Albert DeSalvo

Albert DeSalvo

Albert DeSalvo

DeSalvo after escaping Bridgewater State Hospital and being caught in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1967.
Background information
Birth name: Albert Henry DeSalvo
Also known as: The Boston Strangler
Born: September 3, 1931(1931-09-03)
Chelsea, Massachusetts,
United States
Died: November 25, 1973 (aged 42)
Cause of death: stabbed to death
Number of victims: 13
Span of killings: June 14, 1962–January 4, 1964
Country: United States
State(s): Massachusetts
Date apprehended: October 27, 1964

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. His confession has been disputed, and debate continues regarding which crimes DeSalvo actually committed.


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Early life

DeSalvo was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts to Frank and Charlotte DeSalvo. His father was a violent alcoholic who at one point beat all of his wife’s teeth out and bent her fingers back until they broke. He also forced his children to watch him have sex with prostitutes he brought home. DeSalvo tortured animals as a child and began shoplifting and stealing in early adolescence, frequently crossing paths with the law.

When he was young, he was sold into slavery with his sister to a Maine farmer for about nine dollars. The children broke out and returned home, where Frank DeSalvo began to teach and encourage Albert to steal. 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.

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, 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.

Gainsborough Street site of the first murder attributed to The Boston Strangler

The police were not convinced 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 believed the crimes were committed by one person, however.

On October 27, 1964, a stranger entered a young woman’s home 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 homeowner, future Brockton police chief Richard Sproles, became suspicious and eventually fired a shotgun at DeSalvo.

DeSalvo was not initially 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 under hypnosis induced by William Joseph Bryan. He initially confessed to fellow inmate George Nassar; he then reported to his attorney F Lee Bailey, who took on 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 in order to assist in gaining a “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdict to the sexual offenses, but it was ruled as inadmissible by the judge.

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. The day after the escape, he was caught in nearby Lynn, Massachusetts.[1] Following the escape, he was transferred to the maximum security prison known at the time as Walpole where he was found murdered six years later in the infirmary. His killer or killers were never identified.

DeSalvo was never charged with the “Strangler’s” crimes, put on trial for them, or convicted of them.


Lingering doubts remain as to whether DeSalvo was indeed the Boston Strangler. At the time he confessed, people who knew him personally did not believe him capable of the crimes. It was also noted the women killed by “The Strangler” came from different age and ethnic groups, and there were different modi operandi.

Susan Kelly, an author who has had access to the files of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ “Strangler Bureau”, argues the murders were the work of several killers rather than a single individual.[2] Another author, former FBI profiler Robert Ressler, said “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.”[3]

In 2000, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, an attorney specializing in forensic cases based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, represented the DeSalvo family and the family of Mary A. Sullivan. Sullivan was publicized as being the final victim in 1964, although other murders occurred after that date. Former print journalist Whitfield Sharp assisted the families in their media campaign to clear DeSalvo’s name, to assist in organizing and arranging the exhumations of Mary A. Sullivan and Albert H. DeSalvo, in filing various lawsuits in attempts to obtain information and trace evidence (e.g., DNA) from the government, and to work with various producers to create documentaries to explain the facts to the public. Whitfield Sharp pointed out various inconsistencies between DeSalvo’s confessions and the crime scene information (which she obtained). For example, Whitfield Sharp observed, contrary to DeSalvo’s confession to Sullivan’s murder, there was no semen in her vagina and she was not strangled manually, but by ligature. Forensic pathologist Michael Baden observed DeSalvo also got the time of death wrong — a common inconsistency with several of the murders pointed out by Susan Kelly. Whitfield Sharp continues to work on the case for the DeSalvo family.[4]

In the case of Mary Sullivan, murdered January 4, 1964 at age 19, DNA and other forensic evidence — and leads from Kelly’s book — were used by the victim’s nephew Casey Sherman to try to determine her killer’s identity. Sherman wrote about this in his book A Rose for Mary (2003) and stated DeSalvo was not responsible for her death. For example, DeSalvo confessed to sexually penetrating Sullivan, yet the forensic investigation revealed no evidence of sexual activity. There are also suggestions from DeSalvo himself he was covering up for another man.[citation needed]

In 2001, the results of a forensic investigation has cast doubts over whether DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler. The investigation raised the possibility the real murderer could still be at large. The investigation revealed DNA evidence found on Sullivan does not match DeSalvo. James Starrs, professor of forensic science at George Washington University, told a news conference DNA evidence could not associate DeSalvo with the murder. Sullivan’s and DeSalvo’s bodies were exhumed as part of the efforts by both their families to find out who was responsible for the murders. Professor Starrs said an examination of a semen-like substance on her body did not match DeSalvo’s DNA. [5]

George Nassar, the inmate DeSalvo reportedly confessed to, is among the suspects in the case.[citation needed] He is currently serving a life sentence for the 1967 shooting death of an Andover, Massachusetts gas station attendant. In February 2008, the Massachuetts Supreme Judicial Court denied Nassar’s appeal of his 1967 conviction.[citation needed] Claudia Bolgen, Nassar’s attorney, said Nassar, 75 at the time, denied involvement in the murders.[citation needed] In 2006, Nassar argued in court filings he could not 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 materials.[citation needed] The court noted Nassar was back in Massachusetts in late 1983 and did not inquire about the case then or for more than two decades.[citation needed] Bolgen said she was disappointed in the decision, but said Nassar had a pending motion for a new trial in Essex County that she was confident would be granted.[citation needed]

Ames Robey, a former prison psychologist who analyzed both DeSalvo and Nassar, has said Nassar was a misogynistic, psychopathic killer who was a far more likely suspect than DeSalvo.[citation needed] Some[who?] followers of the case said Nassar was the real strangler and fed DeSalvo details of the murders so he could confess and gain notoriety.[citation needed] In a 1999 interview with The Boston Globe, Nassar denied involvement in the murders, but said the speculation killed any chance he had for parole. “I had nothing to do with it,” he said. “I’m convicted under the table, behind the scenes.”[citation needed]

Nassar had previously been convicted of the May 1948 murder of a shopowner. Nassar was sentenced to life in prison in that case, but through his friendship with a Unitarian minister he was paroled in early 1961, less than a year before the Boston Strangler murders were believed to have begun. [6]

DeSalvo in fiction

  • 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 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.
  • DeSalvo was one of the serial killers whose murders were recreated by the killer in the movie Copycat.
  • The spirit of DeSalvo is summoned by sheriff Lucas Buck to destroy the ghost of Caleb’s sister on the American Gothic episode Strangler.
  • DeSalvo’s name was used for the character Andrew DeSalvo, a fictional character in Silent Hill 4: The Room. The character works as a guard for the Water prison where children are sent for punishment but is killed by another character named Walter Sullivan.


  1. ^ The Boston Strangler“. Biography. The Biography Channel. 1987. 34:13 minutes in.
  2. ^ Kelly, Susan. The Boston Stranglers: The Public Conviction of Albert Desalvo and the True Story of Eleven Shocking Murders. Citadel. October 1995. ISBN 1559722983.
  3. ^ The Boston Strangler. CBS News. 14 February 2001.
  4. ^
  5. ^ [1][dead link]BBC. 6 December, 2001.
  6. ^ [2] Eagle Tribune. 16 February, 2008.

Further reading

  • 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 1559722983.
  • Landay, William. The Strangler. Dell Publishing. January 2007. ISBN 9780385336154.
  • 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. 1 April 2005. ISBN 0446614688.

External links

NAME DeSalvo, Albert Henry
ALTERNATIVE NAMES The Boston Strangler;DeSalvo, Albert;Boston Strangler
DATE OF BIRTH September 3, 1931
PLACE OF BIRTH Chelsea, Massachusetts
DATE OF DEATH November 26, 1973
PLACE OF DEATH Walpole, Massachusetts

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