Pick Me Up! magazine asked for my professional opinion on Albert DeSalvo, also known as The Boston Strangler, who was convicted of murdering several women in Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1960s. These murders were also known as the ‘silk stocking murders’ and it was later suggested that they might have been committed by more than one person. Out in the 7th June 2012 edition, I supplied the following psychological insight.
Albert grew up surrounded by violence and witnessed sex (without love) from an early age. He was also sold by his father into ‘slavery’ at a young age.What impact do you think these events had on his developing psyche, especially in terms of his later activities?
Albert’s male role model was a man who had no regard what-so-ever for women, but would use them merely for his own purpose – be that to release his anger or sexual tension on them. Albert was obviously, and understandably, an angry child. The only model he had for releasing this anger was a father who released his own anger so violently. While Albert’s release of anger might have been relatively harmless to begin with, starting with robbery, it would perpetuate with age and opportunity.
Where do you think Albert’s compulsive need to boast and brag came from?
Albert’s need to boast and brag was a sign of his insecurities. He didn’t believe he would be accepted just for being Albert, but felt that acceptance required some kind of sensational story that would somehow make him irresistible to others. Being sold by his father will have contributed to this insecurity. It gave the message that he wasn’t acceptable or wanted.
Do you think his voracious sexual demands indicate some form of psychological pathology? If so, could you explain your thoughts?
It would appear that Albert is more re-enacting the behaviour shown to him by his father, who used to make him watch as he released his own sexual appetite on prostitutes. Just as Albert’s father was an angry man with a veracious sexual appetite, so too would Albert be. Albert might not have liked his father, but he turned into a replica of him, albeit a more violent and out of control version.
Albert appears to be a traditional Jeckyl and Hyde type – very charming, likeable and persuasive, appearing to be kind and non-threatening. However with a dark inner life. Any thoughts on that?
Serial killers are often a traditional Jekyll and Hyde type as it is this that allows them to get away with so many murders. Think of Dennis Rader (the BTK) and……Without these two contrasting personalities, such people would never be able to commit the crimes that drive them.
What can you say about Albert’s ‘Measuring Man’ crimes?
The ‘Measuring Man’ crimes seem harmless in comparison to what Albert went on to do, but they were likely ‘tests’ that allowed him to see just how far he could manipulate women to get into their homes. Committing the murders was another step that Albert might not have yet been ready for. One thing is for sure – Albert was insecure. Therefore, he likely saw these crimes as ‘practice’ for worse to come.
What are your thoughts on the psychology of these crimes? What does the pattern tell us about the killer? Any other thoughts on the crimes?
It appears that Albert’s crimes progressed as he gained in confidence. He first learnt how to manipulate his way into women’s houses, then targeted older women who would be less able to defend themselves, finally moving on to women of all ages and using an increasing severity of method of attack. With every successful attack, Albert became more confident in his abilities and in his belief that he would not get caught. Psychologically, this leads to increased risk-taking, which is ultimately how people such as Albert end up getting caught.
Do you think the different types of crime might have been carried out by the same man? Many people think that the M.Os are too different. Or do you think the discrepancies indicate possibly multiple killers, who are trying to pass off their crime as one by the Boston Strangler?
This is difficult to say, especially considering that Albert was a known bragger and may very well of lied about committing the more violent crimes of the Boston Strangler. On the other hand, Albert might have been deliberately avoiding leaving a pattern or perhaps have been ‘visually bragging’ about his set of ‘skills.’ In the mind of a serial killer, this isn’t implausible. On the other hand, the events that took place with Nassar are suspect and the erratic pattern of the killings suggests that there was more than one person involved. Serial killers are usually very particular and precise – they like patterns; indeed, part of the thrill is often in leaving a pattern for the police to try and solve. This acts to increase their sense of power as they ‘play’ with the police and other investigators. So, while it is not implausible that Albert was involved in all of these crimes, if he was, the differences between the crimes make him somewhat unique as far as serial killers go.
In 2001, DNA tests on one victim’s exhumed remains did not match Albert. A forensics science professor who did the test said ‘if I was a juror I would acquit him with no questions asked.’ The victim’s relatives agree. ‘if he didn’t kill Mary yet he confessed to it in glaring detail, he didn’t kill any of those women.’
The combination of psychological and forensic evidence suggests that while Albert was a violent rapist – he was the Measuring Man and the Green Man – he was unlikely to have been the Boston Strangler. Nevertheless, he was a monster – a replica of his father – an angry man whose rage would be taken out physically and sexually on women.