Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Boston Strangler

The Psychic

The police were getting desperate. Someone had put them in touch with an ad copywriter named Paul Gordon who supposedly had special ESP qualities, who claimed that he knew who the Strangler was and what he looked like. The police were more than normally receptive to this untraditional approach. Paul began his description of the man who killed Anna Slesers:

I picture him as fairly tall, bony hands, pale white skin, red, bony knuckles, his eyes hollow-set. I was particularly struck by his eyes. His hair disturbed me a little because he has a habit of pushing back a little curl of hair that falls on his forehead. He's got a tooth missing in the upper right front of his mouth. He's in a hospital… or some kind of home. He's not confined, I know that, because I see him walking across a wide expanse of lawn. He can walk about, and he does a lot of sitting on a bench on the grounds.

He has many problems. He used to beat up his mother cruelly — she was an idiotic, domineering woman — and his two sisters live unhappy lives. The family comes from Maine or Vermont. He's terribly lonely — when he's in the city. I see him sleeping in cellars, but he likes to wander about the street watching women, wanting to get as close as possible to them. You see, the poor fellow is in a continual search for his mother, but he can't find her because she's dead.

One of the detectives brought out a number of photos of men who had been caught mugging or breaking and entering into buildings in the Back Bay area. Gordon identified one of them, an Arnold Wallace, as the Strangler, who matched the description that Gordon had given earlier.

Wallace was a 26-year-old mental patient at Boston State Hospital who had "ground privileges." A few days earlier he had wandered away and was sleeping in the basement of apartment houses. He was violent and had beaten his mother on occasion.

Then Gordon switched to the murder of Sophie Clark, correctly describing her apartment in minute detail as though he had been there. The killer, Gordon said, was a large, husky black man who Sophie knew. The detectives were flabbergasted by the detail in which he described the apartment. Not only that, Lewis Barnett, who fit Gordon's description, was a suspect in Sophie's murder. He had dated her once and it was possible that she would have let him in her apartment.

Gordon said that the Strangler would identify himself soon and confess. "And when this fellow confesses, it's going to be like a big carpet rolled out in front of you and all the answers will be so simple you'll kick yourself for months at a time that you couldn't see it."

When the police went to check on Arnold Wallace they found out that he had escaped the hospital five or six times, which happened to coincide with the strangling deaths. Gordon also went to the hospital so that he could see Arnold Wallace in the flesh. "He's the man," Gordon told them positively.

The police decided to look into Gordon's activities before they went any further with Arnold Wallace. Gordon had been to the hospital before he had talked to the police, so he could have seen Arnold on the grounds. Maybe the whole thing was a hoax. Maybe Gordon was the Strangler.

Arnold, whose IQ was between 60-70, was given a lie detector test. His low intelligence and his inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality made communication difficult. The test was inconclusive. He was taken back to the hospital, while police tried to check out all of the circumstantial evidence.

 

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