Retired Detective Still Tracks ‘Boston Strangler’ : Crime: Former New York police officer believes that at least four of the murders were committed by a man who died in 1981.


An ex-New York police detective who inspired the “Kojak” TV series says a man he arrested in 1963 committed some of the infamous “Boston Strangler” killings the previous summer.

“I don’t know if we can prove it, but morally I know that I’m right,” said Thomas Cavanagh, who has assembled retired detectives to research the case.

Cavanagh, 79, said he believes Charles E. Terry, who died in 1981, committed four to six of the Boston stranglings. He says Boston authorities may have been reluctant to admit that New York police solved their biggest case.

Albert DeSalvo confessed to the 13 Boston stranglings and died in prison in the 1970s. His lawyer, famous defense expert F. Lee Bailey, says police had the right man.


Bailey characterized frequent speculation otherwise as attention-seeking efforts exploiting one of the nation’s most sensational crime sprees. “As time goes by, it becomes easier to stir the pot,” he said recently.

John Donovan, former Boston chief homicide detective who consulted with Cavanagh in 1963, agreed with Bailey.

“Each year something like this comes up, more so than ever last year,” he said. “You get sick of it.”

Using Cavanagh’s living room as headquarters for the last six months, the team used computer databases, freedom of information requests, modern psychological profiles and old-time police leg work to pursue leads.


In June, 1963, Cavanagh got Terry to confess to the recent strangulation and sexual assault of a 62-year-old woman in New York City. Strangled with her scarf, her body was assaulted crudely.

At that time, the Boston stranglings were unsolved. Headlines asked whether Terry might be the Boston Strangler, but he refused to talk. At the time, Donovan described him as one of 1,000 suspects.

The 30th anniversary last year brought renewed attention to the case. In Boston magazine, writer Susan Kelly made a case for there having been two stranglers. Her upcoming book on the subject contends there probably were even more.

Both Bailey and Donovan say DeSalvo, who confessed while a patient at the Bridgewater State Hospital in 1965, provided details only the killer could have.


“Albert had a good memory, but he wasn’t psychic,” Bailey said.

But Dr. Ames Robey, a psychiatrist who was director at Bridgewater hospital at the time, said he isn’t convinced one killer was responsible and said DeSalvo “very much wanted the notoriety.”

John Spencer, a forensics psychologist working with Cavanagh, said he suspects there were several stranglers, with DeSalvo likely responsible for one or two of the 13 he claimed.

He said his study of Terry and crime-scene photos shows the New York strangulation had similarities to six Boston murders and that the New York killer was experienced.


“The killer spent a great deal of time with her after she was dead,” Spencer said. “First-time killers don’t hang around.”

Terry’s history was filled with sexual violence against him by men in prison and assaults on women when he was free.

In 1951, fresh out of prison as a convicted auto thief, Terry raped a Maine woman and tried to rape another. He was questioned in the scarf strangulation of Shirley Coulin in Brunswick, Me., but was not charged.

Released in 1958, Terry was convicted in 1959 of breaking a woman’s jaw. Also in 1958, Patricia Wing was beaten to death near Oakland, Me. Police in Brunswick said last month that they couldn’t immediately determine whether those cases were ever closed.


Still unsolved is the 1962 strangulation of stewardess Donna Kimmey in a Kenner, La., motel room. Terry told New York investigators he was in New Orleans in December, 1962. She was killed Dec. 17.

“Violence followed him everywhere he went,” Spencer said. “Why would you think he stayed in Boston and not get in on it?”