BOSTON (AP) — It took a half-century for DNA sleuthing to finger Albert DeSalvo as the Boston Strangler. Now a new movie is revisiting one of America’s most notorious serial killer cases and the bizarre involvement of a man who claimed psychic powers to help police investigate.
“Stranglehold” will tell the story of the Boston Strangler Task Force — a special unit assembled by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office to capture the man behind nearly a dozen unsolved murders of women between 1962 and 1964.
Director Barry L. Levy grew up hearing about the Strangler as a child in suburban Newton and Natick. A news article about Peter Hurkos, the enigmatic Dutch-born psychic who helped investigators search for clues, rekindled his interest.
“The Strangler was that story that, when you were a kid, everyone heard,” Levy told The Associated Press. “Ever since I knew I wanted to be a director, I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
It’s the latest in a series of film projects focusing on high-profile Boston crimes. Last year’s “Black Mass” told the story of notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. Mark Wahlberg’s “Patriots Day,” about the Boston Marathon bombings, opens Dec. 21 in Boston and nationwide in January; and a 2017 release is planned for “Stronger,” with Jake Gyllenhaal playing marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman.
DeSalvo, a factory worker imprisoned on unrelated charges, admitted to killing 11 women in the Boston area during that period, but he later recanted and was never charged with the murders. He was stabbed to death in prison in 1973, and his role wasn’t clear until 2013, when DNA tests confirmed he killed Mary Sullivan — the last of the victims — and likely was responsible for the deaths of the other victims.
The Strangler’s victims, who ranged in age from 19 to 67, were sexually assaulted and killed — crimes that terrorized the region and grabbed national headlines.
Casting is underway for “Stranglehold,” which marks Levy’s directorial debut. Levy was a screenwriter on 2008’s “Vantage Point,” about an attempt to assassinate the U.S. president in Spain, and 2013’s “Paranoia,” a corporate espionage thriller.
Levy isn’t divulging many details, but Hurkos — who claimed he became psychic in 1941 after falling from a ladder and suffering a brain injury — figures prominently in the script. Hurkos’ contributions to the investigation were dubious at best: At one point he was arrested for impersonating a police detective and harassing a potential witness.
Levy said he hopes to film in Boston as early as this winter to give the movie the grit and authenticity it needs. Los Angeles-based Broken Road Productions is producing the film. A release date hasn’t been set.
Despite the DNA testing that closed the case, victims’ families still wonder if DeSalvo really committed all the murders or whether there were copycats.
Hurkos died in 1988, still convinced another man was the killer.
“It’s my opinion, having studied the case extensively, that it wasn’t the work of just one killer,” said bestselling author Casey Sherman, a nephew of Mary Sullivan who wrote a book about her, “A Rose for Mary.”
“Anything that creates conversation and discussion on the case is a good thing,” he said. “Movies can do something that books can’t. They can make that emotional connection to the viewer.”
Follow Bill Kole on Twitter at https://twitter.com/billkole. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/william-j-kole.