Hulu’s new true-crime drama film “Boston Strangler” brings into focus the horrific chain of murders that took place in Boston between 1962 and 1964. But the film, in particular, shows the case from the perspective of two journalists, Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole, who were actively reporting on it. The work does a fair job of carefully presenting the difficulties that the two women had to face, both with their families as well as the world outside, mostly due to sexism. Along with it, “Boston Strangler” does not forget the criminal case as well and follows it to its inconclusive end.
‘Boston Strangler’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
“Boston Strangler” begins with scenes from Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1965, where a concerned man calls in the police after hearing the noises of a scuffle from his neighbor’s apartment. As the police reach the spot, a woman is found lying dead with a piece of cloth tied around her neck, presumably the same cloth that had been used to strangle her.
The narrative shifts back to almost three years earlier, in Boston, where Loretta McLaughlin was working as a desk reporter for the Record American. Despite wanting to write on things that were more significant, especially crime reports, Loretta was turned down by her boss every time she approached him with such requests. Instead, she was always shown the men-dominated crime desk from afar and shown her way back to the women’s lifestyle desk, where reports were always about politicians’ wives, petty scandals, or kitchenware reviews. Frustrated with this situation at her workplace, Loretta was already looking for some crime leads when she took notice of three women who had been strangled to death over a period of two weeks. Although her editor does not want her to take up such a case, Loretta promises to investigate the matter in her free time, and she does end up finding a connection between the victims and the crime scenes. All three women had been left behind with the murder weapon tied to their necks like a bow in a gruesome decorative manner. Seeing Loretta’s determination and skill in gathering this information from the various medical and police authorities, the editor gave her a chance to write a report on the crimes. The report started gaining attention, which the police department was not pleased with, and the police commissioner got any follow-up articles on the matter stopped.
However, when a fourth woman was found murdered in her apartment only a few days later, that too with a pair of stockings tied around her neck, the Record American did have to change their ways. Loretta was given the responsibility of investigating and reporting the serial killings, and Jean Cole was assigned to work with her. Jean Cole had been an investigative journalist for quite some time by now, and she was already reputed for her skills at the Record American. Together, the two women not only broke the story of the Boston Strangler, but their efforts also kept pushing the case forward.
How Did Loretta And Jean’s Reporting Help The Case?
Perhaps from the very beginning, Jean and especially Loretta had been determined to focus on the fact that the serial killer was murdering only women, and in most cases, women who stayed alone. Boston not being a safe place for women was not an implication but a fact, and yet Loretta’s authority and competence were questioned multiple times for her work. The crime scene that the “Boston Strangler” begins with basically ties the murders in Boston with similar serial killings in Michigan. Although such a connection seems to be the work of the film and the two cases were not looked at together in reality, the reason for this connection seems to be to establish Loretta’s struggles. The Michigan case essentially highlights that although investigators from Michigan and even New York tried contacting the police department of Boston over suspicions that serial killings in all three cities could have been committed by the same perpetrator, the Boston PD never took these suggestions seriously. The investigator from Michigan ultimately has to contact Loretta to have his suspicions heard, and she and Jean then write a report on the inadequacy of the Boston Police. This brought major heat onto the police department, and the commissioner was suspended, too, with the attorney general taking over the investigation. Therefore, the outcome was that the two women had to face the wrath of police officials and their supporters for calling out their flaws. There even came a point when Loretta noticed a stalker outside her house and was clueless about whether the man was a creepy serial killer or some angry policeman.
The fact that Loretta and Jean’s photographs were published with their reports increased their troubles as well. It was quite clear to everyone that the editor at Record American was doing this only to show off that his women reporters were covering such a hard crime case and to basically garner more attention. But this also meant that Loretta and Jean’s personal identities were exposed, causing great risk to both women. Loretta started receiving strange phone calls at her house, and when she shared this with Jean, the latter stated that she had had to delist her number years ago due to her occupation as an investigative journalist. The printing of their photographs did stop after Loretta reported the man she had seen outside her house, but the overall danger of reporting a serial killing when the killer was still out on the loose did not go down any bit. The film also consciously makes an attempt to show that most bold moves were Loretta’s own decisions, like when she follows a lead to find the ex-boyfriend of a recently killed victim.
Daniel Marsh, the woman’s possessive ex-boyfriend, had been regularly stalking her and trying to make contact with her, making him a possible suspect. But since the police were not following such leads or even talking to the victims’ families in such a detailed manner, Loretta herself had to go in to check. From the moment that Loretta reaches Marsh’s apartment, and the man suspiciously asks her to come in and sit inside a small room at the back, things look highly strange. Loretta makes her way out of the place, pretending to remember some other work, and much later on in the film, Daniel Marsh is actually arrested by the police for suspected murder. In another case, it was Loretta who found out that a victim had been having an affair with her boss, an industrialist, and the victim had recently become pregnant with his child. The boss did not want the child to be born since he was already married and had children, and therefore, there was a clear motive for him to have killed her.
These investigations and subsequent reports of them in the newspaper took a heavy toll on Loretta’s personal life as well. Although we see her husband James as quite supportive at the beginning of the film, always taking on the responsibilities of the house and their children whenever Loretta has to leave, this relationship starts to crack as well. With time, James grows more frustrated and disappointed with his wife’s leaving home at odd hours and having to sacrifice her time with her children. James’ sister is also shown in a brief scene, in which she warns him about the ill effects of Loretta’s work on their children, rounding up the general perception of the times, even that of women, with regard to mothers who stepped out of the house to work. Towards the end of the film, it becomes clear that Loretta and James’ marriage is not working out anymore, and the two just coexist in the same house only for the sake of their children. Jean’s personal life is not shared much in the film, but through a short scene, it is established that her relationship with her husband is slightly different. Since the woman had already been working in a dangerous and demanding profession for some time, her husband seemed to have accepted her in that way and moved on. Although Jean’s marriage too was not the happiest, she and her husband stayed together, supporting themselves in times of need. Along with letters of support and general concern from the public, both women also received death threats and warnings for their actions, in one instance delivered directly to Loretta’s house with red crosses drawn over the photographs of the two journalists.
Gradually, as the investigation progressed, the name of a certain Albert DeSalvo cropped up, as the man was already a recognized sex offender in his area. Learning more about the way he committed his crimes, Loretta was sure that DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler. Although DeSalvo was reported to have been in prison during the time of the murders, Loretta and Jean checked into the records and found that the man had actually been granted an early release and had been out of prison two months before the chain of murders began. Their article on the matter was published, and DeSalvo was arrested by the police. With the help of an ally she had made within the police department, Loretta ensured that an identification test was made with a woman who had nearly become the next victim of the Strangler. DeSalvo and a few others were lined up for the woman to identify her attacker, and strangely enough, she pointed towards a different man named George Nassar. But the police did not make this information public, and within a few days, a confession was recorded of Albert DeSalvo inside the prison, in which he admitted to having committed all thirteen murders. But the catch of the matter was that DeSalvo had hired a top lawyer called F. Lee Bailey, who had cut a deal with the police stating that DeSalvo would only confess to his crimes if the confession could not be used in a court of law. This meant that DeSalvo would not be tried for the murder of the thirteen women, and the police department agreed only to close the Boston Strangler case once and for all.
‘Boston Strangler’ Ending Explained: Was Albert DeSalvo The Real Killer? What Happened To Loretta And Jean?
The Boston Police made loud claims that they had solved the case of the Boston Strangler, saying that the murderer was already in prison, serving a long sentence. But this obviously did not sit well with the victims’ families or with Loretta, and she continued to pursue the matter, even though Jean had been assigned to a different case. Eventually, Loretta managed to make contact with DeSalvo in prison, and the man agreed to talk to her, but he was found murdered inside his prison cell in the following days. While on a visit to this prison, Loretta was given the contact information of a different lead—a man who had been cellmates with DeSalvo and George Nassar during his time in jail. It was from here that Loretta learned that the entire confession was just a made-up plan devised by Nassar. The shrewd criminal wanted to earn the big money that had been promised for any conclusive evidence against the Boston Strangler and convinced his cellmate DeSalvo to confess. Nassar got his own lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, to represent DeSalvo and therefore ensure that the confession could not be used in court. DeSalvo had agreed to it because he was promised a future by Nassar in which DeSalvo would get a book deal for his crimes and earn millions from it. It seems that Nassar, therefore, got DeSalvo killed inside the prison when the latter agreed to talk to Loretta later on.
Ultimately, the case of the Boston Strangler was never solved, either in reality or in the film. The most widely believed theory is that there was no one man committing the crimes, and “Boston Strangler” stresses that theory the most. The fact that violence against women was and still is such a commonplace matter is what the film puts across. After the modus operandi of the first few murders was made public, other men started making use of the same techniques to kill women they wanted to remove, all while posing as a single serial killer. While this possibility is much more gruesome and dangerous, the real identity (or identities) of the Boston Strangler or any conclusive evidence against him (or them) could never be found. Although DNA tests were used much later on in 2013, and Albert DeSalvo was directly linked to the thirteenth and last victim, the cases of the remaining twelve murders still remain unsolved.
Loretta continued working in journalism and became an award-winning medical reporter at the Boston Globe. As real images of the woman accompanied by text at the end of “Boston Strangler” state, she was one of the first journalists to cover the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Her marriage with James did not last, though, and they eventually divorced. On the other side, Jean Cole also continued to work as an investigative journalist over the next thirty years, and the two continued to be close friends. George Nassar is still alive and in prison in Massachusetts, making him one of the few individuals linked with the Boston Strangler case to be still alive. Unlike his grand plans, Nassar never received any grant money for the confession of Albert DeSalvo.