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Albert DeSalvo
DeSalvo after escaping Bridgewater State Hospital and being caught in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1967.
Born Albert Henry DeSalvo
(1931-09-03)September 3, 1931
Chelsea, Massachusetts
Died November 25, 1973(1973-11-25) (aged 42)
Walpole, Massachusetts
Other names The Boston Strangler
Mad Strangler of Boston
The Measuring Man
The Green Man

Albert Henry DeSalvo (September 3, 1931 – November 25, 1973) was a criminal in Boston, Massachusetts, who confessed to being the "Boston Strangler," the murderer of 13 women in the Boston area from 1962 to 1964. DeSalvo was imprisoned, however, for a series of rapes. His murder confession has been disputed, and debate continues as to which crimes DeSalvo actually committed.

In July 2013, a DNA match between seminal fluid found at the scene of the rape and the murder of Mary Sullivan and DNA obtained from DeSalvo's nephew linked DeSalvo to that crime and excluded 99.9% of the remaining population.[1] Authorities exhumed DeSalvo's remains later that month[2] and confirmed the DNA match.[3]

Early life[]

DeSalvo was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, to Frank and Charlotte DeSalvo. His father was a violent alcoholic, who at one point knocked out all of his wife's teeth and bent her fingers back until they broke in front of their children.[4] DeSalvo tortured animals as a child, and began shoplifting and stealing in early adolescence, frequently crossing paths with the law.

In November 1943, the 12-year-old DeSalvo was first arrested for battery and robbery. In December of the same year he was sent to the Lyman School for Boys. In October 1944, he was paroled and started working as a delivery boy. In August 1946, he returned to the Lyman School for stealing an automobile. After completing his second sentence, DeSalvo joined the Army. He was honorably discharged after his first tour of duty. He re-enlisted and, in spite of being tried in a court-martial, DeSalvo was again honorably discharged. DeSalvo served as a Military Police Sergeant with the 2nd Squadron, 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment.[5] Pictures of DeSalvo being arrested on Saturday February 25, 1967 show him in U.S. Navy Dress Blue Uniform with Petty Officer 3rd Class insignia on his sleeve.[6]

Strangler murders[]

Between June 14, 1962, and January 4, 1964, 13 single women between the ages of 19 and 85 were murdered in the Boston area; they were eventually tied to the Boston Strangler. Most of the women were sexually assaulted in their apartments, and then strangled with articles of clothing. The eldest victim died of a heart attack. Two others were stabbed to death, one of whom was also badly beaten. Without any sign of forced entry into their dwellings, the women were assumed to have either known their killer or voluntarily allowed him into their homes. The police were not convinced that all of these murders were the work of a single individual, especially because of the wide gap in the victims' ages; much of the public, on the other hand, readily accepted that the crimes were committed by one person.

Gainsborough Street, site of the first of the Boston Strangler's murders

In the fall of 1964, in addition to the Strangler murders, the police were also trying to solve a series of rapes committed by a man who had been dubbed the "Measuring Man" or the "Green Man". On October 27, 1964, a stranger entered a young woman's home in East Cambridge posing as a detective. He tied his victim to her bed, proceeded to sexually assault her, and suddenly left, saying "I'm sorry" as he went. The woman's description led police to identify the assailant as DeSalvo and when his photo was published, many women identified him as the man who had assaulted them. Earlier on October 27, DeSalvo had posed as a motorist with car trouble and attempted to enter a home in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. The owner of the home, future Brockton Police Chief Richard Sproles, became suspicious and ultimately fired a shotgun at DeSalvo.

Under arrest for his role in the "Green Man" rapes, DeSalvo was not suspected of being involved with the murders. Only after he was charged with rape did he give a detailed confession of his activities as the Boston Strangler, both under hypnosis induced by William Joseph Bryan and also without hypnosis during interviews with Assistant Attorney General John Bottomly. He initially confessed to fellow inmate George Nassar, who then notified his attorney, F. Lee Bailey. Bailey took DeSalvo's case. Though there were some inconsistencies, DeSalvo was able to cite details which had not been made public. However, there was no physical evidence to substantiate his confession. As such, he stood trial for earlier, unrelated crimes of robbery and sexual offenses. Bailey brought up the confession to the murders as part of his client's history at the trial as part of an insanity defense, but it was ruled as inadmissible by the judge.

For his 1967 trial, DeSalvo's mental state was evaluated by Dr. Harry Kozol, a neurologist who had established the first sex offender treatment center in Massachusetts.[7] Bailey engaged a plea bargain to lock in his client's guilt in exchange for taking the death penalty off of the table and also to preserve the possibility of an eventual insanity verdict.[8] Bailey was angered by the jury's decision to put DeSalvo in prison for life: "My goal was to see the Strangler wind up in a hospital, where doctors could try to find out what made him kill. Society is deprived of a study that might help deter other mass killers who lived among us, waiting for the trigger to go off inside them."[9]

Imprisonment and death[]

DeSalvo was sentenced to life in prison in 1967. In February of that year, he escaped with two fellow inmates from Bridgewater State Hospital, triggering a full-scale manhunt. A note was found on his bunk addressed to the superintendent. In it, DeSalvo stated he had escaped to focus attention on the conditions in the hospital and his own situation. Three days after the escape he called his lawyer to turn himself in. His lawyer then sent the police to re-arrest him in Lynn, Massachusetts.[10] Following the escape, he was transferred to the maximum security prison known at the time as Walpole, where he later recanted his Strangler confessions. On November 25, 1973, he was found stabbed to death in the prison infirmary. Robert Wilson, who was associated with the Winter Hill Gang, was tried for DeSalvo's murder but the trial ended in a hung jury—no one was ever convicted for his murder. F. Lee Bailey later claimed that DeSalvo was killed for selling amphetamines (commonly known as speed) in the prison for less than the inmate-enforced syndicate price. Walpole inmates continue to say nothing about the crime and it today remains unsolved.

DeSalvo's papers are housed in the Lloyd Sealy Library Special Collections at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. His papers include his correspondence, mainly with the members of the Bailey family, and gifts sent to the Baileys of jewelery and leatherwork crafted by DeSalvo while in prison.[11]

DNA evidence[]

On July 11, 2013, Boston law enforcement officials announced that DNA evidence had linked DeSalvo to the rape and murder of 19-year-old Mary Sullivan. DeSalvo's remains were exhumed, and the Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said he expected investigators to find an exact match when the evidence is compared with his DNA.[12]

On July 19, 2013, Suffolk County DA Daniel F. Conley, Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley and Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis announced that DNA test results proved DeSalvo was the source of seminal fluid recovered at the scene of Sullivan's 1964 murder.[3]



Lingering doubts remain as to whether DeSalvo was indeed the Boston Strangler—and whether the real murderer could still be at large. When he confessed, people who knew him personally did not believe him capable of the crimes. It was also noted that the women allegedly killed by "The Strangler" were of widely varying ages, social strata and ethnicities, and that their deaths involved inconsistent modi operandi.

Susan Kelly, an author who has had access to the files of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' "Strangler Bureau", argued in her book that the murders were the work of several killers, rather than that of a single individual.[13] Another author, former FBI profiler Robert Ressler, has said that, "You're putting together so many different patterns [regarding the Boston Strangler murders] that it's inconceivable behaviorally that all these could fit one individual."[14]

In 2000, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, an attorney specializing in forensic cases from Marblehead, Massachusetts, began representing the families of DeSalvo and of Mary A. Sullivan—a 19-year-old who was among the Strangler's final victims in 1964—both to clear DeSalvo's name and to re-ignite efforts to find her real killer. A former print journalist, Sharp obtained court approval to exhume both Sullivan and DeSalvo for DNA testing, filed several court actions to obtain information and physical evidence from the government, and worked with various film producers to create documentaries so as to better educate the public. Through these efforts, Sharp was able to identify several inconsistencies between DeSalvo's confessions and the crime scene evidence, casting even more doubts over DeSalvo's identity as the Boston Strangler.

For example, contrary to DeSalvo's statement that he first raped Sullivan, the forensic investigation revealed no evidence to support that claim. Also, he did not, as he claimed, strangle her with his bare hands; instead, she was strangled by ligature. Forensic pathologist Michael Baden noted that DeSalvo incorrectly stated the time of the victim's death—a detail that DeSalvo got wrong in several of the murders, said Susan Kelly. More importantly still, James Starrs, professor of forensic science at George Washington University, told a news conference that a semen-like substance on her body did not match DeSalvo's DNA and could not associate him with her murder.[15]

The victim's nephew, Casey Sherman, also wrote a book, A Rose for Mary (2003), in which he expanded upon the evidence—and leads from Kelly's book—to conclude that DeSalvo could not be responsible for her death, and to try to determine her killer's identity. Sharp continues to work on the case for the DeSalvo family.[16]

On July 11, 2013, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley stated that DNA testing had revealed a "familial match" between DeSalvo and forensic evidence in the Sullivan killing, leading authorities to request the exhumation of DeSalvo's body in order to provide a definitive forensic link of DeSalvo to the murder of Mary Sullivan.[17]

George Nassar[]

George Nassar, the inmate DeSalvo reportedly confessed to, is among the suspects in the case.[18] He is currently serving a life sentence for the 1967 shooting death of an Andover, Massachusetts gas station attendant. In 2008 and again in 2009, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court denied Nassar's appeals of his 1967 conviction.[19][20] In 2006, Nassar argued in court filings that he had been unable to make his case in a previous appeal, because he was in federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas in the 1980s and therefore did not have access to Massachusetts legal resources.[19] The court noted that Nassar had returned to Massachusetts in 1983, yet he did not plead his case for more than two decades.[19] Nassar also filed a motion for a new trial in Essex County, which was denied,[21] as was his 2011 petition to the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.[22]

Ames Robey, a former prison psychologist who analyzed both DeSalvo and Nassar, has called Nassar a misogynistic, psychopathic killer and a far more likely suspect than DeSalvo.[18] Several followers of the case have also declared Nassar to be the real Strangler, claiming that he fed details of the murders to DeSalvo. DeSalvo, they speculated, knew that he would spend the rest of his life in jail for the "Green Man" attacks, and "confessed" so that Nassar could collect reward money that they would split—thus providing support to DeSalvo's wife and two children. Another motive was his tremendous need for notoriety—DeSalvo hoped that the case would make him world-famous; Robey testified that "Albert so badly wanted to be the Strangler."[18]

In a 1999 interview with The Boston Globe, Nassar denied involvement in the murders, saying that the speculation had killed his chances for parole. "I had nothing to do with it," he said, "I'm convicted under the table, behind the scenes."[23]


In 1971, the Texas legislature unanimously passed a resolution honoring DeSalvo for his work in "population control"—after the vote, Waco Representative Tom Moore, Jr. admitted that he had submitted the legislation as an April Fool's Day joke against his colleagues—his declared intent was to prove that they pass legislation with no due diligence given to researching the issues beforehand. Having made his point, he withdrew the resolution.[24]

In popular culture[]

  • DeSalvo was the subject of the 1968 Hollywood film The Boston Strangler, starring Tony Curtis as DeSalvo, and Henry Fonda and George Kennedy as the homicide detectives who apprehend him. The movie was highly fictionalized. It assumed that DeSalvo was guilty, and it portrayed him as suffering from multiple personality disorder and committing the murders while in a psychotic state. DeSalvo was never diagnosed with or even suspected of having that disorder.
  • The lyrics in the song "Midnight Rambler" (1969), by The Rolling Stones, are based upon the DeSalvo history.
  • The artist Mark Morrisroe would frequently claim that he was DeSalvo's illegitimate son.[25]
  • Death metal/grindcore band Macabre explains DeSalvo's murders in their song "The Boston Strangler" on its album Sinister Slaughter (1993).
  • The song "Dirty Water," by the Standells, also makes a reference too the Boston Strangler.


  1. Bidgood, Jess (July 11, 2013). "50 Years Later, a Break in a Boston Strangler Case". Retrieved October 16, 2013. 
  2. "Remains unearthed of confessed Boston Strangler". USA Today. July 12, 2013. Retrieved October 13, 2013. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 DNA confirms Albert DeSalvo’s link to ‘Boston Strangler’ killing of Mary Sullivan: authorities. NY Daily News archive, retrieved October 17, 2015.
  4. Cawthorne, Nigel (2007). Serial Killers and Mass Murderers: Profiles of the World's Most Barbaric Criminals. Ulysses Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-1569755785. 
  5. "Albert DeSalvo". Archived from the original on October 22, 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  6. * Wallace, Irving, et al. The Book of Lists 2: "12 Mass Murderers Who Got Their Start In The U.S. Armed Forces"., p. 49. William Morrow & Company, Inc. 1980. ISBN 0-688-03574-4.
  7. Carey, Benedict (September 1, 2008). "Harry L. Kozol, 102, Expert in Patty Hearst Trial". 
  8. Bardsley, Marilyn (2001-02-23). "The Boston Strangler — Case Under Review — Crime Library on". Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  9. Bardsley, Marilyn (1967-01-10). "The Boston Strangler — The Jury Speaks — Crime Library on". Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  10. ID TV 12-29-14 ep:7 Confessions of The Boston Strangler "The Boston Strangler". 
  11. "Manuscript Collections". Lloyd Sealy Library Special Collections, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  12. "DNA links DeSalvo to Mary Sullivan's 1964 death". WHDH-TV Boston. July 11, 2013. [dead link]
  13. Kelly, Susan. The Boston Stranglers: The Public Conviction of Albert Desalvo and the True Story of Eleven Shocking Murders. Citadel. October 1995. ISBN 1-55972-298-3.
  14. The Boston Strangler. CBS News. February 14, 2001.
  15. "DNA doubts over Boston Strangler". BBC News. December 6, 2001. 
  16. "". Retrieved 2013-10-16. 
  17. Yvonne Abraham. "Body of Albert DeSalvo, self-confessed ‘Boston Strangler,’ to be exhumed". Archived from the original on July 14, 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Frank, Gerold (1966). The Boston Strangler. Signet. ISBN 0-451-16625-6. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 2008. Retrieved November 6, 2012. 
  20. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 2009. Retrieved November 6, 2012. 
  21. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 2010. Retrieved November 6, 2012. 
  22. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 2011. Retrieved November 6, 2012. 
  23. Jay Lindsay (February 16, 2008). "Appeal denied for jailhouse confidant of reputed Boston Strangler George Nassar convicted of Lawrence and Andover murders". The Eagle-Tribune. 
  24. "Texas Legislature de Salvo Resolution". Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  25. Adams, Brooks. (March 2011). "Beautiful, Dangerous People". Art in America, pp. 127-128; ISSN 0004-3214

Further reading[]

  • Albert DeSalvo Papers, Lloyd Sealy Library Special Collections at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (view upon appointment)
  • Frank, Gerold. The Boston Strangler. The New American Library, Inc. 1966. ISBN 0-451-16625-6.
  • Junger, Sebastian. A Death in Belmont. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. April 2006. ISBN 0-393-05980-4.
  • Kelly, Susan. The Boston Stranglers: The Public Conviction of Albert Desalvo and the True Story of Eleven Shocking Murders. Citadel. October 1995. ISBN 1-55972-298-3.
  • Landay, William. The Strangler. Dell Publishing. January 2007. ISBN 978-0-385-33615-4.
  • Rogers, Alan. New England Remembers: The Boston Strangler. Commonwealth Editions. May 2006. ISBN 1-889833-52-5.
  • Sherman, Casey and Dick Lehr. A Rose for Mary: The Hunt for the Boston Strangler. Northeastern University Press. September 2003. ISBN 1-55553-578-X.
  • Sherman, Casey and Dick Lehr. Search for the Strangler: My Hunt for Boston's Most Notorious Killer. Grand Central Publishing. April 1, 2005. ISBN 0-446-61468-8.

External links[]

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