Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Boston Strangler

Measuring Man

A couple of years before the strangling murders began, a series of strange sex offenses began in the Cambridge area. A man in his late 20s would knock at the door of an apartment and if a young woman answered, he would introduce himself: "My name is Johnson and I work for a modeling agency. Your name was given to us by someone who thought you would make a good model." He would hasten to assure her that the modeling would not be in the nude or anything like that, just evening gowns and swimsuits. The pay was $40 an hour. He had been sent to get her measurements and other information if she was interested. Apparently a number of women were interested and flattered and allowed him to take out his tape measure and measure them.

He seemed like a nice enough person with a charming, boyish smile. When he was finished, he told them that Mrs. Lewis from the agency would be contacting them if the measurements were suitable. Of course, there was never any call from Mrs. Lewis because neither she nor the modeling agency existed. Eventually, some of the women contacted the police.

On March 17, 1961, Cambridge police caught a man trying to break into a house. Not only did he confess to breaking and entering, but he confessed to being the "Measuring Man."

Albert DeSalvo
Albert DeSalvo

His name was Albert DeSalvo, a 29-year-old man with numerous arrests for breaking into apartments and stealing whatever money he found. He lived in Malden with his German wife and two small children. He worked during the day as a press operator in a rubber factory.

When asked why he perpetrated this pathetic charade, he responded: "I'm not good-looking, I'm not educated, but I was able to put something over on high-class people. They were all college kids and I never had anything in my life and I outsmarted them."

The judge, ultimately sympathetic to DeSalvo's role as a bread-earner, reduced the sentence he received to 18 months. With good behavior, DeSalvo was released in April of 1962, 2 months before the first victim of the Strangler, Anna Slesers, was found. Albert DeSalvo was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on September 3, 1931. His parents, Frank and Charlotte had five other children. His father was a violently abusive man who regularly beat his wife and children. As a boy, he was delinquent, arrested more than once on assault and battery charges. Throughout his adolescence, he went through periods of very good behavior and then lapses into petty criminality.

His mother Charlotte remarried and did her best to keep her son out of trouble. Their relationship, aside from the disappointments she suffered when he got into trouble, was a reasonably good one.

He was in the Army from 1948 through 1956 and was stationed for awhile in Germany. There he met his wife, Irmgard Beck, an attractive woman from a respectable family. At one time, he was promoted to Specialist E-5, but later was demoted to private for failing to obey an order. He received an honorable discharge.

In 1955, he was arrested for fondling a young girl, but the charge was dropped. That year, his first child was born. Judy had a physical handicap in the form of congenital pelvic disease. This problem had a large impact on DeSalvo's homelife.

Edmund McNamara
Edmund McNamara

His wife was terrified that she would have another child with a physical handicap and did everything she could do to avoid sex. DeSalvo on the other hand had an abnormally voracious sexual appetite, requiring sex many times a day.

Between 1956 and 1960, he had several arrests for breaking and entering. Each time, he received a suspended sentence. In 1960, his son Michael was born without any physical handicaps.

In spite of his brushes with the law, Albert seemed to stay employed. After he worked as a press operator at American Biltrite Rubber, he worked in a shipyard and subsequently as a construction maintenance worker. Most people who knew Albert DeSalvo liked him. His boss characterized him as a good, decent, family man and a good worker. He was a very devoted family man and treated his wife with love and tenderness.

Aside from being a thief, he had another serious character weakness: he was a confirmed braggart. He always had to top the other guy, no matter what the situation was. Police Commissioner Edmund McNamara summarized the problem: "DeSalvo's a blowhard."


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