The Horrifying Crime Scene Of Boston Strangler Victim Joann Graff

Before he was arrested and charged, Albert DeSalvo stalked and killed 13 women in the Boston metropolitan area. Dubbed the "Boston Strangler," DeSalvo preyed on single women who lived alone and were easy for him to overpower. His use of cunning to gain access to the homes of his victims allowed DeSalvo to never have to resort to forcible entry. And though his victims ranged in age from 19 to 85, the majority were past middle age, making them even more vulnerable to this ruthless predator.

One of DeSalvo's final known murder victims was quite young, however. 23-year-old Joann Graff was a transplant to New England, having moved there earlier in 1963 after she graduated from the Chicago Art Institute. Graff seemed to mostly keep to herself in her new city but remained busy. She put her degree to work and earned her living as a designer. Graff also taught Sunday school for a class of sixth graders every week at a local Lutheran church. It's believed that she was working on a lesson plan for this class when DeSalvo entered her apartment, as her pen and bible tracts were discovered on her dining room table (per "The Boston Strangler" by Gerold Frank via The Lineup).

Graff was supposed to have dinner that evening at the home of a married couple that had befriended her at church. The wife tried to phone Graff at 3:30 pm on Saturday, November 23 to let her know what time they could pick her up, but received no response. By then, Graff had already become victim number 12.

The chilling crime scene

When Graff's body was discovered, it was the centerpiece of a crime scene that probably haunted the memories of the detectives. "She lay diagonally across her bed, nude save for a pink blouse bunched up about her shoulders, her legs wide apart, the left extended directly forward, the other bent almost at right angles, dangling over the edge of the bed, a white slipper still on the foot," writes Frank in "The Boston Strangler."

Graff showed signs of being sexually assaulted. Her blouse looked like someone had forced it open and the assailant had left "teeth marks on her left breast." Perhaps the most horrifying piece of evidence left behind was the pair of nylon stockings that the killer had used to strangle Graff. These garments had been used in combination with one of Graff's black leotards to form a tight bow around her neck. Frank states that DeSalvo had made "an elaborate, flowing bow, like a circus clown's bow-tie, and with the extra half hitch—the Strangler's knot."

The police estimated that Graff was killed sometime "between 12:30 and 3:30 pm." When investigators questioned the other tenants in the apartment building, they revealed some chilling clues.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Tales from two neighbors

Police received a statement from an upstairs neighbor. Frank tells of how Kenneth Rowe, a 22-year-old enrolled in a local engineering program, had been alerted by his wife about a man she'd seen prowling around the building. On the afternoon of Graff's murder, Rowe heard footfalls in the hallway near his door, followed by a knock across the hall no one responded to. The stranger in the hall then knocked on Rowe's door. 

When Rowe answered, he saw who he would later describe as a man in his late 20s "with shiny pomaded hair, wearing a brown jacket, a dark shirt, and dark green slacks." He asked if Joann Graff resided in the apartment. Rowe told him that Graff lived on the floor below. Only moments later, Rowe heard the sound of what he assumed was Graff's door opening and closing.

The day before DeSalvo murdered Graff, her neighbor down the hall experienced a disturbing event that she would later share with investigators. "Suddenly her attention was caught by a piece of white paper being slipped under her door, perhaps two inches. Now it was slowly being moved from side to side," describes Frank. "There was no voice. Was it a prank, or someone seeking to tantalize her into opening her door? Too terrified to move, she remained rooted where she stood, watching the paper move back and forth." After a time, the slip of paper disappeared. She heard someone walking away from her door and down the hall.