15 Chilling Facts About The Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo

In the modern age, it’s pretty much common sense for people to lock their doors at night no matter where they live. Regardless of how often a given neighborhood gets robbed, sensationalist news stories are constantly reminding us the threat exists just about everywhere in some form or another. Dead-bolting the entrance is just one of many ways people protect themselves from potential outside threats, and another should be taking caution whenever letting a total stranger into their homes.

Amazingly, these very simple concepts used to be unnecessary in America, or at least that what’s Massachusetts residents thought until a man named Albert DeSalvo gave them a horrifying lesson about the truth. While DeSalvo’s name itself might not ring any bells, most people interested in the history of true crime are probably familiar with his better-known alias, "The Boston Strangler." Some journalists at the time also referred to him as the “Phantom Strangler,” due to his evading capture over two years, and his crimes themselves were occasionally called “The Silk Stocking Murders” in reference to his preferred murder weapon.

For many years, the sheer number of victims DeSalvo amassed, plus the fact they had absolutely nothing in common, aside from their gender, lead authorities and media to believe multiple people may have committed these acts, yet DNA evidence has since proved DeSalvo was almost certainly the sole culprit. Of course, the investigators who met DeSalvo personally had a pretty good idea he was guilty long before DNA testing even existed, thanks to the fact he confessed to the crimes in explicit detail. We won’t get that in-depth, but there’s still plenty more to say about the man, so keep reading to learn 15 chilling facts about “The Boston Strangler,” Albert DeSalvo.


15 He Suffered A Deeply Disturbing Childhood

Ultimately, there’s no way to spot serial killers until they start committing their horrific deeds, yet criminal psychologists have come up with a few common traits that could hint at the sort of person who could be driven to murder. From his very early life, Albert DeSalvo hit practically every warning sign there is, beginning with the fact his father Frank was terribly abusive to him, his siblings, and especially their mother, Charlotte. In the worst incidence of abuse we’re aware of, Frank allegedly forced his children to watch as he knocked out his wife’s teeth and then broke each of her fingers, one by one. The emotional trauma involved in an experience such as that could never be quantified, and all anyone can say for sure is that it would obviously have a terrifying impact on a young brain.

14 He Was Arrested More Than Once While Still A Teenager


According to Albert DeSalvo’s attorney, F. Lee Bailey, the future Boston Strangler “was taught to shoplift when he was six years old.” Knowing that most career criminals are bound to worsen with time, this alone goes a long way in explaining how DeSalvo could later become a serial killer. Indeed, the escalation began early and came fast, with DeSalvo torturing animals for fun and going from shoplifting to more serious robbery. Before long, DeSalvo found himself in prison for the first time when he was only 12 years old when he spent two years behind bars on robbery and battery charges. Though released on parole, DeSalvo almost immediately wound up back in jail for another two-year stint, this time for stealing a car. From there, DeSalvo enlisted in the army, presumably to set himself straight, yet the self-imposed lesson, unfortunately, didn’t take effect.

13 He Killed At Least 13 Women Over Two Years

In contrast to every other area of his life, Albert DeSalvo was actually a completely ideal member of the U.S. Army, from a technical standpoint. However, it goes without saying the army has never used him as an example of a soldier being all he could be because not long after he was honorably discharged, his youthful petty crimes became truly deadly for no less than 13 women. Between June 14, 1962 and January 4, 1964, DeSalvo took the lives of 13 Massachusetts residents aged 19 to 85, who, as already stated, had very little in common with one another aside from their gender. Despite the name he's infamously known as, DeSalvo’s crimes were not limited entirely to the city of Boston, his deadly acts also spilling into the nearby towns of Lynn, Lawrence, Cambridge, and Salem, more accurately making him the Massachusetts strangler. That said, not all of his murder victims were strangled, so this name wouldn’t quite do, either.

12 He Murdered His Victims In Their Own Homes


While the Boston Strangler was one of the first true serial killers to strike America during the television age, the idea was hardly new to the world at large. There had already been real-life villains like Jack the Ripper or H.H. Holmes, both of whom also received a decent amount of coverage in the media of their day. However, DeSalvo was perhaps the first genuinely predatory serial killer, as he would hunt down victims in their own homes rather than kidnapping them or simply killing them wherever they met. DeSalvo’s preferred method of entry was posing as a repairman, telling victims he had to fix an air-conditioner of maybe one of those new fangled television sets, and the second those women let their guards down, he would make his attack. Usually, he would rip off the woman’s stockings and use them to strangle her to death, followed by alleged acts of sexual assault. One elderly victim died of a heart attack, presumably through fear, though all others were strangled in some way, as his name implied.

11 He Was Also Involved In A Spree Of Non-Fatal Sexual Assaults

With all due respect to the legal process, it should be pointed out that while most police authorities believe all evidence points to Albert DeSalvo as the Boston Strangler, technically speaking, he was never convicted of any murders in a court of law. DeSalvo did ultimately receive a sentence of life in prison, though it was actually in relation to an entirely separate crime spree he committed, known as the “Green Man” sexual assaults. In these cases, DeSalvo broke into women’s homes to assault and rape them, but they didn’t escalate to murder. Initially, police assumed these assaults were entirely unrelated to the Boston Strangler case until DeSalvo cleared up that confusion after his capture. Previously, DeSalvo had also been known by the alias “Measuring Man,” due to his method of convincing women he worked for a famous modeling agency and would pay them to take their body measurements. Naturally, the pay was higher for nudes. Clothed or not, the false pretenses made it sexual assault, and he spent an unrelated third stint in prison for it before his killings began.

10 His Crime Spree Continued Despite Mass Media Coverage


A menace like the Boston Strangler is terrifying in any era, yet, as already mentioned, early 1960s New England was especially susceptible to such a threat. At that point in history, Americans were more trusting of friendly strangers, willing to let a complete unknown like Albert DeSalvo wander around their homes and/or measure their nude bodies. For this very reason, the news media were absolutely fascinated by the horrific crimes, having truly believed something so terrifying was impossible in civilized society. Both for public service and -- let’s face it -- for public attention, many TV reporters and newspapers placed great focus on telling people to start locking their doors and asking random strangers for ID before letting them in their houses. Strangely, while the Boston Strangler himself was known to be a terrifying menace all women should be on the lookout for, DeSalvo still managed to keep the crime spree going throughout it all. In fact, he later claimed to watch the news coverage about his own actions, saying they often brought him to tears, yet this may have simply been part of his insanity plea.

9 He Confessed To The Crimes In Great Detail

Technically, the Boston Strangler’s murder spree ended on January 4, 1964 when he took the life of 19-year-old Mary Sullivan. However, his kill count very nearly could have extended to 14, or significantly higher, had things gone differently 10 months later on October 27th of the same year. That evening, DeSalvo attempted to assault yet another woman, assaulting her in her home and committing sexual assault before suddenly bursting into tears and running out of the house while repeating, “I’m sorry.” Later that same day, DeSalvo attempted to pull a similar stunt at a house he didn’t realize belonged to a police chief who had taken note of his profile and who immediately became suspicious and arrested the man at his door. Rather than attempt to flee, upon his capture, DeSalvo reportedly exclaimed, “Thank God I’m stopped.” From there, DeSalvo went on to confess to all of the Green Man assaults plus the 13 Boston Strangler murders, filled with details the police had never revealed to the public.


8 His Lawyer Firmly Believed He Was Insane


The way law enforcement deals with serious offenders like Albert DeSalvo has vastly evolved from the time he was tried. After all, DeSalvo was more or less the first criminal of this magnitude America had seen, so the justice system really had no idea how to deal with concepts like severe mental illness. According to DeSalvo’s lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, the man possessed an IQ of around 97 or 98, which today would be considered below average albeit not quite impaired. However, IQ doesn’t affect other mental diseases like schizophrenia, which Bailey also believed his client suffered from. Despite this, state psychiatrists held DeSalvo was competent to stand trial and had no such mental problems. Before anyone goes and thinks it was all a ploy by Bailey to help a killer evade justice, the opposite was, in fact, true -- the lawyer strongly believed his client was guilty but hoped proper observation in a mental care facility could help scientists study how a human can be driven to murder.

7 He Was Sentenced To Life In Prison

For everything this list has stated so far, we have to go back to that shocking fact Albert DeSalvo was never actually charged for his role as the Boston Strangler. Despite his lengthy, in-depth confession, there was never any actual evidence linking him to the crimes, largely due to a lack of forensic science and DNA testing at the time. There were traces of the Strangler at every scene but no way for police to test them yet, and it would be years before technology caught up with them. However, DeSalvo was indeed eyeballed as the Green Man who committed “hundreds” of sexual assaults, and since he left these victims alive, some were able to identify him as their attacker in court. This was more than enough evidence for courts to send him away for life, though it still would have been nice for families of his other victims to have some closure about what he had done.

6 He Briefly Managed To Escape A Mental Hospital


When Albert DeSalvo was captured for his crimes, he exclaimed in relief that he was glad to be caught. Next up came highly detailed confessions about his activities as the Green Man and Boston Strangler, all signs of contrition if not just admissions of guilt. Despite these acts, almost immediately upon his conviction to life in prison, DeSalvo allied with two of his fellow inmates and successfully broke out of the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. DeSalvo was only set to be there for a short evaluation before being transferred to a more serious prison, and he presumably worked fast for this reason. According to DeSalvo’s acquaintances at the time, he only escaped to “assess his situation,” which seems questionable to say the least. In any event, a massive manhunt ensued, and apparently figuring out what that situation was, DeSalvo gave himself up and surrendered to authorities, at which point they transferred him to Walpole State Prison.

5 He Recanted His Confession After Getting Convicted

Police officers tasked with officially closing cases like those of the Boston Strangler don’t simply give up just because the court of public opinion figures the guilty party did it. Regardless of the fact Albert DeSalvo was sitting in jail for life in relation to the Green Man assaults, the Boston Strangler victims still required justice to be levied in their names, and their families are likely to never stop thinking about them. For this reason, one may have expected diligent officers and attorneys to continue pursuing evidence against DeSalvo to eventually convict him as the Boston Strangler as well, especially with a confession on record. However, any such attempts would have been significantly harder after DeSalvo was sentenced because he suddenly changed his previous position on all confessions by officially recanting them. This gave the state absolutely no options until further evidence was found, which would become almost impossible surprisingly fast.

4 He Was Murdered In Prison


Not even other hardened criminals take kindly to men who viciously kill a dozen women in their own homes. On top of that, should rumors start to float about said serial killer selling bad drugs, his life span will dramatically be cut accordingly. Albert DeSalvo found himself faced with both of these issues in Walpole State Prison, eventually causing him to spend most of his time in the infirmary either being treated for injuries or perhaps just as a method of protection. Whatever the case, spending all of his time with prison doctors didn’t save DeSalvo from himself getting murdered, stabbed to death by an assailant who remains unknown to this day. One gang member was tried in the crime, though never convicted. There are plenty of reasons for other inmates to have wanted DeSalvo dead, yet the sheer effort required to get through so many security clearances with a weapon in hand makes it rather shocking his enemies pulled off the job.

3 Police Still Had Doubts For Decades

More than the very important fact forensic technology prevented them from testing DNA found on the scene, police had trouble believing Albert DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler simply because it seemed impossible one man could be such a horrible menace to society. As already mentioned throughout this list, there was nothing connecting DeSalvo’s victims aside from their gender and apparent willingness to let strangers into their home, which has rarely been the case with serial killers before or since. Combined with the fact his crimes extended far out of Boston, authorities doubted one attacker could travel that far while maintaining his crime spree and evading capture. There had also been minor inconsistencies between DeSalvo’s confessions and what police understood to happen, plus some quiet jailhouse whispers suggesting he had been coerced to take the blame for a fellow prisoner.

2 DNA Evidence Eventually Confirmed He Did It


Half a century after the Boston Strangler took the life of his first victim, police were finally able to move parts of the spectacularly cold case firmly into the solved pile. In 2013, DNA evidence and police investigations were at long last able to discover Albert DeSalvo was a biological match for various shreds of evidence found on and inside his last victim. There was some controversy in how the DNA was obtained, yet it nevertheless put an end to a five-decade long mystery and reassured Massachusetts’s police they had made the right decision in locking DeSalvo up. Believe it or not, even this DNA evidence hasn’t been enough to convince absolutely everybody, as many people still adhere to the theory “The Boston Strangler” may have actually been more than one person. In fairness, this is still somewhat possible, as DeSalvo’s DNA was only matched to one victim, and copycat crimes, unfortunately, do exist.

1 The Texas House of Representatives Passed A Resolution Praising Him

Like any article about a vicious serial killer, this look back on “The Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo has been rather intense, so let’s finish things off on a lighter note to help cool everyone down. In 1971, seven years after the Strangler’s crime spree ended and four years after he was sentenced to life in prison, a member of the Texas House of Representatives named Tom Moore, Jr. introduced a resolution to officially honor DeSalvo “for his noted activities and unconventional techniques involving population control and applied psychology.” Only after the legislation unanimously passed did Moore reveal it had been an April Fool’s prank, immediately withdrawing his resolution. According to the Representative, he had successfully attempted to prove a point that Texas lawmakers had entered a terrible habit of neither reading nor properly researching legislation before voting on it. Wait, did we say this was going to end on a lighter note? Because the idea that politicians would honor a guy like this without having any idea what they were doing is almost as scary as the murders.

Sources: New York Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe

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