JOHN DONOVAN

MARCH 1999 - Neighborhoods
were gripped with fear. Locksmiths were doing a land-office business
installing second and third locks to apartments housing women who lived
alone. The national media was focused on Boston.

It
began on June 14, 1962 and lasted until January 4, 1964, a period
during which thirteen women in Greater Boston were victims of either a
single killer or possibly several killers. In spite of the fact that
police did not necessarily see these killings as the work of one
person, the public did. They became known as victims of the Boston
Strangler.

Each day the pressure on
Boston’s chief of homicide was mounting. He was working days at a time
without sleep, 100-hour weeks was the norm. He lived in Boston’s
Roslindale neighborhood and had previously been awarded the Medal of
Honor for capturing three heavily armed robbers at gun point.

His
name is John Donovan and like many Association members, he now lives a
quite tranquil life after a career that was anything but quiet and
tranquil.

Albert DeSalvo


The
victims were all murdered in their apartments. They all had been
sexually assaulted and were strangled with articles of clothing. With
no sign of forced entry, the victims apparently knew their assailant(s)
or, at least, voluntarily let him (them) into their home. These were
respectable women who led quiet, modest lives.

Even
though nobody has ever officially been on trial for the Boston
stranglings, most people believe that Albert DeSalvo, who confessed in
detail to each of the eleven "official" Strangler murders, as well as
two others, was the murderer.

Albert
DeSalvo was a 30-year-old man with numerous arrests for breaking into
apartments and stealing whatever money he found. He lived in Malden
with his German wife and two small children. He worked during the day
as a press operator in a rubber factory.

A
couple of years before the strangling murders began, a series of
strange sex offenses began in the Cambridge area. A man in his late
twenties would knock on the door of an apartment and, if a young woman
answered, he would say he was from a modeling agency and ask to take
her measurements. His glib, disarming manner was successful.
Apparently, a number of women were interested and flattered and allowed
him to take out his tape and measure them.

When
he was finished, he told them that Mrs. Lewis from the agency would be
contacting them if the measurements were suitable. Of course, there was
never any call from Mrs. Lewis because neither she nor the modeling
agency existed. Eventually, some of the women contacted police.

On
March 17, 1961, Cambridge police caught a man, Albert DeSalvo, breaking
into a house. Not only did he confess to breaking and entering, but he
confessed to being the "measuring man."

DeSalvo
was sentenced to 18 months. With good behavior, he was released in
April 1962, two months before the first victim of the Strangler was
found.

Confesses

Early
in November 1964, almost three years after his release from jail,
DeSalvo was arrested again for a sexual assault on a woman who had been
dozing in her apartment.

She got a very good look at his face. The police sketch reminded the detectives of the "measuring man."

Police
arrested DeSalvo who admitted breaking into 400 apartments and several
rapes. He was sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for observation.
Shortly after DeSalvo arrived at Bridgewater, a dangerous man named
George Nassar also became an inmate. He had been charged with a vicious
execution-style murder of an Andover gas station attendant. He was put
in the same ward with DeSalvo and became his confidant.

F.
Lee Bailey, who had already distinguished himself in the Dr. Sam
Sheppard case, was George Nassar’s lawyer. Bailey heard about DeSalvo
from Nassar and went to visit Albert with a dictaphone on March 6. Not
only did Albert confess to the murders of the eleven "official"
victims, but he admitted to killing two other women, Mary Brown in
Lawrence and an elderly woman who died of a heart attack before he
could strangle her.

Bailey thought
there must be some way to allow him to confess without setting him up
for possible execution. But foremost in Bailey’s mind was determining
if DeSalvo was really guilty without putting his client in jeopardy.
Bailey called Donovan and suggested that he might have a suspect for
him, but first he wanted Donovan to provide him with some questions to
ask the suspect that would help determine if he was for real.

Donovan
furnished the questions that only the killer would know. After DeSalvo
answered the questions, Bailey was convinced that DeSalvo was telling
the truth.

In the meantime, Donovan
had a friend who worked at Bridgewater. He called him and asked him who
Bailey was visiting at Bridgewater. He told him Albert DeSalvo.

So
now Donovan had his prime suspect and an exhaustive investigation
followed that convinced detectives that DeSalvo’s confession was
truthful and that he was the Strangler.

Murdered at Walpole

DeSalvo
was sentenced to life for the rapes, but was never actually tried for
the Strangler murders. He was sent to Walpole Prison where he was later
stabbed to death in the prison hospital. His end was not pleasant. He
was stabbed 18 times, reportedly by two other convicts, but without
witnesses, no inmate was ever found guilty of the murder.

According
to Walpole correction officers, DeSalvo’s killing was not connected to
his being known as the Strangler. "It was a typical jailhouse beef,"
said one guard. "DeSalvo probably crossed someone. It doesn’t take much
for those guys to turn on each other."

Earlier
DeSalvo had stated that his motivation for confessing that he was the
Strangler was to sell his story for money. Massachusetts was not using
the electric chair and I knew I would be doing life for the rapes. I
wanted to sell the story to give money to my family. I also hoped I
would be found insane so that I could spend my life in a mental
facility and not Walpole, he was reported as saying.

There
are those who feel the crafty Nassar was responsible for at least some
of the stranglings and that he, Nassar, had coached DeSalvo on the
details. To this day, there are former police officers, including some
in Cambridge where DeSalvo was first arrested, who doubt that DeSalvo
was the Strangler. There has also been criticism of the jurisdictional
politics that surfaced during the case.

Photographic Memory

"I’m
aware of the Nassar connection, but in my mind I’m ninety-nine percent
certain that DeSalvo alone was the Boston strangler," said Donovan.

"DeSalvo
had a photographic memory. He was able to recant exact details of every
crime scene, details that we kept top secret. Investigators who were at
first skeptical of DeSalvo eventually agreed that he was the strangler."

‘I
know in the minds of some, there will always be skepticism, but I’m
very comfortable in saying that Albert DeSalvo was the Boston
Strangler.’

John Donovan

Donovan
was quick to point out that although most of the murders were committed
in Boston, there was actually a "Strangler Bureau", set up by Attorney
General Ed Brooke, that had overall jurisdiction over the case.
Assistant Attorney General John Bottomly who headed the Bureau,
however, was not without his detractors.

"Most
of the investigators assigned to the Bureau were dedicated
individuals," Donovan said. "We all worked closely, sharing information
and following every lead. In the end though, almost everyone I worked
with felt that DeSalvo was the man."

After
retiring from the Boston Police Department, Donovan became director of
security at Holy Cross College. Now fully retired and living in
Shrewsbury, he spends three months each winter in Naples, Florida.

Looking
back, he hasn’t wavered when it comes to the identity of the Strangler.
"Of course in those days we didn’t have DNA, which is now a conclusive
form of I.D. That would have erased any doubt whatsoever. I know in the
minds of some, there will always be skepticism, but I’m very
comfortable in saying that Albert DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler."

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