Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Boston Strangler

Strangler Bureau

Enough was enough. Certainly people faulted the police for many things, but the reality was that serial killers are very difficult to find, especially smart ones that don't leave clues. In spite of the panic that women experienced all over Boston and its suburbs, the fact was that women were continuing to let the killer(s) into their apartments. The police could only guess whether these women admitted him to their homes because they knew him or because he was able to trick them into letting a stranger inside.

A couple of weeks after the murder of Mary Sullivan, Massachusetts Attorney General Edward Brooke took over. On January 17, 1964, the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in the state made the case his own, showing the city that it was his top-most priority.

Edward Brooke
Edward Brooke

Brooke was no ordinary law enforcement type nor was he an ordinary politician. He was a very handsome, intelligent and polished professional. He was also the only African-American attorney general in the country. Even more remarkable was the fact that he was a Republican in a solidly Democratic state.

There were some real political risks to doing this, particularly if the Strangler were never captured, but Brooke's plan made a great deal of practical sense.

He meant no disrespect for the Boston police, but this was an unusual case that spanned five police jurisdictions. The group Brooke was putting together would coordinate the activities of the various police departments. There would be permanent staff assigned to the Strangler that would not be pulled off to work on other crimes. There would be no withholding of information between the area's police departments because of petty jealousies or feuds.

Furthermore, Brooke's task force would mollify the newspapers. Two women reporters, Jean Cole and Loretta McLaughlin, for the Record-American had made a crusade out of exposing the Boston Police Department's mistakes, charging them with extreme inefficiency.

To head up this task force — formally called the Special Division of Crime Research and Detection, he selected a close friend, the Assistant Attorney General John S. Bottomly.

John S. Bottomly on the right
John S. Bottomly on the right

Bottomly was a controversial choice because of his lack of experience in criminal law. However, as Bottomly's supporters pointed out, he was exceptionally honest and bubbled over with enthusiasm. It was a "nontraditional case" and Bottomly was a man of nontraditional methods.

Not every one shared the enthusiasm about Bottomly's qualifications. Edmund McNamara, the Boston Police Commissioner reportedly said, "Holy Jesus, what a nutcake." Novelist George V. Higgins, who worked for Associated Press at that time, said that he "never heard a reference to Bottomly without the word asshole attached as either a suffix or a prefix. I started to think maybe it was part of the guy's name."

Bottomly's top team consisted of Boston Police Department's Detective Phillip DiNatale and Special Officer James Mellon; Metropolitan Police Office Stephen Delaney; and State Police Detective Lieutenant Andrew Tuney. Dr. Donald Kenefick headed up a medical-psychiatric advisory committee with several well known experts in forensic medicine.

Two months later, Governor Peabody offered a $10,000 reward to any person furnishing information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who had committed the murders of the eleven "official" victims of the Strangler.

The Strangler Bureau, as the task force became known, had several major pieces of business before it could hit the ground running. It had to collect, organize and assimilate over thirty-seven thousand pages of material from the various police departments that had been involved in the case.

For the medical committee, they had the task of developing the profile of the kind of person who would commit the murders. The forensic medical experts saw important differences between the murders of the older women and the younger women. For that reason, they thought it was unlikely that one person was responsible for all of the killings. In other words, there were copycats.

What kind of person would be capable of such murders? Dr. Kenefick reported what his team believed the police should be looking for:

He was at least 30-years-old, a probably a good deal older. He is neat, orderly, and punctual. He either works with his hands, or has a hobby involving handiwork. He most probably is single, separated or divorced. He would not impress the average observer as crazy... He has no close friends of either sex."

Peter Hurkos, psychic
Peter Hurkos, psychic

At Bottomly's suggestion, Brooke finally consented to a risky move: the involvement of Peter Hurkos, the well-known Dutch psychic. Two private groups paid for Hurkos' services and expenses. He was a difficult person to work with and ultimately got into difficulty for allegedly impersonating an FBI agent.

Hurkos did identify a suspect — one who the Strangler Bureau had investigated. The suspect was a shoe salesman with a history of mental illness. However, there was no evidence whatsoever to link the shoe salesman with the murders. Eventually, the man committed himself to an institution.

The Strangler Bureau's credibility suffered on account of Hurkos.


We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'