Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Boston Strangler

Bailey Believes

F. Lee Bailey in The Defense Never Rests says he felt very comfortable being around DeSalvo:

That was one of the pieces that fell into place in the puzzle of the Boston Strangler. It helped explain why he had been able to evade detection despite more than two and a half years of investigation. DeSalvo was Dr. Jekyll; the police had been looking for Mr. Hyde.

One of the things that struck me about DeSalvo at our first meeting was his courteous, even gentle manner. I stared at him, seriously considering the possibility that he might be the Strangler, and I felt something that verged on awe. As for DeSalvo, his gaze dropped from time to time in what appeared to be embarrassment.

...DeSalvo was 33 at the time, about five-nine with broad shoulders and an extremely muscular build. His brown hair was combed back in an exaggerated pompadour. His nose was very large, and his easy smile was emphasized by even white teeth.

When Bailey questioned him on what DeSalvo wanted of him, DeSalvo was quite forthright: "I know I'm going to have to spend the rest of my life locked up somewhere. I just hope it's a hospital, and not a hole like this [Bridgewater]. But if I could tell my story to somebody who could write it, maybe I could make some money for my family."

Albert DeSalvo
Albert DeSalvo

Bailey thought that there must be someway to allow him to confess without setting him up for execution. But foremost in Bailey's mind was determining if DeSalvo was really guilty without putting his client in jeopardy. Bailey called Lieutenant 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.

Armed with his Dictaphone, Bailey went to visit DeSalvo a second time on March 6, 1965. Albert mentioned that Detective DiNatale from the Attorney General's Strangler Bureau had taken a sudden interest in him and had come to take his palm print the day before. Bailey had to work fast if he was going to be able to protect his client.

Bailey says of that interview: "...I became certain that the man sitting in that dimly lit room with me was the Boston Strangler... Anyone experienced in interrogation learns to recognize the difference between a man speaking from life and a man telling a story that he either has made up or has gotten from another person. DeSalvo gave me every indication that he was speaking from life. He wasn't trying to recall words; he was recalling scenes he had actually experienced. He could bring back the most inconsequential details... the color of a rug, the content of a photograph, the condition of a piece of furniture... Then, as if he were watching a videotape replay, he would describe what had happened, usually as unemotionally as if he were describing a trip to the supermarket."

DeSalvo described his attack on 75-year-old Ida Irga in August of 1962:

I said I wanted to do some work in the apartment and she didn't trust me because of the things that were going on and she had a suspicion of letting, allowing anybody into the apartment without knowing definitely who they were. And I talked to her very briefly and told her not to worry, I'd just as soon come back tomorrow rather than – in other words, if you don't trust me, I'll come back tomorrow, then. And I started to walk downstairs and she said, 'Well, come on in.' and we went into the bedroom where I was supposed to look at a leak there at the window and when she turned, and I put my arms around her back...

[Bailey asks him where the bedroom was relative to the front door and how he got to the bedroom]

I think it went through a... a parlor as you walked in, and a dining room and a bedroom. Oh, before the bedroom was a kitchen, and the bedroom was way back. The bed was white. It wasn't made, either... She was in the midst, probably, of making the bed up. And there was an old dresser there and I opened the drawers up and there was nothing in them, nothing at all. They were empty. And, uh, when I did get her by the neck and strangler her…

[Bailey asks if he grabbed her from behind]

Yes. Manually. I noted blood coming out of her ear – very dark... the right ear. I remember that, and then I think there was the dining room set in there, a very dark one, and there was brown chairs around it, and I recall putting her legs up on her two chairs in a wide position – one leg in each chair...

Bailey asked him why he would choose such an old woman to attack.

DeSalvo told him that "attractiveness had nothing to do with it." She was a woman. That was enough.

DeSalvo then described the attack on Sophie Clark, the 22-year-old student who was killed in December of 1962:

She was wearing a very light, flimsy housecoat, and she was very tall, well built, about 36-22-37. Very beautiful...

[Her apartment] ...had a yellowish door, a faded yellow door ...And she didn't want to let me in, period. Because her roommates weren't in there at the time... and I told her I would set her up in modeling and photography work, and I would give her anywhere from 20 dollars to 35 dollars an hour for this type of modeling.

...there was a place where there would be ...what do you call a flat bed, where you put a — something over it, but you take it off, you can use it to sit on, like a couch? It had fancy little pillows on it, colorful ones, purple ones. It looked like a purple or black cover.