Loretta McLaughlin & Jean Cole In ‘Boston Strangler,’ Explained: How Did They Deal With A Misogynistic Society?


The most surprising thing about the two champion journalists in the film “Boston Strangler” was that they had never planned to become journalists, and some lucky coincidences had paved the way for them and made them land at the office of the Record American. A lot of times in our world, misogyny doesn’t explicitly come out in words spoken by a person, but if one has a keen eye to read between the lines, one will know how omnipresent it is. Loretta McLaughlin was comparatively new to the world of crime journalism. Though she might have heard about how corrupt the entire system was, it was a different ball game to fight it in real life. All she wanted was to catch the real Boston Strangler and let the truth come out in the open. But it felt like nobody wanted to know the truth, and they were very happy creating a convenient narrative for themselves by turning a blind eye towards everything else.

Loretta wanted to make a shift from the lifestyle section to crime reporting, but her bosses weren’t ready to let her do so. Loretta was so passionate about being a crime journalist that she used to maintain daily records of what the various newspapers were reporting so that she could find that one unique story that would compel her bosses to let her write her own piece. Loretta was told by her mother that Mrs. Slesers, her neighbor, had been killed recently, and Loretta suddenly came to the realization that in the past two weeks, three women had been strangled and killed in a similar fashion.

Loretta believed that they were all killed by the same person, and she went to her boss, Jack Maclaine, to ask his permission to carry out in-depth research on the matter. Jack told her blatantly that she didn’t have enough experience to look into a homicide case, but Loretta was persistent, and she was not ready to take no for an answer. She told Jack that she would profile the suspects and do the research in her own time and that her normal lifestyle reporting wouldn’t be affected by it. Seeing her willingness, Jack agreed to let her do her research, as he was not losing anything in the deal. Loretta knew how to do her work diligently, and she questioned everyone who was related to the case so that she could find some evidence to prove that the murders were committed by one single person.

Loretta found out that each of the three women had been killed in a similar fashion, and the killer had left a decorative double-hitched knot around their neck. Jack told Loretta to write the article, and the very next day, it created waves across Bostan. The law enforcement authorities came under a lot of pressure, and the commissioner himself came to meet Jack in the office of the Record American. Though at the beginning of the film “Boston Strangler,” it seemed like society was quite progressive and didn’t discriminate against a particular gender, we realized that it was all just for show, and underneath the pretense was deep-rooted misogyny. The commissioner made some sexist remarks about Loretta and told Jack that her ways were not at all credible and that she had flirted with the guys in the police department to get them to agree with what she was saying. Loretta told Jack that nothing of the sort had happened and that she had followed all the rules to maintain the sanctity of her investigation.

After that incident, Jack and the chief editor became very cautious, and they put a senior journalist named Jean Cole on the case with Loretta. Jean was a seasoned journalist and she had already dealt with the things that Loretta had just started experiencing. She knew how society functioned and what kind of perception people had about female journalists. If a woman missed any detail, she was called inefficient; if she got a bit too passionate about a case, she was called obsessive; if she worked more and wasn’t able to give enough time to her family, then she was called a bad mother and wife; if she tried to talk to other people and get information out of them, she was called flirtatious; and if she showed sympathy, she was called weak.

Now, Jean, having worked in the industry for such a long time, wasn’t surprised by the kind of backlash they were receiving, as she was well aware of the hypocrisy of the society they lived in, but it all had a deep impact on Loretta, and she couldn’t understand what she was doing wrong to receive such a negative and unfavorable response. At one point in time, it felt like both Loretta and Jean were surrounded by hounds that were waiting for them to make one mistake so that they could slaughter them. But the reality was that, had it not been for Loretta and Jean, the police officials wouldn’t even have come close to knowing the truth.

Loretta was not only struggling to deal with people in the professional sphere, but she was also facing a lot of repercussions back at home. She wasn’t able to give a lot of time to her family, and that was clearly upsetting her husband. Her husband was supportive, but only to the extent that it didn’t create a conflict in his life. His progressiveness was conditional, and he took a stance against gender prejudice and discrimination only when it suited him. We don’t deny the fact that Loretta working in such bizarre conditions was causing a lot of hassle in his life too, but by getting angry and annoyed at her, he was making her life even more difficult. In real life, Loretta and James got divorced eventually, and probably that was the price that Loretta had to pay to chase her goals. Loretta once asked Jean how she had been able to handle her personal life for all those years while facing professional challenges. Jean told her that she was able to cope with the pressure because she had surrendered to the situation. She had accepted that the world was going to be unfair for every woman who wanted to make a mark for herself, and as a habit, she made sure that she never had any sort of expectation from anyone.

We don’t know whether it was her passion, her commitment, her stubbornness, or her desire to see the perpetrators behind bars, but Loretta kept going. Maybe she was doing it to get justice for the victims, or maybe she just wanted to make the women feel safe again. Loretta kept going even after there seemed no hope, whereas the rest of the world conveniently bought the lies. Loretta was not getting any monetary compensation for working extra hours, but there was a restlessness inside her that made it impossible for her to stop. Loretta was finally able to theorize that there was no one Boston Strangler and that, in fact, there were multiple people who had murdered different women, which is why there was no pattern that could be ascertained by the psychologists when they studied the crime.

Loretta got the much-needed closure, though it was never proved in a court of law who had committed the murders of those 12 women. Jean Cole went on to have a flourishing career spanning over four decades, and she took her last breath on August 8, 2015. Loretta didn’t stop after the Boston Strangler case, and with her passion and will to unearth the truth, she went on to become an award-winning medical reporter for the Boston Globe. Loretta passed away on November 23, 2018, at the age of 90, and left a lasting legacy for the entire nation.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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