Who was the Boston Strangler and did they ever find him as Keira Knightley Hulu movie delves into this horrific true story?

The Boston Strangler’s horrific crimes are told through the perspective of two journalists who broke the story in the upcoming Hulu movie

Boston Strangler starring Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon

The Boston Strangler terrorized Massachusetts in the 1960s and even though police later received a confession the case was surrounded by doubts.

Whether it’s fictionalized like The Watcher on Netflix or a documentary like Netflix’s The Girl in the Picture, true crime has remained as popular as ever in recent years. Viewers who might not know the details of the original crimes are introduced to cases that shocked the world - some of which were never closed and justice never achieved. Now Hulu’s Boston Strangler movie is just a few weeks away, starring Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon as journalists Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole who uncover the story of the sinister serial killer known as the Boston Strangler. 

But who was the Boston Strangler in real life, did the authorities ever find him and is he still alive? We reveal what we know about the killer who changed the history of Boston forever.  

*Warning: Spoilers and potentially upsetting content ahead*

Who was the Boston Strangler and did they ever find him? 

Infamous throughout his reign of terror, the Boston Strangler was a prolific serial killer who was active in the Boston area from 1962-1964 and targeted single women. During this time panic spread throughout Boston and police were desperate to stop the killer, though the distance between each of the victims made it difficult to determine if the cases were linked. Though doubt has surrounded the Boston Strangler’s identity over the years, suspect Albert DeSalvo confessed to being the killer in the 1960s. 

Albert DeSalvo stands in jail

(Image credit: Photo by Getty Images)

He claimed to be the Boston Strangler and provided law enforcement with some disturbing details of the murders that it seemed only the killer would know. However, the idea that Albert DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler has been surrounded by controversy and some scepticism over the years. 

There wasn’t any physical evidence to convict him for the Boston Strangler’s crimes and some even questioned whether all the murders were committed by the same individual at all. Instead, Albert DeSalvo was arrested on separate sexual assault charges, having been identified by other women as the man who attacked them. 

Albert DeSalvo

(Image credit: Bettmann via Getty)

It was reportedly after being sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for observation that Albert apparently confessed firstly to convicted murderer George Nassar and then to attorney F. Lee Bailey that he was the Boston Strangler in 1965. Doubt remained for many years but in 2013 DNA evidence emerged that reportedly tied DeSalvo to the final murder believed to have been committed by the Boston Strangler. 

As reported by ABC News, a water bottle that was recovered from the construction site where DeSalvo’s nephew worked gave police enough DNA to analyse. The only DNA evidence in the Boston Strangler case was reportedly seminal fluids left behind on a blanket when Mary Sullivan was assaulted and murdered in Beacon Hill in 1964. 

This DNA evidence was preserved by the Boston Police Crime Lab and in 2013, they are said to have looked at the Y-chromosomes on the DNA sample from DeSalvo’s nephew and compared it to those in the DNA evidence.

Boston Strangler movie scene

(Image credit: Hulu/20th Century Studios)

Once they had a match that excluded 99.9% of the male population, they reportedly felt confident that this new evidence proved that DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler.

"This is good evidence. This is strong evidence. This is reliable evidence,'' Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley declared. "But there can be no doubt."

However, a lawyer representing the DeSalvo family has disputed the legitimacy of the way the bottle was obtained to provide familial DNA evidence to check against, alleging that DeSalvo’s nephew hadn’t been aware that the bottle would be taken for comparison.

Boston Strangler scene

(Image credit: Hulu/20th Century Studios)

Ultimately, authorities believe they have determined that Albert DeSalvo killed Mary Sullivan. Although without any other physical evidence from the other Boston Strangler crimes, it remains open to debate whether or not he was definitely responsible for the other murders.

Is the Boston Strangler still alive? 

The man who claimed to be and is widely believed to be the Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo, died in 1973. Like this reported crimes, DeSalvo’s death also attracted huge attention and controversy as he was found dead in his cell at Walpole State Prison six years after being convicted of sexual assault in another case. After the DNA test was conducted in 2013 comparing the Y-chromosome of his nephew’s DNA to the suspected Boston Strangler's, a warrant for the exhumation of his body was issued. It was then that investigators were able to compare DeSalvo’s DNA to that recovered where Mary Sullivan died and announce a match. 

Who killed the Boston Strangler?

The identity of the person who killed the supposed Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo, has never been uncovered. He was stabbed to death in the infirmary of Walpole State Prison but to this day it’s not even clear whether one or multiple assailants could’ve been behind his murder. 

As per The New York Times back in 1975 two of DeSalvo’s fellow inmates Richard Devlin and Robert Wilson were put on trial for a second time for his murder after the first trial ended in a hung jury. However the second trial ended in a mistrial and no-one has ever been convicted for killing DeSalvo.  

Albert DeSalvo

(Image credit: Bettmann via Getty)

How many people did the Boston Strangler kill?  

The Boston Strangler is thought to have been responsible for the deaths of at least eleven single women in the Boston area from 1962-1964, ranging in age from 19 to 85. Thirteen women were killed in similar circumstances to each other during this time though eleven murders are most often thought to have been perpetrated by the serial killer. The women are understood to have lived alone and were believed to have been manipulated into letting the Boston Strangler inside.

When is the Boston Strangler movie released? 

Following in the wake of other true crime shows and films that have landed in recent months, from The Girl Who Escaped to The Stranger, the Boston Strangler movie stars Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon and premieres on March 17 on Hulu in the US and Disney Plus in the UK. Rather than following the perspective of the Boston Strangler himself, his victims or even the police as in the 1968 Richard Fleischer film the new Boston Strangler movie focuses on journalists Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole. These two women work to break the case of the Boston Strangler and expose the crimes as the work of a serial killer.

The Boston Strangler movie’s director and writer Matt Ruskin revealed to RadioTimes.com that he was inspired by a brief conversation with Loretta and actually knew a member of Jean’s family personally. 

"[Loretta, played by Keira Knightley in the movie] was the first to connect the murders and she actually gave the Boston Strangler his name while she was reporting on the story," he explained. "And so I tried to find out all I could about her. There's very little information about her or the other journalist, Jean Cole [played by Carrie Coon], who she was partnered with.”

Carrie Coon in Boston Strangler

(Image credit: Hulu/20th Century Studios)

Matt continued, "And I discovered that Jean Cole's granddaughter was actually a friend of mine, so I called her up and she introduced me to both Loretta and Jean's families. And once I was able to make a personal connection to them I became really invested in telling the story through them. The more I got to know about them, the more I grew to admire them, both as people and as journalists."

Reflecting on what viewers can expect from the new Boston Strangler movie, he shared that it tells the tale not only of these extraordinary journalists, but of the murderer and, of course, the city of Boston itself which was hugely impacted by the serial killer. 

Keira Knightley in Boston Strangler


"Both the identity of who is the Boston Strangler, but also the identity of the city of Boston – from all accounts, it really changed the city,” Matt said. “It was a story that gripped people for almost two years and it really changed the way people lived in the city of Boston. There's this anecdote that people didn't lock their doors before the Boston Strangler case.”

He added, "And then, of course, I think it's very much a story of identity for Loretta who was working very hard to do serious journalism in a male-dominated newsroom in the early 1960s. [It's about] what it meant to be a journalist and mother and woman during that time."

Loretta broke the story of the Boston Strangler in the 1960s with the help of journalist colleague Jean Cole. For those who might not have been aware of the details of the Boston Strangler case at the time, the new movie will shed light on this shocking true crime case that to this day has never seen anyone convicted.

Emma Shacklock

Emma is a Royal Editor with eight years experience working in publishing. Her specialist areas include the British Royal Family, ranging from protocol to outfits. Alongside putting her royal knowledge to good use, Emma knows all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV and more. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, Emma enjoys cooking, long walks and watching yet more crime dramas!