A Not-So-Golden Fiftieth Anniversary

David Bates / June 5, 2012-11:17 am

I think June 14 is an ugly anniversary for Boston neighborhoods. That was the date it all started, the day in 1962 when a 55-year-old divorcee opened the door of her Symphony area apartment to let in a man who said he was there to do some work. As she led the man toward the bathroom, he hit her on the head with a lead weight and strangled her to death with the cord of her housecoat.

Barely two weeks later a 68-year-old widow was found in her Brighton apartment strangled to death with her own nylon stockings.

The victimsThen in August, a 75-year-old Beacon Hill woman living in a fifth floor walk up was discovered dead with a pillow case tightly secured around her neck. Like many of the other victims, a bizarre sexual assault had also occurred.

Over nineteen months, female victims old and young were discovered in the city in Brighton, Dorchester, the Fenway, Huntington Avenue, Park Drive and Beacon Hill. Outside the city, there were victims in Lynn, Lawrence, Salem, and Cambridge. The communities themselves were also victimized by these horrendous crimes.

The Boston Record American reported at the time, “By number and by nature the series of stranglings is beyond anything ever seen before in the criminal history of the city. They are enormous in importance, insane in execution.” The paper openly questioned whether any woman in Boston was safe.

Police had little to go on. There were no signs of forced entry at the dwellings of the victims. There were no fingerprints at the crime scenes and no witnesses to lead authorities to the identity of the man newspapers referred to as the “mad”, or “phantom strangler.” The break in the case came when celebrated defense attorney F. Lee Bailey was asked by a client, “If a man was the strangler, the guy who killed all those women, would it be possible to publish his story and make some money with it?” Bailey’s answer led to a meeting with his client’s prison mate, Albert DeSalvo. DeSalvo, a resident of Malden, later provided a detailed confession to the killings, but was never tried.  As a result, the 13 alleged murders of the infamous “Boston Strangler” remain unsolved and DeSalvo’s level of responsibility for them is often contested.

On the eve of the fugly, fiftieth anniversary of the start of these unfortunate happenings, a fascinating book to read on it with our city as the subject is “The Boston Strangler” by Gerold Frank.