Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Boston Strangler


Of the 11 official Boston strangling victims, six were between the ages of 55 and 75. Two possible additional victims were 85 and 69 years of age. The remaining five victims were considerably younger, ranging in age from 19 to 23.

Not that 55 years of age is really old. Not these days and not really in 1962. And certainly not for Anna E. Slesers, a petite divorcee who looked years younger than her age. More than a decade earlier, she had fled Latvia with her son and daughter and settled in her small apartment in a quiet old-fashioned neighborhood in the Back Bay area.

Anna Slesers
Anna Slesers

77 Gainsborough Street is one of many brick town houses that had been subdivided into small apartments to meet the needs of people with limited incomes, both students and retired people. Anna Slesers, a seamstress making $60 a week, lived on the third floor.

On the evening of June 14, 1962, she had finished dinner and just had enough time to take a quick bath before her son, Juris, was to pick her up for the Latvian memorial services that were being held in her church that night. In her robe, she went into the bathroom and turned on the water, listening to the inspiring strains of the opera Tristan und Isolde.

Just before seven o'clock, Juris knocked at his mother's door. No answer and the door was locked. He was annoyed. He hadn't wanted to take his mother to the services in the first place. Juris pounded on the door and – then he began to get worried. Was she sick, perhaps lying helpless on the floor inside? Maybe even worse, she had sounded so depressed on the phone when he spoke to her the night before. He threw his weight against the door twice and it flew open.

His worst fears were confirmed when he saw her lying in the bathroom with the cord from her robe around her neck. He telephoned the police and his sister in Maryland to tell her about the tragic "suicide." Gerold Frank in The Boston Strangler describes how Homicide Detectives James Mellon and John Driscoll found her:

Mellon was always to remember his first sight of Anna Slesers' body, its sheer, startling nudity, and the shockingly exposed position in which it had been left. She lay outstretched, a fragile-appearing woman with brown bobbed hair and thin mouth, lying on her back on a gray runner. She wore a blue taffeta housecoat with a red lining, but it had been spread completely apart in front, so that from shoulders down she was nude. She lay grotesquely, her head a few feet from the open bathroom door, her left leg stretched straight toward him, the other flung wide, almost at right angles, and bent at the knee so that she was grossly exposed. The blue cloth cord of her housecoat had been knotted tightly about her neck, its ends turned up so that it might have been a bow, tied little-girl fashion under her chin.

The apartment was made to look as though it had been ransacked. Anna's purse was lying open with its contents partially strewn on the floor. A wastebasket in the kitchen had been rummaged through with some of the trash on the floor around it. Drawers had been left open in the bedroom dresser, their contents moved about. A case of color slides had been carefully placed, not dropped, on the bedroom floor. The record player was on, but the amplifier had been turned off. But despite this attempt to make the scene look like a robbery, a gold watch and other pieces of jewelry were left untouched.

Anna had been strangled with the cord of her robe which had been tied around her neck tightly into a bow. Her vagina showed evidence of sexual assault with some unknown object.

A detailed investigation into her life revealed a woman completely involved in her church, her children, her work and her love of classical music. She kept to herself and had very few friends. There were no men in her life aside from her son.

Police assumed that the crime had started out as a burglary. When the burglar saw the woman in her robe he was overcome by an uncontrollable urge to molest her, killing her afterwards to avoid being recognized.


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