What is the true story of the Boston Strangler?

Between June 1962 and January 1964, 13 women(Opens in a new tab) they were found fatally strangled with their own clothing and sexually assaulted in their Boston-area homes. The victims, Anna Elsa Šlesers, Mary Mullen, Helen Blake, Nina Nichols, Ida Irga, Jane Sullivan, Sophie Clark, Patricia Bissette, Mary Brown, Beverly Samans, Evelyn Corbin and Joann Graff, ranged in age from 19 to 85. all the murders were blamed on one man, eventually dubbed the Boston Strangler.

Hulu’s new thriller, boston strangler, takes audiences into the newsroom where this emerging murder spree was first acknowledged. Before you look, here’s a rundown of who’s who, including the suspects and the boston globe journalists who established the connection between the murders.

Some of the victims of the Strangler.
Credit: Bettmann / Contributor

Who was the Boston Strangler?

During this two-year stretch, women all over Boston lived in terror(Opens in a new tab). They were afraid to leave the house, even in daylight, and equally afraid to be at home. There were no signs of forced entry in either case, suggesting that the killer was using some sort of ploy to gain access to the victims. Possibly, it could be anyone.

Was Albert DeSalvo the Boston Strangler?

Albert De Salvo(Opens in a new tab) is the name most associated with the Boston Strangler cases, and although he was never convicted of any of the murders, he did confess to them.

In March 1960, when he was arrested for breaking into a house, DeSalvo admitted to being “The Measuring Man.” This was the nickname of a serial predator who went door to door all over Cambridge disguised as a model scout. Once admitted to his house, he used the tape measure as an excuse to harass his victims. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail, served 11, and was released in 1962.

For his second wave of crimes, he became known as the “Green Man” because of the color he wore when he committed his sexual assaults. DeSalvo was caught when one of his victims reported his assault to police and described him. From there, he was admitted to Bridgewater State Hospital for observation. While he would confess to being the Boston Strangler, there was no physical evidence connecting him to either case at the time. He was not identified by the women who survived the Strangler attacks.

It was not until July 2013(Opens in a new tab) that his DNA was confirmed to be on the body of Mary Sullivan, the last of the Strangler’s victims. The Boston Police Department’s cold case team, as well as the attorney general’s office, determined that DeSalvo was Sullivan’s rapist and murderer, although it is not yet certain that he is guilty of the other crimes of the strangler.

Ultimately, DeSalvo went to prison for the “Green Man” crimes. He was stabbed to death in his cell at Walpole Prison in 1973.

Who is George Nassar?

Convicted murderer George Nassar (center) sits in a car between two law enforcement officers as he waits to be transported from the Salem jail to Walpole State Prison.

George Nassar (center)
Credit: Bettmann / Contributor

While in prison in Bridgewater, DeSalvo confessed to a cellmate(Opens in a new tab) to be the Boston Strangler. This cellmate was George Nassar, a two-time convicted murderer. He had been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Dominic Kirmil in 1948, but was paroled in 1961. Four years later, Nassar was sentenced to death (later commuted to life in prison) for the murder of Irvin Hilton, the owner of a Texaco station in Andover, Massachusetts.

Notably, Nassar was out of prison when the Boston Strangler murders began. When the survivors were called to identify the Strangler, two pointed to Nassar as his attacker(Opens in a new tab), not DeSalvo. Speculation has arisen that DeSalvo and Nassar conspired on DeSalvo’s confession to get the $10,000 in reward money for touching the Strangler.

As of 2018, Nassar was still in prison.

Could there have been multiple killers?

During DeSalvo’s 1967 criminal trial(Opens in a new tab) for Strangler cases, Dr Ames Robey,(Opens in a new tab) a forensic psychiatrist, served as a defense witness. He claimed that DeSalvo, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, could not be the Strangler and was simply someone craving attention.

Both Susan Kelly, author of the boston stranglers(Opens in a new tab), and FBI profiler and criminologist Robert Ressler believed that more than one person must have committed the 13 murders. In his work, Kelly points out that the errors in DeSalvo’s details match those found in newspapers at the time. This suggests that rather than actually committing the crimes, he may have simply regurgitated what was being reported.

As for Ressler, he thought the modus operandi in the alleged Strangler cases was too varied. He said CBS News(Opens in a new tab) in 2001, “You’re piecing together so many different patterns here that it’s behaviorally inconceivable that all of these could fit in one individual.”

Who was F. Lee Bailey?

One of today's most publicized defense attorneys, F. Lee Bailey, relaxes in his home library with a book about one of his clients, who is currently in a mental institution.

F. Lee Bailey
Credit: Bettmann / Contributor

Later known as one of OJ Simpson’s Defense Attorneys(Opens in a new tab), F. Lee Bailey(Opens in a new tab) defended several infamous defendants throughout his career, including Dr Sam Shepard(Opens in a new tab) (who provided the inspiration for the 1993 film the wanted), as well as patty hearst(Opens in a new tab) and DeSalvo in 1967.

Bailey met DeSalvo through another client, George Nassar.

Bailey’s tactic in the DeSalvo trial(Opens in a new tab), which went for the “Green Man” armed robberies and sexual assaults due to a lack of physical evidence linking him to the murders, was to convince the jury that DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler and completely insane. All four women in these attacks testified against him.

Bailey amassed evidence, citing DeSalvo’s violent childhood.(Opens in a new tab) and their confessions to all the murders. DeSalvo was convicted of assault and robbery and sent to Bridgewater. However, the jury did not find him insane, probably because the prosecution pointed out that a person so out of his mind regularly could not have the presence of mind to put on gloves before committing murder.

Who were Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole?

Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon as Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole on Hulu's "Boston Strangler."

A scene from “Boston Strangler”
Credit: Hulu

So far, the information we’ve laid out about the Boston Strangler may sound familiar to you, especially if you consider yourself a true crime buff. But did you know that the Boston Strangler story was revealed by two female reporters in the Boston Record-American?

Amid the minefield of sexism that was the 1960s, Loretta McLaughlin covered the Strangler murders in 1962. Along with her colleague jean cole harris(Opens in a new tab)he connected the crimes and convinced his bosses that these murders were the work of one person.

McLaughlin recalled(Opens in a new tab) that it was Strangler’s fourth murder, that of 75-year-old Ida Irga, that spurred her into action and led her to talk to her editor about writing a series. Despite the fact that she felt that the story did not merit more than one article, McLaughlin and Cole pressed on.

from hulu boston strangler focuses on the reporting by McLaughlin (Keira Knightley) and Cole (Carrie Coon) and their tireless efforts to alert the women of Boston that their safety was in jeopardy.

How to watch: boston strangler now it’s on Hulu.(Opens in a new tab)

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
Articles: 8278