Albert DeSalvo: The Boston Strangler or Convenient Fall Guy – Part 2

Post written by best-selling true crime author:

Robert Keller


Three weeks after the murder of Sophie Clark, a 23-year-old secretary named Patricia Bissette failed to show up for work. Her boss was concerned about her, so he called on her apartment. Getting no response when he knocked, he tracked down the building superintendent and the two of them entered the apartment through a window. They found Patricia lying face up in bed, the covers drawn up to her chin. Several stockings were knotted around her neck. The medical examiner would later confirm that she’d been raped and sodomized.     


Four months passed. Then, on Wednesday, May 8, 1963, 23-year-old Beverly Samans missed a choir practice at the Second Unitarian Church in Back Bay. Since this was unusual, a concerned friend went to check on her, entering the apartment with a key that Beverley had given him. As the man opened the front door, a shocking scene awaited him. Beverley’s nude body lay in plain view, her legs splayed, a nylon stocking and two handkerchiefs woven together and knotted around her neck. The cause of death wasn’t strangulation though. Beverley had been stabbed 22 times.


The summer of 1963 brought another break in the killings. Then, on September 8, a 58-year-old divorcee named Evelyn Corbin was found strangled in her home in Salem, Massachusetts. Two nylon stockings were knotted around her neck and her panties had been stuffed into her mouth as a gag. Her apartment had been robbed but valuables lying in plain sight hadn’t been taken. This, of course, had been a feature of the earlier murders and it served only to muddy the investigative waters. Were the police dealing with a single perpetrator or with two separate killers? Many of the investigators were beginning to believe that it was the latter.   


Stockings, 1960s


On November 25, while Bostonians joined the rest of the country in grieving the death of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, another murder occurred. Joann Graff was a 23-year-old industrial designer. She’d been dead three days by the time her body was found with two nylon stockings tied in an elaborate bow around her neck. There were teeth marks on her breast and there was evidence that she’d been sexually assaulted. There was also a sighting of the possible killer, who looked a lot like the man seen nearly a year earlier, at the Sophie Clark crime scene.


A student who lived in the apartment above Joann Graff reported that a stranger had knocked on his door at around 3:35 that afternoon. The man was about mid-twenties with elaborately pomaded hair, dressed in dark green slacks and a dark shirt and jacket. The man had asked if Joann lived there (pronouncing her name incorrectly as “Joan”). The student said no and had directed the man to the correct apartment. A moment later, he’d heard knocking from the floor below and then a door opening and closing. When a friend of Joann’s phoned her 10 minutes later, there was no reply.


Just over a month later on January 4, 1964, two young women returned home to a gruesome discovery. Their roommate, 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, lay murdered, displayed in a shocking fashion. She was posed, sitting upright on a bed. Two stockings and a pink silk scarf were knotted around her neck, and a “Happy New Year” card rested against her feet. A thick liquid that looked like semen was dripping from her mouth onto her breasts. A broomstick handle had been rammed into her vagina.


The brutal murder of Mary Sullivan and the disrespectful way in which she had been posed was the last straw for Massachusetts Attorney General Edward Brooke. On January 17, 1964, he announced that he was personally taking charge of the case. In short order, Brooke ordered the formation of a task force, formally called the Special Division of Crime Research and Detection. He placed his assistant John S. Bottomly in charge of the team, a controversial choice since Bottomly had no experience of criminal law and was universally disliked by the senior hierarchy of the Boston Police Department.


Boston in the 1960s


And Bottomly’s first action hardly improved his standing with his police colleagues. He brought in Peter Hurkos, a controversial Dutch psychic who made a habit of involving himself in high-profile murder investigations. Hurkos had achieved a limited measure of success in the past, most notably in the Melvin Rees case, but he failed woefully in identifying the Boston Strangler. The suspect he named could be categorically cleared of involvement in any of the murders. It was a blow to Hurkos’ credibility and to that of the task force.  


At this point in the story, it is necessary to make a small detour, to a bizarre series of sexual offenses that occurred in the Cambridge area a couple of years before the Boston Strangler appeared on the scene. Over a period of three months, a man in his late twenties took to knocking on doors and introducing himself as the representative of a modeling agency. He’d tell any woman who answered that she’d been recommended to the agency, and ask if he could measure her to ascertain that she met the agency’s requirements. Many of the women, flattered by the attention and interested in the money he said they could earn, allowed him to take their measurements. That done, he’d thank them, and say he’d be in touch. Of course, they never heard from him again and most of the women put it down as a harmless prank. Others, though, were offended and reported the matter to the police.  


On March 17, 1961, Cambridge police apprehended a man trying to break into a house. Under questioning, the man confessed to being the “Measuring Man.” He was Albert DeSalvo, a 29-year-old Bostonian with numerous arrests for breaking and entering. Asked what the point of his “Measuring Man” charade was, he said it was a prank to “get one over smart, high-class people.” Prank or not, DeSalvo got an 18-month prison sentence. He was released in April 1962, two months before the first Boston Strangler murder.


In November of 1964, almost three years after his release from prison, and 11 months after the murder of Mary Sullivan, DeSalvo was arrested again. This time, the charges were more serious. On October 27, he had entered a residence and placed a knife to a woman’s throat while she dozed. He tied her up and stuffed underwear in her mouth then stripped her naked and fondled her before fleeing the apartment. Before he left he apologized for what he’d done.   


Prime suspect captured?


The woman had gotten a good look at her attacker and her description reminded the investigating officers of the Measuring Man. They brought DeSalvo in, and the victim identified him from a lineup. A check with other jurisdictions turned up an interest from Connecticut. They’d had a number of similar attacks there and had given their unknown assailant the nickname, “The Green Man,” because he always wore green work pants.

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