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The Boston Stranglers: The Public Conviction of Albert Desalvo and the True Story of Eleven Shocking Murders Hardcover – October 1, 1995


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Citadel; First Edition edition (October 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559722983
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559722988
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,706,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Between June 1962 and January 1964, 11 women were found murdered in the greater Boston area, most by strangulation. In 1965, construction worker Albert DeSalvo, already in custody on charges of breaking and entering, armed robbery, unnatural acts and rape, all unrelated to the slayings, confessed that he was the Boston Strangler. Yet in his lengthy confession, he was unable to provide correct details of the crimes. After other lawyers had given up the case, onto the scene came flamboyant attorney F. Lee Bailey. DeSalvo, however, was tried on the prior offenses, found guilty in 1967 and sentenced to life; he was fatally stabbed in his cell in 1973. In beginning her prodigious research for this volume, Kelly (The Gemini Man) talked to local police officers, most of whom were convinced that DeSalvo was not the killer. She offers logical conjectures about some of the other suspects, proceeding on the assumption that several slayers were involved. DeSalvo was never convicted of being the Strangler and all this took place 30 years ago, making one wonder if there is an audience for this book. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From AudioFile

Susan Kelly's thesis is that there was not just one Boston Strangler, but several. She asserts that Albert DeSalvo, already in prison for burglary and sex crimes, confessed to all the murders for the notoriety and the money that would come from a book. There was no physical evidence tying DeSalvo to the killings, and, while there were several other possible suspects, city officials and police were determined to calm a frantic public by quickly naming a killer. Lorna Raver brings an intelligent energy to this nonfiction account. Raver's narration is engrossing as Kelly lays out the gruesome particulars of each of the 13 murders alleged to be the Strangler's. However, as with many true-crime books, too many tedious details detract from the book's forward momentum. S.J.H. © AudioFile 2009, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

More About the Author

Was Albert DeSalvo Really the Boston Strangler?

by Susan Kelly (An updated edition of THE BOSTON STRANGLERS was published in October 2013)

On July 11, 2013, Suffolk (Massachusetts) County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley held a press conference to announce that recent DNA testing indicated that Albert DeSalvo, the long-dead self-styled Boston Strangler, was present at 44A Charles Street in Boston, the scene of the January 4, 1964 murder of 19-year-old Mary Sullivan. The authorities used DNA collected from DeSalvo's nephew--without his knowledge--to make the match; the crime scene DNA was obtained from an apparently semen-stained blanket on which Sullivan's body lay.

DeSalvo's remains were exhumed on July 12, and, on Friday, July 19, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, and Conley released a joint statement saying that testing did indeed verify beyond any reasonable doubt that DeSalvo's DNA had been found at the Sullivan crime scene.

So...does this new physical evidence prove that DeSalvo murdered Sullivan? Has a 49-year-old crime been solved?

First, some back story. In 1995, I wrote a book entitled THE BOSTON STRANGLERS, published in hardcover by Birch Lane Press. It was updated and reprinted in paperback in 2002, and will be published again, with additional new material, this October by Kensington Books. In THE BOSTON STRANGLERS, I argue that DeSalvo most likely wasn't the serial killer he claimed to be, and that the eleven deaths that came to be attributed to a single Boston strangler were probably committed by other individuals motivated by their own pathologies. The information I used in the book came directly from the case files compiled by law enforcement (consisting of initial incident and investigation reports, forensic data, crime scene photos, suspect interviews, and autopsy protocols) and from extensive interviews I did with the surviving police investigators, surviving witnesses, DeSalvo's attorneys, and the forensic psychiatrist who examined him.

In January 1965, when DeSalvo began hinting he was the Strangler, he was incarcerated at Bridgewater State Hospital, a facility for the criminally insane. He told his then-lawyer, Jon Asgeirsson, that he had gagged Mary Sullivan, put a sweater over her head, had intercourse with her, and left a knife on the bed. None of this, according to the police reports, was true. Nor, according to forensic tests done in 1964, did the white stains on the blanket contain spermatozoa.

During the initial investigation into the Sullivan murder, a very good suspect emerged, one who was acquainted with the three young women who lived at 44A Charles Street. He had access to their apartment; he was the boyfriend of one of the roommates. On January 2, he was introduced to Mary, who had moved into the apartment the previous day.

In December 1964, eleven months after the Sullivan murder, this person was administered a polygraph test. These were its results:

"Based on the examinations conducted, it is the considered opinion of this examiner that [name of suspect]:

1. Is not telling the truth concerning the extent of his knowledge and/or involvement in the death of MARY SULLIVAN.

2. Cannot be eliminated from this investigation. It would be no surprise to this investigator if [name of suspect] turns out to be the person who caused SULLIVAN'S death.

Note: The charts were examined by other examiners...who confirmed the findings as outlined in the report."

The suspect in question wasn't Albert DeSalvo--whose name never arose during the investigations of any of the murders, despite the fact that he had a record from 1961 as a sex offender. In one of the goofier cons ever devised, he'd introduce himself to Boston-area young women as "Mr. Johnson," a representative of the Black and White Modeling Agency (no such outfit existed), and ask to take their measurements. Having done so, he'd depart, telling his victims that someone from the agency would be "in touch." Arrested in Cambridge on March 17, 1961 on a breaking and entering charge, he cheerfully volunteered to the police an account of his activities as a phony modeling scout, which earned him the nickname of The Measuring Man. He injured none of his victims beyond taking their measurements. Some of them said they found him rather appealing. One Cambridge detective told me that it looked as if they were running the Miss Universe pageant at the front desk.

The investigation into the Strangler murders was taken over by the Massachusetts Attorney General's office on January 17, 1964. In the summer of 1965, Assistant Attorney General John Bottomly took Desalvo's confession. So rife was it with errors that even Bottomly claimed to put not much credence in it. In one instance, DeSalvo claimed to have thrown the knife he used to murder the victim into a swamp; the police found it in her kitchen. In another, he claimed to have slain a woman in her apartment at a time when she not only wasn't at home, she was sitting in a local park with a friend. He reiterated as fact incorrect information taken from newspaper articles. DeSalvo did get some details of the crime scenes right--but Bottomly helpfully showed him assorted crime scene photos prior to asking him about the crimes when the narrative Albert was spinning began to flag. THE BOSTON STRANGLERS provides a full account of all the discrepancies.

DeSalvo was never charged with any of the murders; there was no physical evidence (at the time) nor any eyewitness testimony to support charges against him. (There were also excellent suspects in all of the murders.) DeSalvo's confession was useless. No further murders attributed to the Strangler occurred in the wake of Sullivan's death. Ten months after that, however, DeSalvo was arrested in Cambridge and, at his two arraignments in the Third District Court on November 3 and 6, 1964, charged with breaking and entering in the daytime and "unnatural acts," meaning oral sex performed upon the victims. For these crimes, he earned himself the sobriquet of The Green Man; he had worn a green work uniform while committing them. The victims were four Boston-area women, all of whom endured horrific experiences but emerged from them with no permanent injury. And so DeSalvo ended up being ordered by the judge to Bridgewater, where he met and became friendly with several inmates who were suspects in the Strangler murders.

DeSalvo's trial on the felony charges began in January 1967 and ended with a conviction. He was sentenced to life in prison, largely because his lawyer argued that he was the Boston Strangler, a ploy to get DeSalvo sent to a mental institution. It was a ploy that backfired rather badly. DeSalvo was stabbed to death in the infirmary of Walpole State Prison (now MCI-Cedar Junction) in November 1973. No one was ever charged with his murder. The Strangler murders themselves remained officially unsolved. And there the matter rested for over two decades.

On July 9, 1999, a front-page story in The Boston Globe reported that the Boston Police Department had announced it was searching for DNA evidence to establish whether Albert DeSalvo had actually committed any of the murders that had terrorized eastern Massachusetts over thirty years before. The probe had actually begun in the summer of 1998, when the BPD's Cold Case Squad examined 14 boxes of evidence taken from the scenes of the crimes. "The Strangler case is one of the most notorious in the country," said Captain Timothy Murray to the Globe. As of July 9, 1999, the police had been unable to locate some of the physical evidence known to have preserved. Among these items were semen samples taken from some of the victims as well as the knife used to stab DeSalvo.

By November 1999, however, the Cold Case Squad had lost enthusiasm for the project. A BPD spokesman for the Boston Herald that "There is no biological evidence (from the women) that could give us a suspect. Things (evidence) get contaminated if you leave them out in the air."

On May 11, 2000, the relatives of Mary Sullivan and Albert DeSalvo, represented by attorneys Elaine Whitfield Sharp and Daniel Sharp, held a press conference in Boston to announce their intent to reopen the Sullivan homicide case. The goal, as Elaine Sharp explained to the media, was to exonerate Albert DeSalvo and, ideally, establish the identity of Mary's killer if, as they believed, it wasn't DeSalvo.

On May 12, 2000, the Boston Police Department issued the following statement: "Due to the passage of time, the deterioration of the evidence, and the likelihood that successful testing cannot be performed on the evidence which remains in Boston Police custody, the Boston Police Department has declined to participate in further investigation into the Boston Strangler case."

In October 2000 the Sullivan family had Mary's remains exhumed and re-autopsied. Sixty-eight samples of hair, tissue, and possible semen were removed from the body. DeSalvo had said he'd struck Mary over the head; the pathologist found no trauma to her skull. DeSalvo had also claimed he'd strangled Mary manually. If he had, her hyoid bone would have been fractured. It was not--a fact that had been established in the first autopsy done in 1964.

On February 29, 2001, then Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly announced that DNA evidence testing done in the Sullivan case had been "non-productive."

On October 26, 2001, DeSalvo's corpse was exhumed. Present were Albert's brother Richard and his wife Rosalie, their son Timothy, and Elaine Sharp. So was I. The casket containing DeSalvo's remains was transported to York College of Pennsylvania, where an autopsy would be performed by Dr. Michael Baden, who had also re-autopsied Mary Sullivan. Professor James Starrs of George Washington University, who had initially contacted Elaine Sharp about the possibility of exhuming DeSalvo and testing the remains, had arranged for a team of experts to assist: among them an anthropologist, medical examiners, forensic specialists, an odontologist, an entomologist, a radiologist, videographers, and a second pathologist. The autopsy took eight hours. I watched from another room.

On December 6, 2001, James Starrs held a press conference in Washington, D.C. With Starrs were Michael Baden and George Washington University Professor David Foran, who had done the testing of the nuclear DNA retrieved from DeSalvo's remains and the samples taken from Sullivan's body. Baden outlined the discrepancies in Albert DeSalvo's confession to the murder of Mary Sullivan. Foran's test results showed the presence of two different DNA samples, one taken from Mary's pubic area and the other from the underwear put on her in the funeral home. Neither matched the DNA of Albert DeSalvo.

It has been established that DeSalvo was in Mary Sullivan's apartment--or that his DNA was found on the blanket. But has it been established that he was there at the time of her death? Does it prove he killed her? I'm not at all sure. There are still many indications otherwise.

In the first place, the presence of DNA at a crime scene, while very persuasive evidence, does not necessarily prove culpability. Recall that the foreign DNA found on Sullivan's body did not match DeSalvo's DNA, which is unique to an individual. And the young women who lived at 44A Charles Street had, according contemporary police reports, a large number of male visitors during the days and evenings between January 1 and January 3, all of whom left traces of themselves on the premises. (As I type this, I'm depositing my DNA on the keyboard.) Yet--except for the original prime suspect--those young men are not considered likely perpetrators. It's possible DeSalvo was intimate in some way with Mary Sullivan. He might have ejaculated onto the blanket (though the absence of sperm on the blanket is problematic); he masturbated to climax in the presence of a victim during one of the Green Man felonies. He also didn't kill any of those women.

Which raises another point: The murder of Mary Sullivan was an unusually cruel and sadistic one--a broomstick had been shoved into her vagina, and a greeting card, clearly left there to taunt whoever discovered Mary's body, propped up against her foot. Does a serial killer vicious enough to do such a thing then return to sexually assaulting women (fondling them and kissing their breasts and pubic areas) but otherwise leaving them unharmed? But that was DeSalvo's M.O. in the summer and fall of 1964, months after the Sullivan murder, when he was committing the Green Man offenses.

He even agreed with one of his Green Man victims that his mother would be ashamed of him if she could see what he was doing.

Were the stranglings even serial killings? I have argued extensively in THE BOSTON STRANGLERS that they were not. The crimes don't fit the pattern of what we now know to be characteristic of serial killings. (The term didn't even exist in 1964.)Serial killers pick a victim type and an M.O. and stick to both. Not so in the strangling cases. Here, the victims were young, old, and middle-aged. One was African-American. The methods of killing were disparate; one was stabbed to death. Some of the murders were sadistic, or ritualistic, and others weren't. One victim looked as if she'd been tucked sweetly into bed by a lover--which in fact she probably had been, after he'd disposed of the inconvenient (because he was married) woman she was. And, in any case, there were, as I have said, excellent suspects in all the murders. The person who told the Cambridge police he murdered Beverly Samans in May 1963 provided a much more accurate confession to the murder than did DeSalvo. (This man escaped prosecution through a judicial glitch, and later died in a diving accident.) Another woman was most likely killed by her married boss, whom she was pressuring for a commitment because he'd impregnated her. This man, eager to deflect police scrutiny, tried to blame the murder on his own son. To their credit, the police dismissed this accusation as the vile nonsense it was.

So why did DeSalvo confess to being the Strangler if he wasn't? Three reasons: His lawyer had convinced him that when (not if) he was convicted of the Green Man charges, he'd be sentenced to life in prison. If he confessed to being a crazed serial strangler, however, he might be lucky enough to end up in a somewhat nicer mental institution. And doctors from all over the world would come to observe him.

DeSalvo was also motivated by money; he had been told that he could make a great sum from the sale of his life story, money that could be used to support his wife and two children while he was spending life behind bars.

His third reason for confessing was less selfless--he was a hopeless braggart who desperately wanted to be famous, even if it was for being a monster. He once boasted to forensic psychiatrist Ames Robey that he'd bedded (or chaired, or tabled, or floored, or couched, or kitchen-countered) 2000 women. Robey in 1992 told me that he recalled wondering how DeSalvo had found the time.

And, of course, DeSalvo really liked the idea of being the object of study for doctors from around the world, receiving them in the suite he was led to believe he'd be accorded at Johns Hopkins.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts says that it no longer has biological evidence in any of the cases except Sullivan's, and so will not try to establish a link between DeSalvo and the murders that preceded Mary's.

It's puzzling that the authorities chose to obtain surreptitiously DNA from Albert DeSalvo's nephew Timothy when Richard DeSalvo, Albert's brother, had repeatedly offered to provide them with samples. It's equally puzzling that they chose not to take Albert's DNA from the knife used to kill him, given that the weapon has been in police custody all this time.

So was DeSalvo--by anyone's reckoning a bad man--the murderer of Mary Sullivan and ten other women? Let me end by asking this: How could a criminal so inept as to be busted twice (before and after the Strangler murders) for daytime breaking and entering be clever enough to mastermind and commit eleven serial killings and get away with them not only scot-free but totally unsuspected of them before he decided to "confess"?

Copyright 2013 by Susan Kelly. All rights reserved.

Susan Kelly is the author of the non-fiction book The Boston Stranglers and of the novels The Gemini Man, The Summertime Soldiers, Trail of the Dragon, Until Proven Innocent, And Soon I'll Come to Kill You, and Out of the Darkness. The Gemini Man was nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Her articles on a variety of subjects have been published in The Writer, the African American Review, Folklore, and the Japanese edition of Penthouse. She has been a consultant to the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Training Council, and taught report writing at the Cambridge (Ma) Police Academy. She has also taught at the Harvard Business School, Tufts University, and Hampshire College. Her website is: www.susankellywriter.com.

A new edition of The Boston Stranglers will be published by Kensington Books in October 2013.

Customer Reviews

If it can't, I hope the book will soon be reissued and properly publicised.
S. Lewis
I am impressed by the research involved, and by the wealth of detail that never bogs down the reader, but rather keeps us turning pages.
Josefa M. Wrangham
I read a number of books about this subject, and this is one of the best written.
Gwen Rutherton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By S. Lewis on August 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have just acquired a copy of this book from a second-hand bookseller, and am astonished to find that it's out of print and there has apparently never been a paperback edition. I followed the Strangler case as each new murder was reported in the UK press, and it remains the archetypal horror story for me because it proves conclusively that one isn't safe even (above all) at home. I also read Gerold Frank's account of the affair very soon after it was published in the UK and re-read it last year; I have the "confessions of the Boston Strangler" in French translation.I have never been even half-way convinced that DeSalvo was guilty, and I always doubted that only one killer was involved. (The "psychological explanation" cited by Frank as to why the killer suddenly switched from older to younger women struck me as perfectly ludicrous 30 years ago, and many recent books on profiling have merely strengthened this view).
It would be easy enough to write a book which simply challenged the official solution, but that is not what Susan Kelly does. She provides overwhelming evidence not only to demolish it, but also to explain how and why it came about in the first place. This is a book with an index, a bibliography, acknowledgments which help the reader by indicating the author's sources (most acknowledgments seem only to explain who made the coffee and watered the plants while a book was being written) and careful indications of when exact quotations from transcripts are being used. It assumes no previous knowledge of the case or the "cast", and its procedural details are much clearer than Frank's. Also, Susan Kelly is literate, and she has a dry, ironic sense of humour.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 20, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is obviously extremely well researched, and the narrative is easy to read, but only 100 pages into it I am finding it necessary to make my own lists, timelines, and charts to keep track of the players and events. She failed to provide any, even though she introduces multiple threads. She discusses at least three sets of victims (DeSalvo's, Nassar's, and the Boston Stranglers'); several players at several levels of police, judicial, and political jurisdictions; several attorneys, and several different political factors, including cross-jurisdictional squabbles and who gets what kind of publicity. Nevertheless, the reader is given no tie-backs to help keep all of those straight, including which names belong to which set of victims or law enforcement agency, even though 50 pages and multiple other players frequently separate references to specific individuals or significant factors.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Josefa M. Wrangham on April 11, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I very much enjoyed this extremely well-researched, suspense-filled account of the saga of Albert De Salvo. The writing is marvellous - one forgets that this is non-fiction, as it runs as smoothly as a novel from evidence to evidence and crime to crime. It really reads like a superb piece of detective fiction. I am impressed by the research involved, and by the wealth of detail that never bogs down the reader, but rather keeps us turning pages. The "Update" is particularly interesting, as it combines a suspenseful journey with gruesome detail and real hillarity. This is a standout in the works of true crime.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Wilt on November 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I, for one, was one of those who thought Albert DeSalvo was guilty. I reached this conclusion after watching the movie many years ago and reading Gerold Frank's book. Over the years, I had heard that Albert may not have been guilty after all. After reading this book, I am convinced that Albert never was the actual Boston Strangler.

Kelly lays out the proof from court transcripts and interviews many of the detectives that originally investigated the case. The evidence she presents is quite convincing that others had firm motives for being the Boston Strangler.

The only bad part of the book, which almost caused me to give up reading it, was Kelly's over-reliance on court transcripts. In some chapters, she goes on and on with quoted court transcripts that become boring to read really quickly! The book would have been much better if she had summarized the proceedings instead on relying on court transcipts.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J.L. Populist on May 29, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Susan Kelly has produced a very thoroughly researched and documented book on the subject of the Boston Strangler case of the early 60's.

The Preface tells of the circumstance that led to the author's interest in the case.

She describes the political and public pressure to solve these cases. The media distortion was a major problem.

The author frequently references books by Gerald Frank and F.Lee Bailey as well as numerous newspaper articles.

A few things brought up in this book make a very strong case that Albert DeSalvo wasn't the strangler. His confession in it's entirety would have exonerated him. There is evidence strongly suggesting that some of these cases weren't even related by M.O. or victim type.
DeSalvo was the "Green Man" guilty of sexual assault but the leap from that to the Strangler was tenuous at best.

Susan Kelly makes a strong argument that Albert Desalvo was looking for fame for himself and financial security for his family. He was offered a chance at both by one of his attorneys and he was no doubt coached by nore than a few people, one being the man that killed some of the "Bostan Strangler" victims. Another factor was that details were published in the newspapers regularly. A casual reader could pick up enough information to make a more compelling confession than DeSalvo did on some of the cases.

The author examines some of the prominent suspects known to be in the areas of the killings, as well as information on the victims, their actions and crime scene details.

"The Boston Stranglers" is an excellent book on the subject and characters involved. It is well written and I highly recommend it.
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