The Boston Strangler (Serial Killer Biography)

It’s not uncommon for young women today to feel nervous about letting a strange man into their home. Even if they were the ones to schedule a maintenance appointment or delivery from a restaurant, most women take some sort of precautions when alone in their homes with a stranger. Maybe they call a friend to let them know that someone is coming over, or they’ll have someone else in their home with them at the time of the delivery. 

Sure, taking these precautions may seem dramatic or distrusting, but It’s cases like that of the Boston Strangler that make this fear so legitimate and lingering, even decades later. 

Between the years 1962 and 1964, the Boston Strangler entered womens’ homes, sexually assaulting them and killing them mostly through strangulation. The identify of the Boston Strangler is not officially known, but if the Boston Strangler is the most likely criminal (Albert DeSalvo,) than the Boston Strangler had been committing crimes against women in a similar manner long before he became “the Boston Strangler.” This case isn’t something to listen to before you get a delivery or your cable box installed! 

About Albert DeSalvo

Albert DeSalvo was born on September 3, 1931 to an abusive father and mother. He didn’t have a happy childhood. DeSalvo’s father violently knocked out his wife’s teeth and had sex with sex workers in front of his children. He also allegedly sold three of his children, although this story from Albert DeSalvo may be one of the many lies that he became known for telling. 

As a child, Albert DeSalvo displayed one of the most common signs of a future serial killer: he was violent toward animals. But the targets of his violence quickly turned from humans to animals.

The first time DeSalvo was arrested for assault, he was 12 years old. A month after his sentencing, he was arrested again and sent to an alternative program for boys. Months after, he was paroled and sent back to live with his mother and his mother’s new husband. At first, this second husband appeared to be a welcome alternative to DeSalvo’s father and Albert’s behavior improved, but within a few years, he too began to display abusive behavior toward his wife and children.  

At 15, Albert was sent back to the alternative program after stealing a motor vehicle. Once again, he was paroled after a few months, had a streak of good behavior, and this time joined the military. Eventually, he was court-martialed, but he was released on honorable discharge. 

Breaking and Entering 

In 1954, a woman in New Jersey called the local police about a man who had entered her home the day before. The man, later identified as Albert DeSalvo, claimed that he had seen a prowler in the neighborhood and wanted to check things out. He did not assault the woman, but the incident was bizarre enough. The police didn’t arrest DeSalvo after hearing his reasoning for the “visit.” 

A year later, DeSalvo entered the home of a nine-year-old girl and sexually molested her. Although he was identified and arrested for the crime, he was released on $1,000 bail. Historians believe that this is the only case of DeSalvo molesting a child. A few months after this incident, Albert DeSalvo’s wife birthed a child with a physical disability.

DeSalvo decided that he needed a new start, and the family moved to Massachusetts. A year later, in 1958, he was arrested three times for breaking and entering. He was 27 years old at the time, and told the judge in one case that his crimes were done to support his wife and child. After both arrests, DeSalvo was given a suspended sentence that he did not have to serve.  

During a trip in Germany with his wife, DeSalvo tried out a scheme involving a modeling contest as a way to seduce women. Thus would begin a long list of break-ins attributed to Albert DeSalvo, known as “the Measuring Man,” “the Green Man,” and to many, “The Boston Strangler.” 

The Measuring Man and the Boston Strangler

DeSalvo’s reputation as “the Measuring Man” began in 1960. DeSalvo would arrive at a young college student’s home, posing as a modeling scout. He told these women that he was looking for new models and wanted to take their measurements. When the women allowed him to measure them, he would fondle them and molest them. 

The next year, he was arrested for breaking and entering and confessed to the Measuring Man incidents. The police hadn’t even been looking for him at the time of the arrest - he just offered up the confession on his own. He seemed to gain a lot of pleasure from tricking women and getting away with these sexual assaults. DeSalvo was eventually imprisoned for breaking and entering and sentenced to two years behind bars. But after pleading with a judge with the same story about providing for his wife and children, DeSalvo’s sentence was shortened to 18 months. He was released after 11 months on good behavior in 1962 when the Boston Strangler cases began. 

The first Boston Strangler murder took place on June 14th, 1962. Anna Slesers was a 55-year-old seamstress. She had been waiting for her son to pick her up when she was murdered. When her son arrived, he found the door locked and had to ram the door open. Anna had been splayed out on the floor, and her belt was tied around her neck. 

Two weeks later, 85-year-old Mary Mullen was killed. Two days after that, two women in their 60s were killed. 

At this point, Boston police believed they had a serial killer on the loose. They gave women in the city of Boston a specific number to call in order to report any crimes and ordered police to take a good look at all of the men who had been reported for sex crimes in the past few years. In a strange twist of luck or fate, Albert DeSalvo wasn’t one of these people. Although he had been charged with breaking and entering, he was never formally charged with any sort of sex crimes at the time of the Boston Strangler killings. As the investigation for the Boston Strangler case continued, more women continued to die at his hands. 

The Boston Strangler sexually assaulted and killed 13 women total from June 14th, 1962 to January 4th, 1964. There were many similarities between these crimes: the victims would be found, strangled to death, with the instrument of strangulation still tied around their necks. Whether the instrument was a bow or a belt, the strangler often tied the item in a bow, as if to dress up the instrument. Victims were often splayed out on the floor, nude. In only one case did the Boston Strangler use a knife to kill his victim. 

By the end of 1964, 11 of those victims were identified as linked to the Boston Strangler case. And even though DeSalvo has “confessed” to these crimes, the identity of the Boston Strangler has never been fully confirmed by the police. 

Green Man Rapes and Arrest

On May 6th 1964, Albert DeSalvo sexually assaulted four women in their homes on the same day. This was almost five months after the last Boston Strangler victim was found dead in her home. All of the women who were sexually assaulted by DeSalvo survived the incident. They described a man who posed as a maintenance man wearing green pants. The case was named “the Green Man” case. This case was tied back to the “Measuring Man” case. 

In October 1964, DeSalvo struck again. He entered a woman’s home posing as a police officer, sexually assaulting her, and left. The woman not only survived the incident, but she was also able to identify DeSalvo as the criminal. When his picture was published in the paper, multiple women came forward to identify him as the perpetrator in other cases, including the Green Man cases. 

Throughout the identification of DeSalvo as the Green Man, police didn’t link him to the Boston Strangler case. But that wouldn’t last for long. 

DeSalvo’s Confession

DeSalvo was sentenced to imprisonment at Bridgewater State Hospital. Here, he met George Nassar, a man who was also admitted to the hospital for paranoid schizophrenia. The interaction between these two men leads a lot of people to question whether or not DeSalvo actually is the Boston Strangler. Some believe that DeSalvo simply confessed to Nassar. Others believe that a plot was hatched between the two to confess and share the reward money with their families. (A $10,000 reward was offered by police for any information that would lead to any one of the Boston Strangler victims. That was a pretty hefty sum to confess to all of them.) Was DeSalvo really the Boston Strangler? Was Nassar? 

Regardless of the conversations between Nassar and DeSalvo, Nassar contacted his lawyer and asked him to represent DeSanto. 

In 1965, while still in custody, DeSalvo started to confess to hundreds of break-ins, sexual assaults, and crimes. He claimed that he had sex with over 2,000 women, and would sexually assault three to four women in the same day often. Did this mean that he did complete over 800 break-ins throughout the Boston area? It’s hard to tell. Most serial killers, from the Zodiac Killer to Ted Bundy, say that they’ve killed more people than they can be linked to. This exaggeration from DeSalvo, who psychiatrists believed was a paranoid schizophrenic and psychopath, is another reason why some may not believe that DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler. 

But DeSalvo insisted that he was, in fact, the Boston Strangler. He gave details about some of the murders that the police had not revealed to the public, although he also shared some inconsistent details that made some officers raise their eyebrows. Many people in the Boston area believed that with DeSalvo in prison, the strangulations would end for good. And most likely, no more women died at the hands of the Boston Strangler. 

But DeSalvo’s confession couldn’t be used as evidence in court, as it was given while DeSalvo was in a mental hospital. DeSalvo was charged only for the Green Man assaults, but was offered a plea deal. For pleading guilty, DeSalvo was able to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to life in prison. Although he did escape once, he turned himself in three days later. At his second prison, he recanted his Boston Strangler confessions. 

DeSalvo stayed in MCI-Walpole, today known as The Massachusetts Correctional Institution—Cedar Junction, until 1973. He died after being stabbed by another inmate over a conflict related to the sale of drugs around the prison. 

Is Albert DeSalvo The Boston Strangler? 

After DeSalvo’s death, police were not 100% sure that he was the Boston Strangler. No big developments related to the case made headlines until 2013, when DNA evidence had linked DeSalvo’s nephew to the January 4, 1964 murder of 19-year-old Mary Sullivan. The match gave police the ability to exhume DeSalvo’s body for more evidence. Indeed, using DeSalvo’s body, police were able to determine that he sexually assaulted and killed Mary Sullivan. But did he kill the rest of the victims in the Boston Strangler case? We may never know for sure. With so little DNA evidence left at the scene of the early Boston Strangler crimes, there might never be a formal arrest made for any of these murders. Oddly enough, many believe that DeSalvo’s confession only added more confusion to the case. 

For some serial killers, getting caught and arrested is all about being at the wrong place at the wrong time or getting sloppy with their kills. This may or may not be what happened to DeSalvo. Unless someone comes along with a better story than DeSalvo’s, he will be the name most commonly associated with The Boston Strangler.

About the author 

Theodore

Theodore created PracticalPsychology while in college and has transformed the educational online space of psychology. His goal is to help people improve their lives by understanding how their brains work. 1,700,000 Youtube subscribers and a growing team of psychologists, the dream continues strong!

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