HomeEntertainmentThe chilling true story behind Hulu's Boston Strangler movie

The chilling true story behind Hulu’s Boston Strangler movie


Carrie Coon and Keira Knightley in ‘Boston Strangler’ Credit – Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

In the wake of a series of popular true crime adaptations ranging from HBO’s The stairs to that of Netflix Dahmer – Monster: The Story of Jeffrey Dahmer comes Hulu’s new Boston Strangler movie, out on March 17.

Written and directed by Matt Ruskin (Crown Heights), Boston Strangler tells the story of 13 women who were murdered in and around Boston in the early 1960s, dubbed the “Silk Stocking Murders,” from the perspective of the two journalists who covered the connected murders, Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley ) and Jean Cole (Carrie Coon).

As investigative journalists for the File American (a predecessor of the Boston herald), McLaughlin and Cole faced sexism and pressure to drop the story, both from their own newsroom and from a skeptical and uncooperative police force, as they attempted to expose the truth and bring justice to the women who were killed – similar to in the movie.

Thirty years after the first series of murders, McLaughlin wrote a story for the Boston sphere about what prompted her to cover the case, explaining how it was the fourth murder in the summer of 1962 that “piqued” her attention. “An editor disputed the value of a series about the four dead women, noting that they were ‘nobody,'” she wrote. “That was exactly it, I felt. Why would anyone kill four obscure women? That’s what made them so interesting… sisters in anonymity, like all of us.”

What role did McLaughlin and Cole play in the case?

Over the nearly two years that the 13 victims, ranging in age from 19 to 85 years old, were killed, McLaughlin and Cole led the charge on the theory that the gruesome murders were the work of a single assailant, who they called the “Boston Strangler.” This was almost a decade before the term “serial killer” was coined.

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The first six murders, all of them of elderly single women who had seemingly voluntarily allowed the killer into their homes, took place in the summer of 1962. After that, the murder spree fell silent for months until 20-year-old Sophie Clark was found strangled to death in December in her apartment. The next six victims, killed between December 1962 and January 1964, ranged in age from 19 to 69 years. The majority were sexually assaulted before being strangled.

McLaughlin and Cole began publishing a series of investigative reports on the murders in January 1963, with the first story featuring the newspaper’s dubiously chosen headline, “Two Girl Reporters Analyze Strangler.” This led to a month-long run of nearly 30 articles about the murders, according to Smithsonian Magazine. It was at this point that McLaughlin and Cole encountered significant resistance from authorities who took the view that the level of detail in their reporting was detrimental to the investigation and could give rise to copycat crimes.

Keira Knightley in 'Boston Strangler'<span class="auteursrechten">Thanks to Hulu</span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/yXUBqxZUyARmnGodEBc8SQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTQ5Mg–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/time_72/914413c1b5fd73065bc822bf91f”/14cb><noscript><img alt=Thanks to Hulu” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/yXUBqxZUyARMnGodEBc8SQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTQ5Mg–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/time_72/914413c1b5fd73065bc822bf914cb0″ class=”casb0f” -img”/>

Keira Knightley in ‘Boston Strangler’Thanks to Hulu

As for how accurate Boston Strangler portrays McLaughlin and Cole, Ruskin told Collider that while parts of the film are dramatized, he did his best to create a true-to-life portrayal of the two women.

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“I developed a personal bond with Loretta and [Jean’s] children. I got to know their families very well, and it was very important to me to get the story right,” he said. “So I wanted to convey the spirit of these women as best I could. That said, if you’re trying to tell a story that spans several years in a feature film, you obviously have to take some liberties.

Who was the Boston Strangler?

In October 1964, 34-year-old Albert DeSalvo (played by David Dastmalchian) was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman after posing as a police officer to enter her home. When his photo was published in the newspapers, several other women came forward to say that he had committed similar attacks against them, a series of attacks that became known as the “Green Man” crimes.

DeSalvo was sent to await trial at Bridgewater State Hospital, a state facility for the criminally insane, and it was there that he allegedly confessed to his cellmate, George Nassar (played by Greg Vrotos), that he was responsible for the murders related to the Boston Strangler case. Nassar passed the confession on to his attorney, celebrity attorney F. Lee Bailey (played by Luke Kirby), who took DeSalvo on as a client when he became the prime suspect in the case.

Read more: Keira Knightley investigates a serial killer in the Tense, Absorbing Boston Strangler

Even with DeSalvo’s own confession, there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute him for the Boston Strangler murders. In 1967, he was tried on charges of the ‘Green Man’ crimes and sentenced to life in prison for armed robbery and assault. DeSalvo recanted his confession in prison in 1973, shortly before he was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate.

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Some have suggested that Nassar, who is serving a life sentence on a separate murder conviction, is a more likely suspect than DeSalvo and coached him to confess with promises that his family would be provided for financially. In a 2018 interview with WBZ-TV, Nassar denied participating in the murders and claimed that he directed Bailey to take on DeSalvo’s case. “We were all setting it up, saying Al you’re going to confess, you’re going to court, you’re going to do your book, we’re going to take care of your family and he said okay, okay, okay,” he said.

Boston Strangler states that another likely suspect was Daniel Marsh (played by Ryan Winkles), a pseudonym given by the film to an ex-Harvard Student who was also one of DeSalvo’s fellow inmates at Bridgewater and had once dated one of the victims. In the following years, Marsh moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where a series of similar murders later occurred.

Forty years after DeSalvo’s death, a 2013 DNA analysis finally linked him to the murder of Mary Sullivan, the last and youngest of the victims linked to the Boston Strangler case. The question of whether DeSalvo committed the other 12 murders remains unanswered.

At the time of the positive DNA identification in 2013, the New York Time quoted Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley as saying that DeSalvo’s confession had “been the subject of skepticism and controversy from the time it was made.”

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