one man murdered 13 women by getting into their homes and attacking them. Albert DeSalvo was the man who admitted to the crimes, with DNA evidence also linking him to one of the victims. Unfortunately, everything we know about him so far is all that we will ever know, as he was stabbed to death in prison at the age of 42. He had been sentenced to life in prison, and he died only 6 years later.
You might have seen a film based on the events, as there are several of them – and a couple of books too. But sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, as we are about to discover. These 15 chilling facts about the Boston Strangler will bring a whole new light to the case for you.
15. He Used Their Own Clothing
It’s pretty terrifying to imagine being strangled to death in your own home, where you would think that you were safe. It’s even worse when you learn that many of the women were assaulted or raped before their deaths. But what is really chilling about the cases is that the Strangler didn’t even bring his own murder weapons with him to the crimes. He actually used items that the women were wearing in most of the cases. His first victim, Anna E. Slesers, was strangled to death with the belt from her own bathrobe. After that, 9 more victims were strangled with their own nylon stockings. Anyone who has worn nylons is probably surprised to learn that they would be strong enough to strangle someone with, since you can often put a finger right through them just when putting them on! That’s why it must have been even more horrifying to find them around your neck, preventing you from ever taking another breath.
14. He Was Allowed In
None of the cases attributed to the Boston Strangler had any sign of forced entry into the homes, despite the fact that the women were killed in their own living quarters. What this meant was that they had to have trusted him enough to let him in. At first, leading theories were that he might have been a maintenance man, a delivery man, or some kind of other service provider. Around this time, women started to become more wary about letting strangers into their homes. When he was finally caught, DeSalvo admitted using lots of methods to gain entry. On one occasion he pretended to be a detective; on another, that his car had broken down and he was in need of help. It’s chilling to think that he could have been trusted, or even taken pity on, before murdering his victims. In their last moments they would have realized beyond a doubt that he had tricked them.
13. His Victims Had No Profile And Neither Did He
Besides the fact that all of the victims were women who lived around Boston, there was no link between any of them. There was no clear profile for a victim that the Boston Strangler sought out. It’s thought that he was more of an opportunist who simply saw a window and took it. This is just terrifying, because you would never know if you were in danger of becoming his next victim. The youngest woman that he killed was 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, while the oldest was 85-year-old Mary Mullen. Mullen was so frail that she actually had a heart attack when DeSalvo grabbed hold of her, so he never even had to strangle her. His other victims were aged 20, 23, 55, 58, 67, 68, 69, and 75 years. He attacked in Back Bay, Lynn, Beacon Hill, Dorchester, Lawrence, Cambridge, and Salem, as well as plenty of major Boston roads. There was no pattern to his crimes at all. He even struck at different times of year and of month, with different gaps of time between each.
12. He Was Never Charged
There was never any physical evidence to link DeSalvo to the crimes until much later on. Because of this, he was charged for different crimes and sentenced for those. He was first put in jail for the rape of a young woman in 1964, and whilst there, he confessed himself to be the Strangler to another inmate. George Nassar was the criminal who then reported the confession, which allowed the police to speak to him. While his confession had some inconsistencies, they could at least bring him up on charges for some robberies and assaults which had happened earlier. He was then known as The Green Man and The Measuring Man. His confession was used in the trial as an attempt to bring an insanity verdict, but the judge ruled it to be inadmissible and DeSalvo was simply jailed for his earlier attacks. He was never officially found guilty of being the Strangler.
11. He Escaped From Prison
What’s more terrifying than a serial killer who has been caught and put in prison? A serial killer who has escaped. In February 1967, DeSalvo and two other inmates escaped from Bridgewater State Hospital. He left a note on his bunk to the superintendent, in which he explained that he had planned the escape to draw attention to the conditions in the hospital. He then disguised himself as a US Navy Petty Officer Third Class, and seemed to make it pretty well away despite the full-scale manhunt after him. The next day he actually gave himself up. He was sent to the Walpole State Prison as a result, under maximum security conditions. These were apparently not strong enough to prevent him from being stabbed to death in the infirmary – it was never discovered by whom. It’s crazy to think that he got out and then just gave himself up – as if he was simply demonstrating that he could escape whenever he wanted to.
10. He May Not Have Been Alone
Many people over the years have speculated that there was more than one killer behind the mysterious Boston Strangler. This is because of the hugely diverse profiles of the victims, as well as the fact that only some were assaulted or raped. There’s also a question because two victims were stabbed instead of being strangled, and DeSalvo himself gave incorrect details when describing some of the crimes. Most profilers agreed that there could not possibly be just one perpetrator, and indeed many of the lawyers and agents or police offers involved with the case felt it could not have been done by a single person. There were lots of doubts about whether he was the true killer of Mary Sullivan because of the reasons listed here. Those were mostly put to rest in 2013, however, when a DNA sample from his nephew revealed conclusively that his semen was in her room. It’s possible that DeSalvo was simply more than a little unhinged, leaving him to attack at random and to muddle up the details when confessing.
9. He Had A Troubled Family History
It’s an under-exaggeration to say that DeSalvo didn’t have the happiest of lives when he was growing up. His parents were of Irish and Italian ancestry, and they weren’t exactly well off. His father was also a very violent man, something that DeSalvo would have witnessed from an early age. It is thought, though not confirmed, that his father once knocked out all of his mother’s teeth. Some sources also suggest that his father forced his children to watch him sleeping with prostitutes. If this is true, then it would explain where some of his violent urges came from, as well as his urge to assault women. Seeing the different prostitutes, as well as the aging mother figure throughout his life, could also explain why he did not discriminate on age when choosing his victims. Not every troubled or broken home produces serial killers, but if these impulses were learned at an early age, it would be easy for them to develop from fantasy into action in adulthood.
8. He Had Early Brushes With The Law
Early in his life, DeSalvo also started to get a reputation for being a troublemaker. He was first arrested at the age of just 12. He had been involved in battery and robbery – beating someone up to steal from them. It’s shocking to think that a young boy of 12 could be involved in such a crime. Not only that, but the system failed him, as he went on to re-offend so many times and was in and out of prison for his whole life. It is also said that he tortured animals when he was a child. This would certainly fit with his profile, and would be a key stage in his development. He would have copied the violent behaviour he saw and developed his own by practicing with animals, before graduating on to humans.
7. He Was A Soldier
It’s terrifying to think that DeSalvo conned his way into the homes of women by pretending to be an authority figure – but it’s even worse when you know that at one time, he actually was. He did two sentences in a juvenile detention centre before deciding to join the army. He was a soldier for a full tour of duty before he was accused of disobeying orders and discharged. He then re-enlisted, was brought up before a court martial, and was honourably discharged for the second time. If you saw a soldier in his uniform, you might think that this was someone you could trust. Instead, he was a serial killer, and perhaps only enlisted to learn the art of killing and get the chance to satisfy his urges on the enemy. Someone with these kind of mental problems is the last person that you would actually want to have in the army.
6. He Was Married (And A Father)
When we think about psychopaths and serial killers, we tend to imagine a loner who creeps out everyone that he meets. But that’s often just not the case. For Albert DeSalvo, he even married to make a woman fall in love with him to the extent that they got married. German Irmgard Beck became his wife after he was discharged from the army and they had one child together almost immediately. Sadly, this child was born handicapped. DeSalvo was obsessed with getting Irmgard into bed on a regular basis, but after their first birth, she was terrified of having a second handicapped child. She therefore tried to avoid his advances as much as possible. As we know, this didn’t stop him from getting his rocks off – he just had to go elsewhere to satisfy his needs.
5. He May Have Attacked Young To Change His Profile
One interesting thing about the changing victims of the Boston Strangler is his potential motivation for deciding to start attacking younger women. Most of the women he attacked early on were older, between 55 and 85 years old. That prompted the Boston chief of police to put his detectives on the case, looking for what they described as a ‘mother killer’. But in the months following this, DeSalvo killed his first 23-year-old victim, changing the age range dramatically. Did he change his MO to avoid suspicion? To create the idea that there may have been more than one killer? Or simply because he didn’t like the fact that he was being described as only interested in killing older women? It’s a shame that we will never be able to ask him, and try to find out more about the workings of this killer mind. One thing is for sure – the rapid change startled police and made their efforts that much harder.
4. He Was Used As A Political Practical Joke
Serial killing is no light matter, and certainly not something that we find funny. Particularly when it is done in such a horrible way, combined with assaults and rapes, it shouldn’t be used as a punchline at all. But one politician, Tom Moore Jr., had other ideas. He was serving as a member of the Texas House of Representatives in 1971 when he decided to put together a practical joke for April Fool’s Day. He claimed that most of the representatives didn’t bother reading the legislation that they were voting on, so he put forth some legislation about the Boston Strangler. It read: “This compassionate gentleman’s dedication and devotion to his work has enabled the weak and the lonely throughout the nation to achieve and maintain a new degree of concern for their future. He has been officially recognized by the state of Massachusetts for his noted activities and unconventional techniques involving population control and applied psychology.” It passed unanimously, proving his point.
3. He Had Secrets To Tell
This will send a shiver right up your spine. It was in November 1973 that DeSalvo was stabbed to death, in Walpole State Prison. The day before his death he had placed a phone call to Dr. Ames Robey. Dr. Robey was a forensic psychologist who was known to DeSalvo. In his call, he sounded frantic, and instructed the doctor to come and visit him immediately. He also demanded that he bring a reporter along with him. The doctor was not able to come to him right away, and before he could schedule a meeting for the next day, DeSalvo was found dead in the middle of the night. It has been speculated that DeSalvo was going to tell the truth about the Boston Strangler murders. What if he was about to reveal that he wasn’t the perpetrator of all of the attacks – but to tell them who was?
2. He Was An Egomaniac
One of the problems with the confession that DeSalvo gave was the theory that he would have confessed to just about anything if it gave him enough notoriety. He was an egomaniac who wanted people to believe he was far more vicious and calculating than he was, and criminal profilers have argued that his profile fits exactly with someone who would lie and claim ownership of crimes that they did not commit. Indeed, there was also some confusion over his identification. Gertrude Gruen was the one woman who survived an attack by the Strangler. After his confession, she was brought in to ID him. She did not think DeSalvo was her attacker, but when she saw his cellmate, George Nassar, she felt “something upsetting, something frighteningly familiar about that man.” Could it be that Nassar told DeSalvo about the crimes in detail and then allowed him to confess in his place? Perhaps the last murder of Mary Sullivan was nothing more than a copycat crime, the only one which DeSalvo was responsible for.
1. He Posed His Victims
The most chilling detail about the Boston Strangler has to be the way that he treated the victims, and laid them out to be found. Though he did not rape all of them personally, those who were assaulted were often attacked with foreign objects, such as a broom handle. He would then lay them out fully naked, “as if on display for a pornographic snapshot”, according to one report. The item used to strangle his victim would be left around their neck – and not just left there casually, but actually tied up into an exaggerated bow. This ornamental tie could have represented the idea of leaving them as a present to be found. It’s spine-chilling to think of him carefully arranging his victims just so, the final indignity after he had taken their lives from them. It’s also awful to imagine the loved ones and family members who would have discovered their bodies, presented in such a fashion.