Serial Killers That Were Probably Mostly Innocent


It would be really hard to argue the case that Albert DeSalvo was not a killer.  After all, modern DNA testing has definitively linked him to one of the Boston Strangler cases.  And he was convicted of rape, not murder, because some of his confessions were… not right.

  • The Boston Strangler case is complicated because of the same reason the Atlanta Child Murders and the Lipstick Murders cases are complicated; victimology. There are essentially two sets of victims with all these cases and it’s no different with The Boston Strangler, except it seems to be a matter of living victims versus dead ones.
  • DeSalvo was convicted of the Green Man rapes. These were a series of rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated against young women in the Boston area.  When DeSalvo was named the suspect in the Boston Strangler case and his photo published, several women came forward to accuse DeSalvo of their sexual assaults.  DeSalvo was not a particularly stable individual and most believed he needed medical treatment for a mental condition, which fit in perfectly with the Green Man rapes, as the rapist kept repeating “I’m sorry” during several of the assaults.  A few women even reported that he cried during their assaults.
  • His DNA did link him to one Boston Strangler murder; Mary Sullivan. Sullivan was just 19 when she was attacked, sexually assaulted, and strangled.  However, that wasn’t until 2013.  By then, most of the Boston Strangler case had been picked apart by experts…
  • Now for the Experts…
    • While there are similarities between several of the Boston Strangler cases, they aren’t exactly the makings of an MO or modi operandi. Most of the women were strangled with a ligature, usually their nylon stockings.  However, it was the 1960s and every woman had stockings, but then some were strangled with things like bathrobe belts and by hands.  The differences in age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status was very different.  It looked to most experts like there might be at least three different stranglers.  Also, there were a couple of victims that were stabbed, not strangled and not all the women were sexually assaulted.  Furthermore, of those that were sexually assaulted, some were assaulted by objects, not, um, how do I word that?  Yes, anyway, you get the picture there.
    • The Boston Strangler has a double event. On June 30, 1962, he raped and strangled Nina Nichols in her home and later that day, raped and killed Helen Blake (Newhall Street in Lynn, Massachusetts) in her home.  Interestingly, Nina Nichols lived at 1940 Commonwealth Ave. Boston, Massachusetts.  On June 28, 1962, the Boston Strangler killed Mary Mullen (she actually died of a heart attack during her assault – she was the oldest victim at 85) who lived in an apartment at 1435 Commonwealth Ave.
    • Modern day geographic profiling does not fit the Boston Strangler case. If it were a single killer, he was comfortable with all areas of Boston and the surrounding cities; killing in places like Cambridge and Salem, Massachusetts, not just Boston.  These are not just geographically different areas; they are socioeconomically diverse areas.
    • Even then, the police had doubts that all the cases were related. It was largely under pressure from the public that the cases were linked into a single serial killer case.  Famed profiler Robert Ressler once said that the police put “together so many different patterns that it’s inconceivable behaviorally that all these could exist in one individual.”
    • Police had several suspects in the case, DeSalvo was not among the top. However, he did get institutionalized with one of them, George Nassar.
    • Bizarrely, the person most convinced of DeSalvo’s guilt was his attorney, F. Lee Bailey. And while police were willing to point out the inconsistencies of DeSalvo’s confessions with those of the actual murders, his attorney brushed them away by saying his client was insane, of course he would forget details.
    • Nassar is the first person to report that DeSalvo confessed to the Strangler cases. He told his lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, about it.  Then he told the superintendent at the institution.  However, the superintendent believed DeSalvo had been coerced into the confessions and even coached.  This did not help DeSalvo though.
    • More controversy: DeSalvo said he raped Mary Sullivan and it was this case that linked him through DNA evidence. However, forensic examination at the time of Sullivan’s murder did not reveal any evidence of sexual activity and the seminal fluid was collected from somewhere else within the apartment (meaning, in a bizarre twist of terrible luck, she could have been a Green Man victim and a Boston Strangler victim – DeSalvo even got the time of her murder and the manner in which he killed her wrong in his confession).
    • He got this wrong in almost all of his confessions. One police officer quipped that DeSalvo “either had the shortest memory of any killer or he didn’t do it.”  DeSalvo failed to get names, dates, and murder weapons right in almost all the murder cases, but did manage to remember those details regarding the handful of Green Man rapes he was tried and convicted for.  However, he did know details that were not released to the public about several of them (remember the comment about the superintendent saying DeSalvo was coached through his confessions ahead of time by another inmate?)

Fifty plus years after the first Boston Strangler case and we have just as many questions as we did back then.  Possibly more since we have learned more about DeSalvo, the murders, and serial killers in general.  One thing we do know is that Albert DeSalvo as the Green Man liked pretty, young ladies, not the preferred victim type of the Boston Strangler – the majority of those victims were over 50.

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