The Shocking True Story of the Boston Strangler

The Shocking True Story of the Boston Strangler

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Cassondra Feltus
Truth is stranger than fiction. For this video, we'll be looking at the real events that inspired Hulu's latest crime thriller “Boston Strangler.” Our list will examine Albert DeSalvo, The “Silk Stocking Murders”, Media, and more!

The Shocking True Story of the Boston Strangler

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re discussing The Shocking True Story of the Boston Strangler.

For this video, we’ll be looking at the real events that inspired Hulu’s latest crime thriller “Boston Strangler.”

Did you watch “Boston Strangler”, or are you going to? Let us know in the comments.

Albert DeSalvo

Albert Henry DeSalvo was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on September 3, 1931. His childhood was filled with violence, beginning with physical abuse from his father Frank, who was a misuser of alcohol. The young DeSalvo frequently witnessed his father beat his mother and hire sex workers. In one particularly heinous incident, Frank knocked out his wife’s teeth and broke all of her fingers.

DeSalvo started committing crimes at a young age. After being arrested for battery and robbery at 12, he was sent to the Lyman School for Boys. He was paroled after a year but stole a car and ended up back at reform school. In 1948, a 17-year-old DeSalvo enlisted in the U.S. Army. When he was stationed in Germany, he met and married Irmgard Beck. The couple moved back to the States, settling down in New Jersey. In 1955, DeSalvo was accused of abusing a girl in her home, but the charges were dropped. He was honorably discharged for the second time and eventually moved to Massachusetts.

Around this time, a series of sex-related crimes were reported by women who said a man pretending to work for a modeling agency came to their homes and took their measurements. In March 1960, DeSalvo was arrested for breaking and entering a woman’s home and shocked the police by confessing to being the “Measurement Man.” He was released from jail after serving 11 months of his 18-month sentence. DeSalvo then began another crime spree.

The “Silk Stocking Murders”

From June 1962 to January 1964, 13 women in and around Boston, Massachusetts were killed in their homes. Almost all of the victims were sexually assaulted and strangled, most using their own nylon stockings. The first was 56-year-old seamstress Anna Šlesers, who was found dead in her Boston apartment on June 14th, 1962. The killer had strangled her with the belt on her bathrobe - foreshadowing his signature M.O. Five elderly victims followed in late June and August. 85 year old Mary Mullen died of a heart attack while being attacked. Physiotherapist Nina Nichols and nurse Helen Blake were strangled with their own nylon stockings. The bodies of Beacon Hill resident Ida Irga and night nurse Jane Sullivan were discovered just days apart.

In December, there was an apparent change in the killer’s victimology when Sophie Clark was found on the 5th, and Patricia Bissette on New Year’s Eve. Both were students in their 20s, and Clark was African-American, a significant deviation from elderly Caucasian women. As Boston residents realized that any woman could be the next victim, there was an increase in sales of alarm systems, deadbolt locks, guns, and guard dogs. Also during this time, Boston Record American reporters Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole took it upon themselves to conduct their own investigation into the elusive killer, whom they dubbed the “Boston Strangler.”

The murders continued the following year, although they were more spread out. On March 6th, 69-year-old Mary Brown was discovered in her Lawrence, Massachusetts residence. Like most of the other victims, she had been sexually assaulted and strangled with stockings - but also stabbed. In May, Boston University grad student Beverly Samans, another young woman in her 20s, was found with stockings and scarves knotted around her neck, but it was determined that she had been stabbed to death.

Two more murders occurred before the end of the year. The body of 58-year-old Marie Corbin was found by a friend on September 8th. And on November 23rd, 22-year-old Sunday School teacher Joann Graff was found after she wasn’t seen for days and friends called the police.

On January 4, 1964, the final, as well as the youngest victim, 19-year-old Mary Sullivan was found by her roommates.

The Green Man Confesses

Throughout the investigation, police reportedly interviewed thousands of suspects. But the man who wasn’t on their radar was Albert DeSalvo. He was arrested however in October 1964, after matching the description of a man who reportedly restrained and sexually assaulted a woman in her home before suddenly apologizing and fleeing. He admitted to the “Green Man” crimes, a string of sexual assaults throughout New England.

DeSalvo was sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for psychiatric assessment where he met convicted murderer George Nassar and allegedly confessed to being the “Boston Strangler.” Nassar shared the shocking confession with his lawyer F. Lee Bailey, who decided to represent De Salvo. DeSalvo formally confessed, revealing intimate knowledge of the crimes. But there was no physical evidence tying him to the crime scenes. He was never charged with the murders, instead receiving a life sentence for the Green Man assaults.

In February 1967, he and two other inmates escaped, but he turned himself in after three days of freedom. He was then transferred to a Walpole State Prison to finish serving his life sentence. But in November 1973, he was stabbed to death by another prisoner. Two men, Richard Devlin and Robert Wilson, were charged and tried for his murder but the trial ended with a deadlocked jury.

A Break in the Case

In the early 2000s, Mary Sullivan’s sister Diane and DeSalvo’s brother Richard worked together to get the case reopened, since neither of them believed Albert was the Strangler. However, the Sullivan and DeSalvo families wouldn’t get any answers until July 2013, when Boston law enforcement officials announced they were able to establish a connection using DNA evidence. After exhuming DeSalvo’s remains and using his nephew’s DNA for a familial match, it was confirmed that DeSalvo’s seminal fluid was at the Sullivan crime scene.

Many experts, officers, authors, and relatives still have their doubts over whether DeSalvo killed all the victims attributed to the Strangler. The inconsistent victimology that crosses age and racial lines was considered unusual and unlikely. Others have argued that DeSalvo was incorrect about some details of the crimes, like the time and killing methods.

Nassar, the man DeSalvo confessed to, has also been suspected of being the Strangler. Some have theorized that he had promised to split the reward money with DeSalvo, which DeSalvo may have intended for his wife and two children. Or that DeSalvo just really wanted to be famous.

In the Media

Over the past five decades, a number of books, movies, TV specials, and podcasts have covered the case of the notorious Boston Strangler. Fictional characters have been based on DeSalvo and his alleged crimes, including multiple serial killers on “Criminal Minds.” In 1968, only one year after his sentencing, Tony Curtis starred as DeSalvo in Richard Fleischer’s film “The Boston Strangler,” which earned the actor a Golden Globe nomination.

On March 17, 2023, Hulu is releasing “Boston Strangler”, a film about the infamous crimes told from the point of view of the tenacious journalists who were reporting on the case. Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon star as Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole, respectively, with David Dastmalchian taking on the role of Albert DeSalvo.