Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Boston Strangler

Update: At
Least Six

The real problem with the notion of the Boston Strangler, says Kelly, is that the MOs from one murder to another were less similar than the official police statements admitted. Kelly summarizes some of the more obvious differences:

Patricia Bissette
Patricia Bissette

No similarity whatsoever exists between the somewhat delicate killing of Patricia Bissette, whose murderer tucked her into bed, and the ghastly homicidal violation inflicted on Mary Sullivan, whose killer's intent was not just to degrade his victim by shoving a broom handle into her vagina but to taunt whoever discovered her corpse by placing a greeting card against her foot. One woman was stabbed but not sexually assaulted; another raped vaginally and strangled. One was left on a floor, posed provocatively, another leaned over a bathtub. There were cigarette butts at two crime scenes but not at others. That doesn't necessarily prove anything but with other concerns Kelly raises, it tends to undermine the official story.

DeSalvo was stabbed to death at Walpole Prison in 1973. Supposedly, the evening before, he had phoned a psychiatrist he knew, inviting him to the prison the next day. He said he had something important to reveal and suggested that a reporter come as well. But the meeting never took place, as DeSalvo died that night from a brutal attack by other inmates. The psychiatrist, who'd never believed DeSalvo was a killer, went on the record to say that DeSalvo had intended to reveal what the charade was about and who the real killer was. But he never got that chance.

Albert DeSalvo in 1973
Albert DeSalvo in 1973

Kelly believes that there were at least six killers operating in the area during the time of the stranglings, and possibly even eight or nine. Some murders were situational and some were committed to eliminate witnesses to a burglary — the ordinary fare in a large city. Kelly saw signs that a more solid case was being developed on another suspect up until DeSalvo confessed, at which point that investigation was abruptly dropped. To her way of thinking, thanks to hanging all the crimes on DeSalvo, a number of men managed to get away with murder.

A new edition of Kelly's book came out in 2002, because she was included among the party of forensic professionals who exhumed the remains of both Mary Sullivan and Albert DeSalvo. Kelly describes the results, which affirm what she had believed all along: DeSalvo's rendition of what he had done to Mary Sullivan did not match the condition of her remains. Thus, he had gotten it wrong, although no one back in 1964 had bothered to check. In addition, there was semen on her that did not match DeSalvo, indicating that someone else had committed the murder. These results cast doubt on his entire confession.

Perhaps one day the encyclopedias and textbooks will recognize the extraordinary work Susan Kelly has done and set the record straight. DeSalvo was never convicted of these crimes and there was never any physical evidence to corroborate his confession. Kelly shows enough alternate evidence to place his confession in substantial doubt. He had motives to falsely confession and any good investigation would not accept a confession at face value. Kelly is to be commended for her work, but unfortunately, American myths generally die hard. Anyone truly interested in this case would be remiss not to read The Boston Stranglers.


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