There are fictional works, like movies, series, or books, that manage to shed light on the less-known sides of the big stories of our society. It can be a documentary, like the ones on Netflix from time to time (Madoff, MH370, and the Murdaugh Murders are just a few recent examples), or they may be real productions based on a true story. One clear case was the one triggered by the 2023 movie Boston Strangler, directed by Matt Ruskin and starring Keira Knightley: a film that investigates the true story of the women murdered in Boston in the 60s, hinting at the fact that Albert DeSalvo, the criminal who confessed those murders, may not be the only murderer, and other “Boston Stranglers” could exist. The movie mentions three other criminals, Daniel Marsh, George Nassar, and Paul Dempsey. Let’s understand the truth about them in this article.
You can watch the official trailer for Boston Strangler here on Youtube.
The true story: is Albert DeSalvo really the only Boston Strangler?
If you do just a superficial search about who the Boston Strangler was, you’ll immediately end up in the story of Albert DeSalvo: he was the criminal who was arrested in October 1964, initially suspected only of a series of rapes made by who was known as “the Green Man.” After he had been charged for those rapes, he released a full confession of all the murders involved in the “Boston Strangler” case, a series of 13 women killed with a similar modus operandi between June 1962 and January 1964. However, as the 2023 movie Boston Strangler explains, many doubts exist about his confession. Many believe he made it up to make some money by publishing a book (which never saw the light). This was confirmed by F. Lee Bailey, the attorney who received DeSalvo’s confession, as this old article on Unsolved explains: Nassar told Bailey, “he asked me whether or not it would be possible for someone who had done the stranglings to write a book.”
Some actual facts need to be taken into consideration in this story. Many of them have been thoroughly covered by the writer Susan Kelly, who published the book The Boston Stranglers in 2013. Her work shares the same perspective as the 2023 movie with Keira Knightley, implying that the Boston Strangler wasn’t just one man, but many criminals who operated similarly. From this point of view, Albert DeSalvo’s confession was just a convenient event to close the case. Let’s go fact by fact:
- Albert DeSalvo was the raper responsible for the “Green Man” assaults in the 1960s in the Boston area. Indeed, he will be sentenced to life in prison for those rapes. But he was never prosecuted for the Boston Strangler’s victims.
- The first one mentioning DeSalvo’s confession for the Boston Strangler’s murders was his fellow inmate George Nassar in 1965. George Nassar and Albert DeSalvo were both at the Bridgewater State Hospital, where their mental condition was checked.
- When the press covered DeSalvo’s confession as the Boston Strangler, two women able to recognize the strangler’s face – a survivor and a victim’s neighbor, came forward. The police asked them to identify the Boston Strangler among a group of inmates: they both pointed at George Nassar. This was also confirmed by this old article on Unsolved.
- Albert DeSalvo was never prosecuted for the Boston Strangler murders because, despite his confession, there wasn’t enough evidence (even the police had many doubts about the reliability of his confession).
- DeSalvo recanted his confession in 1973. As this old article on DailyMail explains, in the 70s, Albert DeSalvo intended to “drop a bomb,” revealing the truth about the Boston Strangler. He was in contact with an attorney and a book writer about it. A few weeks later, he was killed in prison, raising the doubt that someone felt threatened by what he could declare.
- In 2013, DNA evidence proved that Albert DeSalvo was the murderer of Mary Sullivan, the 13th victim of the Boston Strangler series. It’s the only case proven to be linked with Albert DeSalvo.
- The first 12 murders of the Boston Strangler are still open cases.
- The modus operandi and the victims’ profile of the Boston Strangler cases were very different case by case, and investigators believed there were many responsibles behind them.
All the facts above, presented by the 2023 movie Boston Strangler and some books written in these years, point to the possibility that there wasn’t only one Boston Strangler in the 60s. So the question you have now is: if this is true, who are the other Boston Stranglers beside Albert DeSalvo? What are the clues around George Nassar, Daniel Marsh, and Paul Dempsey, the other criminals mentioned in the movie?
George Nassar, Daniel Marsh, and Paul Dempsey: the other suspects in the movie Boston Strangler
Among the characters you see in the 2023 movie Boston Strangler, George Nassar is undoubtedly the one that raises more doubts. Nassar was already in prison from 1948 to 1961 for murder. He was paroled in 1961 and arrested again in September 1964 for the murder of a gas station owner. That perfectly matches the time span of the Boston Strangler’s victims, which goes from June 1962 and January 1964.
George Nassar indeed matches the strangler’s profile. His attorney was the famous F Lee. Bailey and it was Nassar contacting Bailey about DeSalvo’s confession. For all these reasons, the idea that Nassar coached DeSalvo to confess (with the help of his attorney?) is not entirely out of the blue, and it would also support the fact that DeSalvo was killed when he allegedly wanted to tell the truth. However, there is no evidence proving it.
The 2023 movie Boston Strangler also mentions another criminal named Paul Dempsey. Paul Dempsey is a fictional character, but he matches the profile of Charles Terry, a serial killer arrested in 1963 in New York. As Wikipedia explains, New York police suspected him for the first five cases of the Boston Strangler series, supported by his confession about being in Boston in those months. The victims’ profiles also match, as the first five victims had more than 55 years, like Terry’s last victim. New York’s police tried to collaborate with Boston Police about it, but in Boston, they didn’t want to follow that lead, scared of how the media could react.
The other criminal mentioned in the movie Boston Strangler is Daniel Marsh. Like Paul Dempsey, also Daniel Marsh is a fictional character, but he refers to another suspect who was investigated by Boston police for those murders: David Parker Ray, known as “the Toy-Box Killer.” You can find his story on Wikipedia. Apparently, at some point in those years, he moved from Boston to Michigan, and that started a new spree of murders in that area.
In conclusion, the words you hear at the end of the 2023 movie Boston Strangler are undoubtedly valid: there were many men in those years out there, killing women in brutal ways. And the idea of one only responsible, already in jail and confessing for all of them, was just the perfect piece of news everybody sought, including the police.
It’s worth noting that all the criminals mentioned in this article were caught sooner or later. From this point of view, whether there was one only Boston Strangler or many stranglers, justice should have been made for all the murders.