Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Boston Strangler

Doubts: The Witnesses

Even more remarkable were the reactions that two very important eyewitnesses had to seeing Albert and his killer friend George Nassar. Marcella Lulka, who lived in the same apartment building as Sophie Clark, had an encounter with a man called "Mr. Thompson" who said he had come to paint her apartment. This man was about five-feet, nine-inches with pale honey-colored hair combed straight back over an oval face. She said he could have been a light-skinned black or a white man. She estimated his age as around 25-years-old. She got rid of him by telling him that her husband was asleep inside her apartment. This encounter was just before Sophie Clark was murdered.

"Mrs. Lulka later sketched for police a portrait of "Thompson." It shows a delicately featured young man with a long, narrow face, a very thin nose, a point chin, and large, almond-shaped eyes. It looks nothing like Albert DeSalvo." (Kelly).

When Albert began confessing to the stranglings, Bottomly rounded up Mrs. Lulka and Gertrude Gruen so that they could secretly view Albert in prison. Gertrude Gruen was considered at that time the only woman who survived an encounter with the Strangler. She had given her attacker a good fight and he fled.

Both women thought that they were coming to view one man — Albert DeSalvo. Neither realized that they would see another man also — George Nassar. The women posed as visitors in the prison's visiting room. Nassar was the first one to enter the room to meet with the prison social worker. Gerold Frank describes this unexpected reaction:

[George Nassar]... darted a sharp glance at her [Gruen], and then a second. She thought, There's something upsetting, something frighteningly familiar about that man. Could he know her?

At that moment, DeSalvo entered and took his place across the table from Dr. Allen. Miss Gruen looked at him. No, he was not the man who talked with her, attempted to strangle her, the man with whom she fought, the man who fled when her screams brought workers on the roof peering into her windows.

But the man now talking to the social worker, the man who had turned his dark eyes on her so sharply —

Moments later, in Dr. Robey's office, surrounded by police, she said agitatedly, "I don't know what to say... I'm so upset." She appeared on the verge of a breakdown... Finally she was able to talk.

It was not Albert DeSalvo, she said. When she had been shown his photographs a week earlier, she'd thought she saw certain similarities. "Now, I know he is not the man," she said. But the first man who entered — George Nassar — I realize how shocked I was when I saw him. To see this man, his eyes, his hair, his hands, the whole expression of him..." He looked like the man who attacked her, walked, carried himself like him, his posture..." My deep feelings are that he had very great similarities to the man who was in my apartment."

But — she was not sure. She wept with frustration. She wanted so badly to identify this man.

And Marcella Lulka, who had also been brought to identify DeSalvo?

She had not been sure when shown his photographs a few days before. Now, she said, seeing him in person, she must definitely eliminate him. But the prisoner who preceded him — Nassar — when she saw him enter, her heart jumped. In every way but one — his eyes, his walk, his furrowed face, his dark, speculative gaze — he was her mysterious caller of that dreadful afternoon. Only his hair was different. "Mr. Thompson" had honey-colored hair, as she had told detectives. This man's hair was black. Might it not have been dyed the day she saw him..."

The motive for DeSalvo confessing to the crimes remains the same whether he actually committed them or not. He believed that he would be spending the rest of his life in jail for the Green Man attacks and wanted to use the confession to raise money to support his wife and children. Plus, to a braggart like DeSalvo, being the notorious Boston Strangler would make him world famous. Dr. Robey testified that "Albert so badly wanted to be the Strangler."

 

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