By Brett Peruzzi, Managing Editor
BOSTON – Anyone old enough to remember when the so-called Boston Strangler murders dominated newspaper headlines in the 1960s probably can recall the deep sense of fear they provoked in the public.
From the middle of 1962 to early 1964, 13 women were murdered in the Boston area. They ranged in age from 19 to 85 and all were single. They were strangled to death in their apartments and most were also sexually assaulted, and because of the similarity in the crimes, police believe they were the work of a single killer. Because there were no signs of forced entry, it was also believed that the women willingly let the murderer in, perhaps because they believed he was there to make a repair or perform some other type of service that their apartment required.
New Hulu film gives reporters’ perspective
A new film released in March by the streaming platform Hulu, “Boston Strangler,” has a different take on the Boston Strangler case. It’s told from the perspective of two female reporters at the Boston Record-American newspaper (which later merged with the current Boston Herald). Loretta McLaughlin (played by Keira Knightley) and Jeane Cole (played by Carrie Coon) were the journalists who broke the story about the murders by gathering evidence to connect the crimes. Longtime Massachusetts resident Chris Cooper plays their editor, Jack MacLaine. The two women struggle against the sexism of the era and also put themselves at great risk as they write stories about the case and try to find the killer or killers. It’s a gripping newspaper procedural along the lines of other investigative journalism movies like “All The President’s Men,” “Zodiac,” and “Spotlight.”
In late 1964, a Malden man, Albert DeSalvo, was arrested for sexual assault of a woman after posing as a police officer to get into her home. While being held before his trial at Bridgewater State Hospital, which held the criminally insane, he supposedly confessed to the Boston Strangler murders to a cellmate. Even with his confession, evidence was not strong enough to prosecute him for the murders. He was sentenced to life in prison on other charges and was stabbed to death in prison by a fellow inmate in 1973.
Doubts raised about DeSalvo’s role
The film suggests that the cellmate DeSalvo confessed to, George Nassar, might have been the real Boston Strangler. It indicates that perhaps Nassar coached DeSalvo’s confession with the agreement that his family would be financially taken care of if Nassar was able to collect the reward money being offered for leading to the arrest of the Boston Strangler.
And that perhaps DeSalvo would benefit from a book deal as well.
Another possible suspect was Daniel Marsh, a Harvard dropout who was also held at Bridgewater with DeSalvo. Marsh had dated one of the Strangler’s victims, and years later, when he relocated to Michigan, a series of Strangler-like murders occurred in the Ann Arbor area.
A popular subject
The Boston Strangler case has been the subject of several previous movies, including the 1964 film “The Strangler,” starring Victor Buono, and a 1968 film “The Boston Strangler,” which took many liberties with the true story, featuring Tony Curtis as Albert DeSalvo. And in 2008, another film, “Boston Strangler: The Untold Story,” was released.
The notoriety of the Boston Strangler found its way into pop music as well, with both the song “Dirty Water” by The Standells and “Midnight Rambler” by The Rolling Stones containing references to the state’s most notorious serial killer.