Boston Strangler ending explained: Is the killer caught?

A historical crime-drama film, Boston Strangler sheds light on the actual murders of 13 women in Boston during the 1960s. It follows the case’s investigation and focuses on the efforts of two investigative journalists, Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley) and Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), as they try to get to the bottom of the story. It is now streaming on Hulu.

Plot summary

Boston Strangler opens with a woman being killed in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and as a cop discovers the body, the plot flashes back three years to 1962 and introduces Loretta McLaughlin.

She is a lifestyle reporter at a newspaper called the Record American. Wanting to work on a real story instead of toaster reviews, she chances upon a piece of news covering the fatal strangulation of three women in two weeks.

Loretta sees this as the perfect case to follow, but like always, receives a firm no from her boss Jack, who believes that his male-dominated crime beat department is enough for the job.

She urges that she’ll work the case in her own time and won’t neglect the lifestyle desk, finally getting the nod. Upon investigating the three murders, Loretta finds a connection between the three.

It is confirmed that all three women were elderlies who lived alone and were left behind with their stockings tied to their necks like a decorative bow by the killer. Jack is impressed with the findings, and they publish the story, beating the competition to it.

Unfortunately, the police department is not too impressed, and the commissioner visits Jack to make it known. He claims that the connection is nothing but a rumor, and berates Loretta for publishing false information.

Jack pulls the follow-up until a fourth victim is discovered. Jack assigns a more experienced reporter, Jean Cole, to work the story alongside Loretta and asks them to confirm if this woman too had a bow around her neck.

The ladies get to work and manage to confirm the fourth. As more women are found dead, Loretta and Jean continue covering the case, and the paper starts putting their pictures next to their bylines as a publicity stunt.

They start receiving letters from concerned women all across Boston, and the pressure on the police mounts. The narrative moves to 1963, and two more victims make the list.

However, this time they are younger women. Loretta gets into the good books of Detective Conley, and they decide to share leads when possible.

She even consults a psychologist, who reveals that psychotic killers do not suddenly change their preferred targets. So, for the Boston Strangler to suddenly kill younger women doesn’t make sense.

Further investigations reveal that one of the younger victims had an affair with her married boss, Gordon Nielson, and got pregnant, whereas the second one was being harassed by her ex-boyfriend, Daniel Marsh.

Loretta visits Marsh but finds an excuse to escape after feeling uncomfortable around him. She hands over these leads to Conley, who follows them but is unable to find enough evidence to convict either of the two men.

At home, Loretta’s supportive husband James is on the edge due to her working long hours. Tensions rise within her domestic life as James gets a promotion, causing him to spend a few days a week in Connecticut.

Boston Strangler ending explained in detail:

Why do Loretta and Jean target the police?

Loretta gets a call from detective Linski in New York, who wishes to discuss a murder in his city. It was an older lady who was found dead in a hotel room, strangled with stockings tied around her neck like a bow as well.

He reveals that people from the hotel saw the person she was with, and he was later arrested. His name is Paul Dempsey, and it took only 45 minutes to get a confession out of him.

Linski mentions that Dempsey lives in Maine, but it is confirmed that he was in Boston during the first five murders. Unfortunately, the cops in Boston did not respond to Linski and did not meet with him when he came to share this information in person.

It is clear that Boston Homicide is botching the investigation, and the ladies convince Jack to run a story criticizing them. Once it is published, the attorney general takes control of the investigation.

However, Loretta receives threatening messages in the mail, forcing Jean to give their boss an earful for putting their pictures in the paper. To continue the story of the Boston Police’s incompetence, Loretta talks to another detective.

He explains that they arrested a guy named Albert DeSalvo for harassing a couple of girls. However, Boston Police didn’t share any information, so he was released. It was later discovered that he was one of their prime suspects.

DeSalvo is even famous for his creepy antics in Cambridge. The determined journalist visits the Cambridge Police Department to look at his file and discovers that he is in custody at a correctional facility called Bridgewater on rape charges.

Is DeSalvo the Boston Strangler?

Loretta is told that DeSalvo invaded women’s apartments dressed as a workman or as a fake modeling scout, to harass them. This information opens a few doors as the journalists relate this information to a statement given by a victim’s neighbor.

She mentioned that the suspected killer came into her house as a handyman and asked her if she ever considered modeling. However, when she revealed that her husband was home, he left promptly.

Conley refutes this claim and reveals that DeSalvo was in jail during the first six murders. Not convinced, she checks the official release records and finds that the judge gave DeSalvo a pardon for good behavior. He was free two months before the first murder.

The plot moves into 1964, and DeSalvo is suspect number one. In a curious turn of events, he hires a skilled lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, from within the facility to represent him. Bailey asks him to confess in exchange for a book deal for his story.

Furthermore, he makes a deal with the cops that his confession cannot be used in court. This means that he can only be found guilty for the rape charges that are on him and not the killings.

To make things more confusing, the neighbor failed to identify DeSalvo as the man who came into her house and instead pointed at another inmate named George Nassar.

Who is the killer and is he caught?

Loretta feels defeated and guilty about not finding concrete proof of DeSalvo’s guilt. She chances upon his confession tapes and realizes that he was being fed information about the initial murders by the interrogator, and didn’t seem like he committed them.

This is where the flashback ends and we go to the crime scene in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A detective from Michigan State Police calls Loretta and informs her that six women have been strangled similarly near Ann Arbor.

She travels to the place and confirms the same. Furthermore, she realizes that Daniel Marsh is also in Ann Arbor. The detective confirms that he is their number one suspect as a doctor from Bridgewater also reported him.

Upon hearing about Bridgewater, Loretta calls Jean and confirms that Marsh was in the same cell as DeSalvo. The police arrest the former, but cannot get a confession out of him.

Loretta manages to get on the phone with DeSalvo and convinces him to tell her the true story. However, before they can meet, DeSalvo is stabbed to death in his cell.

As a final straw, Loretta is given an address by a nurse which leads her to a man named Harrison. He was in the same ward as DeSalvo. He explains that Marsh and Nassar coached DeSalvo for the confession and wanted the reward money for the Boston Strangler.

F. Lee Bailey is Nassar’s lawyer, and he got him in touch with DeSalvo. Finally, Loretta meets with Nassar, and their conversation is quite eye-opening.

He confirms that he didn’t kill any woman as he’s already serving a life sentence and has no reason to lie. However, he does state that DeSalvo committed the murders, but maybe not all of them.

Nassar also says that there are a lot of DeSalvos out there, and murders will keep on happening. The idea of a safe world is a delusion.

Loretta and Jean sit with Jack to hypothesize the truth. Falling back on the psychological theory that these killers have a type, the first five murders were all elderly women. This type was specific to Paul Dempsey, who was arrested in New York.

DeSalvo had no clue about them, as evidenced by his tapes. However, he had a history of assaulting younger women, and then the victims turned to younger women, making DeSalvo the ideal candidate for those latter killings.

Amid this, other men like Marsh and Nielson used the Boston Strangler as a cover to get rid of women they wanted out of their lives. Killing their ex-girlfriend and pregnant employee respectively.

Is the case closed?

We see Marsh drive away to a new city with no proof against him as Loretta publishes the story about multiple killers being involved. The commissioner states that all Boston Strangler murders remain open cases.

Finally, a collection of on-screen texts reveal that Daniel Marsh was never charged with any murders, and George Nassar remains in prison. He never received any reward money.

In 2013, Albert DeSalvo’s link with the 13th murder was confirmed via DNA evidence. However, the other 12 murders remain unsolved.

It is further revealed that Loretta went on to become an award-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. However, she and James got a divorce. Jean continued to work as an investigative reporter for the next 30 years and remained close friends with Loretta.

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