Boston Strangler: The Truth About Albert DeSalvo's Childhood

Albert DeSalvo was a convicted rapist who claimed to be The Boston Strangler, a serial killer who strangled and raped 13 women in Eastern Massachusetts from June 1962 to January 1964. But DeSalvo's case was unusual in that he only confessed to being the man responsible for those killings while he was awaiting trial for a string of crimes in which he sexually assaulted women in their New England homes in early 1964 but did not kill them. 

He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but it was for the sexual assaults. According to Britannica, he was never actually charged with any of the Boston Strangler murders. 

Even before DeSalvo started raping and strangling women to death, he was known as the "Measuring Man." According to a 1967 Boston Globe article, for a time, "He would knock on the door and using a ruse, as he did, announce himself as an agent for a photographer and ask whether or not he could measure the ladies — always the ladies," according to his attorney, F. Lee Bailey. However, the Measuring Man never harmed any of the women he measured. 

In DeSalvo's trial, Bailey argued that the reason for DeSalvo's strange behavior and subsequent crimes stemmed from a childhood marred by violence and abuse. 

Albert DeSalvo's dad was a bad man

Defense attorney F. Lee Bailey spoke of Albert DeSalvo's early trauma: "One of several children, as a child he was cruelly, blatantly mistreated, that he was exposed to the most deviate conduct, that his ideas from early childhood were warped, and that although he appears to be as normal in appearance as you and I, that there is a facet to his personality that leaves him without control," according to The Boston Globe

History reported DeSalvo's dad would bring home prostitutes and have sex with them in front of he and his siblings, and that he "brutally beat" the kids and his wife. Once he knocked out DeSalvo's mother's teeth, then, as she lay unconscious from the blow, he broke her fingers. 

Bailey told the court that DeSalvo was taught to shoplift at 6-years-old and that he "exhibited extreme cruelty, first to animals, and then when he went to school," per the Boston Globe, yet Bailey also said, "During school hours he was a model child, a teacher's pet because the authority he was lacking at home was present."

According to History, DeSalvo and two of his sisters were at some point sold off to work as farm laborers. Eventually, he joined the military, where Biography says he was discharged from for disobeying orders. 

In the end, the man whose life was shaped by violence at the hands of his father, then became violent himself, was stabbed to death in his prison cell in 1973 when he was 40 years old, per The New York Times