Books: Murderer Unmasked?

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THE BOSTON STRANGLER by Gerold Frank. 364 pages. New American Library. $5.95.

Few murderers in history ever spread so much terror as the madman who roved the Boston area from June 1962 to January 1964. The headlines called him the Boston Strangler, but the killer did not garrote all of his 13 victims. One 85-year-old woman became so frightened when he manhandled her that she died of a heart attack; he killed a 23-year-old Boston University graduate student by stabbing her 22 times, carefully spacing 18 of the wounds into a perfect bull's-eye design on her left breast.

Whether he strangled, stabbed or beat his victims to death, the Boston Strangler usually left some article of clothing —stocking or bra—tied around the neck in a flamboyant bow that police learned to recognize as his grisly trademark. The obscene indignities he performed on the bodies of the women he killed were never fully reported in the newspapers; some were simply unprintable. Nevertheless, chilling accounts of the killer's bestiality leaked out, compounding the fear that any community feels when a murderer is on the prowl. Women living alone all but barricaded themselves in their apartments; the demand for watchdogs—dogs of any kind —kept the local pound empty. Unable to run down a single clue to the Strangler's identity, the police in desperation tried to track him with the aid of an advanced, solid-state computer, and finally—in the most bizarre touch of all —enlisted the help of people claiming to have extrasensory perception.

Talkative Caller. As far as official records show, the murderer has never been caught. But unaccountably, at the beginning of 1964, the brutal crimes stopped. Then, about a year later, cautiously worded news stories suggested that the Strangler was lodged in Bridgewater State Hospital, a maximum-security asylum.

Gerold Frank, best known as a ghost biographer (Lillian Roth's I'll Cry Tomorrow, Diana Barrymore's Too Much, Too Soon), identifies the criminal as Albert Henry DeSalvo, 34, a jug-eared, powerfully built amateur boxer and onetime reformatory-school inmate. A resident of Maiden, Mass., where he lived with his German-born wife and two small children, DeSalvo was a semiskilled factory hand and an over-skilled sex deviate. In 1961, he confessed that he was the "Measuring Man," who for more than a year had talked his way into the apartments of gullible women by claiming to be a representative of a model agency. He did not harm any of the women, but got his kicks from touching them while he took their measurements on the pretext that he was recruiting talent. He served eleven months—for attempted breaking and entering and assault and battery—before he was paroled.

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