Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Boston Strangler

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Helen Blake
Helen Blake

A couple of weeks later on June 30, 68-year-old Nina Nichols was murdered in her apartment at 1940 Commonwealth Avenue in the Brighton area of Boston. The apartment looked like it had been burglarized: every drawer had been pulled open, possessions lay scattered around wildly on the floor as though a tornado had ripped through it. But, oddly enough, one open drawer revealed a set of sterling silver that had been untouched, as were the few dollars in her purse, her expensive camera and the watch on her wrist. The killer had gone through her address book and her mail for some unknown reason. Later it was determined that nothing had been taken. The chaos of disorder, the ransacking was for nothing.

She was found with her legs spread, her housecoat and slip pulled up to her waist. Tied tightly around her neck were two of her own nylon stockings with the ends tied ludicrously in a bow. She too had been sexually assaulted. Blood had been found in the vagina. The time of death was estimated to be around 5 o'clock in the afternoon.

Ida Irga
Ida Irga

The retired physiotherapist led a very quiet and modest life. She had been widowed for two decades and had no male friends except for her brother-in-law.

That very same day, some 15 miles north of Boston in the suburb of Lynn, Helen Blake met a similar death sometime between 8 and 10 A.M. The 65-year-old divorcee had been strangled with one of her nylons. Her brassiere had been looped around her neck over the stockings and tied in a bow. Both her vagina and anus had been lacerated, but there was no trace of spermatozoa. She was found lying face down nude on her bed with her legs spread apart.

Her apartment had also been thoroughly ransacked. It appeared as though the two diamond rings that Helen wore had been pulled from her fingers and taken. The killer had tried unsuccessfully to open a metal strongbox and a footlocker.

Police Commissioner Edmund McNamara was very alarmed. A warning went out to women in the Boston area to lock all of their doors and be wary of strangers. He cancelled all police vacations and transferred all detectives to work for Homicide. A thorough investigation began of all known sex offenders and violent former mental patients. They were looking for a madman, one that probably attacked older women because of some hatred of his mother. A former FBI man, McNamara called on the Bureau to hold a seminar on sex crimes for his fifty best detectives.

Jane Sullivan
Jane Sullivan

On August 19, 75-year-old Ida Irga, a very shy and retiring widow fell victim to the Strangler. She was found two days later in her apartment at 7 Grove Avenue in the Boston's West End. As in the other deaths, there was no sign of forced entry. Whoever killed her, she had probably let in voluntarily.

Police Sergeant James McDonald described how he found her: "Upon entering the apartment the officers observed the body of Ida Irga lying on her back on the living room floor wearing a light brown nightdress which was torn, completely exposing her body. There was a white pillowcase knotted tightly around her neck. Her legs were spread approximately four to five feet from heel to heel and her feet were propped up on individual chairs and a standard bed pillow, less the cover, was placed under her buttocks." It was an alarming parody of an obstetrical position, which faced the front door of the apartment and was the first thing anyone saw when coming through the entrance. Most of these details were withheld from the press.

She had died from manual strangulation. Dried blood covered her head, mouth and ears. She, too, had been sexually tampered with although no spermatozoa were present.

Woman places bottles in front of a door as an early warning device
Woman places bottles in front
of a door as an early warning

Within twenty-four hours of Ida Irga's murder, a 67-year-old nurse named Jane Sullivan was killed in her apartment at 435 Columbia Road in Dorchester, across town from where Ida lived. She had been dead for some ten days before she was found.

Police found her on her knees in her bathtub with her feet up over the back of the tub and head underneath the faucet. She, too, had been strangled by her own nylons, probably in the kitchen, bedroom or hall where blood was found on the floors. She may have been sexually assaulted, but the corpse was so badly decomposed that it could not be determined. However, there were bloodstains on the handle of a broom. There was no sign of forcible entry, nor was the apartment ransacked, even though Jane's purse was found open.

Panic gripped all of Boston.

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