Brush with a strangler

<strong>A Death in Belmont</strong>

Sebastian Junger <em>Fourth Estate, 272pp, £14.99</em>

ISBN

Between June 1962 and January 1964, a dozen or so women were murdered in or around Boston, Massachusetts. The killer, who became known as the "Boston Strangler", typically talked his way into his victims' homes before garrotting them with their stockings. No one was ever caught, but in 1965 a carpenter called Al DeSalvo confessed to the crimes. He was already serving a sentence for sexual assault, and the police decided not to prosecute him, though many believed him to be guilty.

DeSalvo had spent a few months working at the home of Sebastian Junger's parents in the Boston suburb of Belmont in the winter of 1962-63, during which period a local housewife was strangled. (Junger was a toddler at the time.) The victim's black cleaner was convicted, but Junger argues that this may have been a miscarriage. Was DeSalvo the real killer?

It's a fascinating subject, and a good premise for a book, but Junger throws away the favourable hand dealt to him by circumstance by filling his account with lengthy asides on the US legal system, southern racial politics and, most irrelevantly, the assassination of JFK. The problem is that this is a story with a void at its centre: no one really knows who the Strangler was, and Junger doesn't provide any answers.