Post written by best-selling true crime author:
It is one of the most infamous criminal cases in history, the first case extensively covered by mass-market television, radio and the national press, a case that sparked widespread panic in the city of Boston, a case that inspired a song by the Rolling Stones, a case that continues to fascinate to this day.
Between June 1962 and January 1964, thirteen Massachusetts women fell victim to a serial killer, a fiend who has gone down in history by the notorious epithet, the Boston Strangler. The killer entered the homes of his victims without using force, apparently talking his way in. Once inside, he sexually molested the women before strangling them with articles of clothing and fleeing the scene. Many of the victims were posed, others had sexually degrading post-mortem acts performed upon them, and all were killed in their own homes.
Albert DeSalvo, a hyper-sexed factory worker, sex offender and petty criminal, confessed to the crimes, and although he was never officially charged with the murders, he entered the public consciousness as the Boston Strangler, a belief that would hold for decades. Yet there is evidence to suggest that DeSalvo was not the Strangler. Indeed, many of the detectives working the case believed that the murders were not the work of a single man but of two (and possibly more) perpetrators, working independently.
Here are the facts of the case:
The first murder in the series occurred on June 14, 1962. Anna Slesers, a 55-year-old divorcee living in the Back Bay area, was due to attend a memorial service that evening and had arranged for her son, Juris, to pick her up at 7 o’clock. When Juris arrived at his mother’s apartment, however, there was no reply. At first, Juris was annoyed, then concerned, when his pounding on the door brought no response. Eventually, he applied his shoulder to the door and forced his way in. Then his worst fears were confirmed as he searched the apartment and found his mother lying dead on the bathroom floor.
Responding to the call, detectives James Mellon and John Driscoll found the petite Mrs. Slesers provocatively displayed, the cloth cord of her housecoat knotted tightly around her neck, and tied in a decorative bow. The apartment appeared to have been ransacked, although a gold watch and several pieces of jewelry, left out in the open, had not been taken. Neither were there any clues as to the killer’s identity.
Just a couple of weeks later, on June 30, there was another murder. Nina Nichols lived alone in an apartment in the Brighton area of Boston. The 68-year-old retired physiotherapist was found sexually assaulted and strangled with a pair of nylon stockings, the ends knotted in a bow. As with the Slesers murder, the body had been posed and the apartment looted, although no valuables had been taken.
That same day, in the suburb of Lynn, some 15 miles north of Boston, an almost identical murder was committed. Helen Blake, a 65-year-old divorcee, was raped and then strangled with a stocking, her body left suggestively posed. Her apartment had been thoroughly ransacked, but although two diamond rings were missing, other valuables were left untouched.
It was at this point that alarm bells began jangling at police headquarters. Three homicides committed in a relatively small area, over a period of just two weeks, all of them bearing a clear signature, pointed to a common perpetrator. Was there a serial killer loose on the streets of Boston?
Police Commissioner Edmund McNamara certainly seemed to think so. He immediately canceled all police leave and put a team of detectives on the ground, checking on known sex offenders. He also issued a bulletin via the media, warning women to keep doors locked and to be wary of admitting strangers to their homes.
These measures didn’t deter the Strangler at all. On August 21, 75-year-old, Ida Irga was found dead in her apartment. The shy, retiring widow had been strangled with a pillowcase, her nude body posed flat on its back and each ankle resting on a chair. The placement (facing the door) appeared to be designed for maximum shock value. She’d been dead two days by the time she was found.
Just 24 hours later came another grisly discovery. Jane Sullivan, a 67-year-old nurse, lived across town from Ida Irga, in Dorchester. She had been dead for ten days before her body was found, laid out in her bathtub. The condition of the corpse made it impossible to determine whether she’d been sexually assaulted or not.
As panic gripped the city of Boston, there was a three-month hiatus from the terror before the Strangler struck again. This crime, however, was different. Up until now, the killer had targeted older women. Sophie Clark, an attractive, African-American student, was just 21-years-old. On December 5, 1962, Sophie’s roommates returned home to find her nude body lying with legs splayed, three nylon stockings knotted tightly around her neck. She’d been sexually assaulted and there was semen on the rug close to her corpse.
The victim profile was not the only unusual aspect of this crime. Sophie’s roommates told detectives that she’d been extremely security conscious, had insisted on an additional deadbolt being fitted to the door, and always questioned visitors before admitting them to the apartment. Yet somehow, she’d allowed a complete stranger in, at a time when most of the city was on high alert.
Why she might have done so, became clear once detectives started questioning other residents of the building. One of them, Marcella Lulka, reported that a man had knocked on her door at around 2:20 that afternoon. He’d told her that the building manager had sent him to speak to her about painting her apartment. He’d then complimented her on her figure and asked if she’d ever thought about modeling. But his had attitude changed the moment she’d told him that her husband was asleep in the bedroom. He’d then mumbled something about “the wrong apartment” and had hurried away. Asked to describe the man, Mrs. Lulka said that he was mid-twenties to early-thirties, about average height with “honey-colored” hair. He’d been wearing a dark jacket and dark green trousers. A check with the building manager revealed that he hadn’t hired anyone to do any painting. More than likely, Marcella Lulka had survived a close encounter with the Boston Strangler. Her lucky escape had spelled doom for Sophie Clark…