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How I Came to Write The Boston Stranglers

A number of people have asked me this question. Let me quote from the preface to the book, since that pretty much answers it:

November 8, 1981, was one of those lead-gray days when the sky seems very close to the earth. I was visiting the Cambridge, Massachusetts, Police Department to do research for what would become my first published novel, The Gemini Man, a story about a serial killer.

I was sitting in the reception area outside the chief's office, waiting to speak to a lieutenant, a homicide specialist working out of the Criminal Investigation Division. Side by side on a bench diagonally across the room from me were two cops, both white-haired, both in their late fifties or early sixties, both in plain clothes. They introduced themselves as "the two Billies" and asked me who I was. I gave my name and added that I was doing research on crime and police work. I did not have the nerve to identify myself as a writer: At that point, my only publications were three brief scholarly articles on medieval literature.

The two Billies had been detectives for thirty years, the first said. If I wanted some good stories, I should ask them.

"We been around the block a few times," the second said.

I smiled and said I'd look forward to hearing about that. Then I added, "At the moment, I'm trying to find information about serial killers."

The two Billies looked at each other.

"Like Ted Bundy," I said.

"How about the Boston Strangler?" the first Billy said.

"Him, too," I replied.

The two glanced at each other again. Their faces wore the slightest of grins.

"We can tell you a lot about that," the first Billy said.

Something was going on here. I studied the two men. "I'd love to hear about it," I said.

The first Billy gazed at me, still with that odd little smile. "Lemme ask you a question."


"Who do you think the Boston Strangler was?"

It seemed an odd question. Sort of like asking who was buried in Grant's Tomb.

"Albert DeSalvo," I said.

Everybody knew that. All the nespapers had proclaimed DeSalvo the Strangler. A bestselling book by a famous writer had said so. Ditto a major motion picture. History's only more notorious serial killer was Jack the Ripper.

The two laughed. "Albert DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler like my dog was the Boston Strangler," the second Billy said.

I stared at him. Then I said, "Tell me."

"You first, Billy," the second said.

I went on to write The Gemini Man (in which I made a passing reference to the two Billies' story) and five more crime novels. The research for those books required frequent contact with law enforcement officials. Every once in a while, in conversation with one or another of these people, I'd mention what I'd been told that November day in 1981. To my initial surprise and then increasing fascination, almost all the cops, lawyers, and prosecutors concurred with the two Billies. Some had different theories about who the Strangler--or Stranglers--might have been. But they all agreed on one point: Albert DeSalvo, a construction worker with a long record of convictions for breaking and entering, armed robbery, and sex offenses, was not the killer of the eleven women who died terrible deaths between June 1962 and January 1964.

If DeSalvo wasn't, who was?

I decided to try to find out.
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