Alan Rogers,
New England Remembers: The Boston Strangler
(Commonwealth, 2006)

Growing up in the late 1960s and early '70s, the Boston Strangler was like the bogeyman.

Far fresher in societal memory than England's Jack the Ripper, the Strangler killed even more women than Jack -- 13 in all, if the tally is correct -- from June 1962 to January 1964. And among my childhood friends, the Strangler was a villain easily conjured from the imagination; while our parents believed him to be safely behind bars -- or, after the convicted killer's jailhouse murder in November 1973, dead -- we knew with full certainty that he could easily be lurking outside our suburban Pennsylvania homes at night, having escaped justice and broadened his target to include young, impressionable children....

Whether you believe the official line -- that Albert DeSalvo was the Stranger and paid for his crimes -- or you suspect there was more than one killer or, equally likely, that police got the wrong man based on false confessions, the fact remains that the story of the Boston Strangler is as thrilling, horrifying and fascinating as anything to come from the Whitechapel region of London nearly a century before.

Historian Alan Rogers lays out the facts of the case in a succinct, easy-to-read volume of the New England Remembers series devoted to the Strangler. (The only other book in the series I've read is about accused ax murderer Lizzie Borden; however, I should note that only a few of the books in the educational set are devoted to killers.) Rogers details the murders of all 13 women and explains the similarities and differences between the scenes. He follows along with the police investigation and touches on the backlash against homosexual men in the Boston area, who were assumed to be sexually violent predators because of the prejudices of the time. He runs through a series of theories about the killer(s), including the insights provided to Boston police by a famous psychic. And he takes readers through DeSalvo's arrest for other, non-lethal sex crimes, his later confession to the murders and the legal mess -- involving future O.J. Simpson defender F. Lee Bailey -- that followed.

DeSalvo was never formally charged for the murders, and some investigators argued he wasn't the Strangler at all. But the matter was dropped after DeSalvo's conviction for other crimes, and his death in prison seemed to put an end to it. Rogers certainly seems to think DeSalvo was the right guy; whether or not you agree should not stop you from enjoying this book.

review by
Tom Knapp

1 November 2008

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