Between 1962 and 1964, 13 women in Massachusetts fell prey to a series of sexual assaults and choking murders that came to be known as the work of “The Boston Strangler.”
At the same time, Boston-area police were on the hunt for a serial rapist known as “The Green Man” or “The Measuring Man.” A victim identified former juvenile delinquent and Army veteran Albert DeSalvo, then 33, as her assailant, and police promptly arrested him.
While incarcerated, DeSalvo claimed he was also the Boston Strangler and reportedly provided specific details of the attacks that only the killer would know. He was never charged with the murders though — in fact, no one ever has been.
Through the decades, doubt about DeSalvo as the lone assailant has repeatedly arisen. Many theories believe multiple killers were at work. In 2013, however, DNA evidence conclusively proved that DeSalvo had attacked at least one of the victims, Mary Sullivan.
Since the earliest reports of the crimes, the horror of the Boston Strangler has exerted a hold on the public and inspired macabre entertainment. In fact, after the Jack the Ripper murders, it’s essentially the first serial killer case to so captivate popular culture, and it did so almost immediately.
The Rolling Stones, for example, famously sing about the killer in their 1969 classic “Midnight Rambler,” and the figure has come up in a multitude of true-crime books, novels, and other media.
In 2014, a Boston Strangler movie set to star Casey Affleck went into preproduction while, in 2016, Stranglehold, a major new Hollywood drama about the killings, was also reported to be actively in development.
Movies, in fact, have been on the case all along. Here are six gripping examples.
THE STRANGLER (1964)
Rotund character actor and standup comedian Victor Buono, forever immortalized on TV’s Batman as supervillain King Tut, stars as Leo Kroll, the title character of the enjoyably grimy exploitation potboiler, The Strangler. Leo’s got mommy issues and he plays with dolls and, while working as a hospital lab technician, he takes to choking nurses to death. Alternately effete and over-polite and then seized with wobbling, sweaty rage, Buono is perfectly cast. Despite the murder method being the only connection between the film and the real-life killings, producers originally intended to call the movie The Boston Strangler to cash in on the headlines, but then decided that might be too timely. They had no way of knowing how often the case continues to come up more than a half-century later.
THE BOSTON STRANGLER (1968)
The Boston Strangler represents a milestone in movie history. The powerfully made film is a major Hollywood undertaking featuring huge Hollywood stars and top-tier production values. It’s also the very first of its kind in that it arose from a recent case of a real-life serial killer. That alone guaranteed controversy, but The Boston Strangler also takes numerous artistic liberties with the facts and therefore properly generated criticism. Still, it’s an enthralling experience, as Tony Curtis delivers his career-high performance as the terrifying yet multi-layered Albert DeSalvo, and Henry Fonda is equally masterful as Boston Police Chief John S. Bottomly.
THE BOSTON STRANGLER (2006)
Part of the onslaught of direct-to-video serial killer cheapies that flooded video stores in the 2000s, The Boston Strangler actually takes an unusual approach to its subject. Most of the film, which does blend fact and fiction, focuses on a conversation between Albert DeSalvo (Mauro Lannini) and fake Boston detective Sean Reilly (Jason David) utilizing only occasional time-jumps to re-create the murders. That stated, it is supremely boring.
THE BOSTON STRANGLER: THE UNTOLD STORY (2008)
David Faustino — best known for playing Bud Bundy on the classic sitcom Married… With Children — stars as Albert DeSalvo in Boston Strangler: The Untold Story. Writer-director Michael Feifer filters the plot through DeSalvo’s confessions, here told in a mental hospital to a fictionalized roommate called Frank Asarian (Kostas Sommer). Faustino never entirely buries the feeling that you’re watching Kelly Bundy’s annoying kid brother behaving extremely badly, but he makes a laudable effort.
THE FRONT (2010)
The Front is the second TV movie adaptation based on a popular series of crime novels by Patricia Cornwell. Here, district attorney Monique Lamont (Andie MacDowell) asks Police Investigator Will Garana (Daniel Sunjata) to reopen a cold case. A new series of murders seems to be copycatting the Boston Strangler — or could it be that the original killer has been at large for decades and is back in action? It’s an intriguing premise, poorly served in The Front by chintzy production values and soap opera dramatics.
Watch Investigation Discovery’s The Boston Strangler: The Hunt for a Killer on ID GO now!
Main photo: The Boston Strangler movie poster