Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, during 1931, DeSalvo was another product of a violent and abusive home. Albert DeSalvo beat his wife and children regularly, and was thrown in jail on two occasions prior to the divorce that split the family in 1944. Fleeing a record of teenage arrests for breaking and entering, Albert joined the army at age 17 and was stationed in Germany. He married a German girl and brought her back to the United States when he was transferred home.
Posted to Fort Dix, New Jersey, DeSalvo was charged with molesting a nine-year-old girl in January 1955, but the child’s mother declined to press charges, and so he received an honorable discharge in 1956. At the same time, he experienced sexual problems with his wife, demanding intercourse five or six times a day, regarding her as “frigid” when she turned him down. Matters grew worse with the birth of their first child, in 1958, with the new shortage of cash driving DeSalvo back to a life of petty crime. Arrested twice for breaking and entering, he received suspended sentences each time.
During this same period, Massachusetts women began falling prey to the “Measuring Man,” a smooth talking impostor who posed as a talent scout for a modeling agency, wandering door-to-door in an endless search for “new talent.” Once inside an apartment, the man would produce a measuring tape and proceed to record the tenant’s “vital statistics,” often fondling her intimately in the process. Some complained to the police, but many others didn’t and detectives noted the absence of any violent assault, ranking the case near the bottom of their priority list.
On March 17, 1960, Cambridge police arrested DeSalvo on suspicion of burglary, and he swiftly confessed to his role as the “Measuring Man.” Charged with assault and battery, lewd conduct, and attempted breaking and entering, he was convicted only on the latter charge, sentenced to two years in prison. Paroled after eleven months, he was driven by sexual frustration to adopt a more aggressive, violent role. As the “Green Man” – so-called for his green work clothes – DeSalvo launched a two-year campaign of sexual assaults that claimed victims in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Police would later estimate that he had raped at least 300 women, while DeSalvo placed the total closer to 2000. He once claimed a half-dozen victims in one day, spread over four towns, with two of the rapes unreported prior to his confession.
While police throughout New England sought the “Green Man,” Boston homicide detectives were stalking an elusive killer, blamed for the deaths of eleven women between June 1962 and July 1964. In every case, the victims had been raped – sometimes with foreign objects – and their bodies laid out nude, as if on display for a pornographic snapshot. Death was always due to strangulation, though the killer sometimes also used a knife. The ligature – a stocking, pillowcase, whatever – was inevitably left around the victim’s neck, tied with an exaggerated, ornamental bow.
Anna Slessers, 55, had been the first to die, strangled with the cord of the bathrobe on June 14, 1962. A nylon stocking was used to kill 68-year-old Nina Nichols on June 30, and Helen Blake, age 65, was found the same day, a stocking and bra knotted around her neck. On August 19, 75-year-old Ida Irga was manually strangled in her home, “decorated” with a knotted pillow case, and 67-year-old Jane Sullivan had been dead a week when she was found on August 20, strangled with her own stockings, slumped over the edge of the bathtub with her face submerged.
The killer seemed to break his pattern on December 5, 1962, murdering 20-year-old black, Sophie Clark. Another shift was seen with 23-year-old Patricia Bissette, strangled on her bed and covered with a blanket to her chin, in place of the usual graphic display. With 23-year-old Beverly Samans, killed on May 6, 1963, the slayer used a knife for the first time, stabbing his victim 22 times before looping the traditional nylon stocking around her neck. Evelyn Corbin, 58, seemed to restore the pattern on September 8, strangled and violated by an “unnatural” assault, but the killer went back to young victims on November 23, strangling 23-year-old Joann Graff, leaving teethmarks in her breast. The final victim, 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, was found on January 4, 1964, strangled with a scarf, the shaft of a broomstick protruding from her vagina.
Ten months later, on November 3, DeSalvo was hauled in for questioning on rape charges, after one of the “Green Man’s” victims gave police a description strongly resembling the “Measuring Man.” DeSalvo’s confession to a long series of rapes landed him in the Bridgewater State Hospital, committed for observation, and where he was befriended by George Nassar, a convicted murderer facing trial in his second robbery-slaying since 1948. Their private discussions were interspersed with visits from police, ultimately leading to DeSalvo’s full confession in the “Boston Strangler” crimes.
In his confession, Albert even tacked on two “new” victims, never previously linked by the authorities. One, 85-year-old Mary Mullen, was found dead at her home on June 28, 1962, her passing attributed to heart failure. DeSalvo claimed that Mullen had collapsed from shock when he invaded her apartment, whereupon he left her body on the couch without continuing the usual assault. Mary Brown, age 69, was stabbed and beaten in her home on March 9, 1963, again without a showing of the “strangler’s knot.”
It seemed like an open-and-shut case, but numerous problems remained. The strangler’s sole surviving victim, assaulted in February 1963, couldn’t pick Albert out of a lineup, and neither could witnesses who sighted a suspect near the Graff and Sullivan murder scenes. Several detectives had focused their aim on another “prime suspect,” fingered by psychic Peter Hurkos, but their man had voluntarily committed himself to an asylum soon after the last murder. And if Albert DeSalvo was driven by a mother-fixation, as psychiatrists claimed, why had he chosen young women as five of his last seven victims?
Some students of the case believe the answer may be found in Bridgewater, where killer George Nassar conferred with DeSalvo through long days and nights. It is possible, critics maintain, that Nassar might have been the strangler, briefing Albert on the details of his crimes in hope of sending authorities off on a wild goose chase. DeSalvo, already facing life imprisonment for countless rapes, admittedly struck a cash bargain with Nassar, whereby Nassar would pocket part of the outstanding reward for turning DeSalvo in, afterward passing on most of the cash to DeSalvo’s wife. As a “clincher,” the strangler’s lone survivor favored Nassar as a suspect, rather than DeSalvo.
Be that as it may, DeSalvo never came to trial for homicide in Boston. Lawyer F. Lee Bailey managed to negotiate a deal in 1967, whereby Albert drew a term of life imprisonment for crimes committed as the “Green Man.” Never charged in the Boston stranglings, he was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate at Walpole prison, in November 1973.
In the year 2000 DeSalvo’s body was exhumed and another autopsy was performed on him. His family requested it so that they might find some more evidence of just who it was who killed Albert, and also to look for evidence that would show that he was innocent of the Boston Strangler killings.
ALBERT DE SALVO