The recent craze for true crime stories is showing no signs of subsiding, and new film Boston Strangler – which has now arrived on Disney Plus – very much fits into the genre.


Written and directed by Matt Ruskin, the film follow two journalists as they investigate and report on a horrific series of murders that occurred in the Boston area in the early 1960s, with Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon taking on the lead roles.

Read on to find out more about the true story, including some exclusive insights from Ruskin about adapting it for the big screen.

Boston Strangler true story

The film tells the horrific true story of a spate of murders that occurred in and around Boston between 14th June 1962 and 4th January 1964. The victims were all single women – aged between 19 and 85 – and nearly all of them were strangled with a pair of stockings and sexually assaulted.

Although these murders were initially thought to have all been carried out by a lone perpetrator, a theory later emerged that suggested some of them may have been carried out by copycat killers.

These rumours persisted long after the purported confession and arrest of Albert DeSalvo, to whom the murders were attributed, as some continue to cast doubt over his involvement. However, new DNA evidence found in 2013 confirmed suspicions that DeSalvo was connected to the murder of Mary Sullivan, one of the 13 victims.

DeSalvo was stabbed to death by unidentified assailants in 1973 while serving a life imprisonment sentence in the maximum security Walpole prison – where he had been transferred after successfully escaping from Bridgewater State Hospital. Even now, despite DNA evidence confirming his connection to Sullivan's murder, there remains doubt if DeSalvo was responsible for all of the killings.

Ahead of Boston Strangler's debut on Disney Plus, director Matt Ruskin spoke to about adapting this true story.

"There are so many incredible aspects, that was what drew me to it originally," he explained. "I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. So it was really about how to shape it into a feature film."

Interestingly, this is not the first time the true story has been adapted for the big screen. Back in 1968 – just a year after DeSalvo's imprisonment – prolific American director Richard Fleischer made a version starring Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda that focused on the case from the point of view of the investigating officers.

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Ruskin had seen that film but felt he wanted to approach the story from another angle, especially as he began to read more widely about the case.

"I discovered a very layered and compelling murder mystery at the heart of this story that really wasn't touched on in the 1968 film," he said. "So that really grabbed me – looking at how there's a lot more to this story. And I thought that would be really worth telling."

It was when he saw a "really brief interview" with journalist Loretta McLaughlin and discovered she broke the story of the Boston Strangler – and was the first to connect the murders – that he decided she should be the focus of his film.

"I tried to find out all I could about her, but there's very little information about her or the other journalist, Jean Cole, who she was partnered with," Ruskin explained. "And I discovered that Jean Cole's granddaughter was actually a friend of mine. And so I called her up and she introduced me to both Loretta and Jean's families."

Once he was able to make a personal connection with the families, Ruskin became "really invested in telling the story through them" and felt a need to keep his script as accurate and authentic as possible.

"I became very close with Loretta and Jean's, families, I talked to their kids regularly," he said. "So I felt an incredible obligation to getting the story right, and really trying to get the spirit of who these women were. And then I think with any period piece, particularly a true story, it's just authenticity of time and place."

When it came to getting across that specificity, Ruskin did a "ton of research" alongside production designer John Goldsmith into the architecture and colour palettes needed to bring 1960s Boston to life. This was so important, he said, given the film was largely about "the identity of the city of Boston".

The director said: "From all accounts, it really changed the city. It was a story that gripped people for almost two years, and it really changed the way people lived in the city of Boston – there's this anecdote that people didn't lock their doors before the Boston strangler case.

"And then, of course, I think it's very much a story of identity for Loretta who was working very hard to do serious journalism in a male-dominated newsroom in the early 1960s. And what it meant to be a journalist and mother and and woman during that time."

Boston Strangler will be released on Disney Plus on Friday 17th March. You can sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 for a year now.

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