Is Closing the Case More Important Than Catching the Actual Killer?

Posted: September 19, 2010 in Case Closed?, Crime & Punishment
Tags: , , ,

“Serial killers are among the most elusive of violent criminals, leaving few patterns and calling cards for the authorities to work with,” stated a May 5th 2010 article.  The fact that Pat Brown’s white whale (Walt Williams) is a free man today, provides testimony to this truth.

This elusiveness it would appear is a trait that would seem to compliment the killer’s ability to fly beneath society’s collective radar and avoid detection in the first place.

That being said, the May 2010 article did go on to say that these predatory killers “get their retribution from death, incarceration on other charges or perhaps give up their life of crime completely” – a scary thought to be certain.  However, whether through diligent police work, accidental circumstance or deliberate cessation there remain those cases for which the words “solved” or “closed”  cannot be confidently stamped on the file.

One such case is that of The Boston Strangler.

Referred to by some as “the first and most notorious murder case in American history,” many believe to this day that despite his confession Albert DeSalvo was not The Boston Strangler.

If DeSalvo didn’t do it, who did?  Investigators of the case have suggested that the murders (also known as the silk stocking murders) were not likely committed by one person.

Here is what Pat Brown has to say about The Boston Strangler:

Some people believe Albert DeSalvo is The Boston Strangler, killer of at least 11 women between 1962 and 1964. These serial crimes are most remembered for the signature ligatures used in some of the homicides, various items of the victim’s used to strangle them and tied around their necks in a bowlike fashion. While the first set of victims were older women and the second set more than a few decades younger, it was theorized by some psychologists that the killer worked through his mother issues and moved on to a more attractive set of female victims for a man his age.

DeSalvo confessed to all the so—called Boston Strangler crimes in spite of the fact no physical evidence linked him to any of the crimes and no physical evidence linked the crimes themselves. There is no question Albert DeSalvo was a psychopath, a burglar, a sex predator, and a pathological liar, but, in fact, it cannot be proven he is The Boston Strangler or that one man committed all eleven of the homicides.

So, why did the police accept his confession and close the files? Most likely because it solved the problem of open cases even if his confession did not necessarily solve the crimes. DeSalvo could have committed the crimes or he could not have committed the crimes or he could have committed some of them, but not all of them. Quite frankly, we will never know the whole truth because we do not know if DeSalvo’s confessions were honest recollections or if they were coached or based on leaked information. The police never proved he was guilty in a court of law, only in a court of police and public opinion.

More recently in 2005, Dennis Rader was sentenced to 175 years for the murders of ten people killed in Wichita, Kansas between 1974 and 1991, the so-named BTK  (Bind, Torture, Kill) Strangler crimes. When Rader plead guilty to the crimes, the prosecution no longer needed to prove he committed them. While they claim they have proof, nothing has been shown to the public and nothing likely ever will be. I theorize that the prosecution actually had Rader on a homicide committed after the date the death penalty was reinstated in Kansas and they agreed to drop this charge in return for the guilty plea in the BTK cases. There is no question that Dennis Rader is a serial killer and he likely committed two and possibly more of the later BTK labeled murders, but it is unlikely he was responsible for the earlier murders. However, closing the cases without having to prove his guilt serves the purpose of ending thirty years of failure to solve these homicides; law enforcement no longer has to deal with the open cases, the prosecution got a win, and the families of the victims felt justice had finally been served.

Albert DeSalvo and Dennis Rader are two excellent examples of how crimes can be linked without proof and closed without evidence. While such practices may serve the purpose of some of those involved, in reality, doing so can leave killers at large and distort our understanding of serial crimes and their perpetrators.


  1. TigressPen says:

    I disagree that Radar wasn’t the killer in the previous murders. I was convinced of that in his very lengthy speech given at his sentencing. He even corrected the Pros with facts on some murders. DeSalvo I am not so sure about. I wonder also if he was the one who committed all the crimes of which he was accused.

    • Pat Brown says:

      You believe Rader is guilty based on his great speech! So do many people. However, do you KNOW he is guilty based on ANY evidence shown by the prosecution? I doubt it because none was ever shown. Rader is a pathological liar. He may well know much about the crimes because of all public information on them and we have no idea what the prosecution fed him prior to his day in court.

      • Nell says:

        While I do not believe Rader is innocent or guilty based on his ridiculous speech, and evidence was not SHOWN by the prosecution…LE (Landwher and others) testified that dna linking Rader to several of these early cases (Otero, Fox, Wegerly)…So, do you believe there was a conspiracy within the department in which career law enforcement individuals chose to lie?

  2. t2sister says:

    I agree with you and have always and I mean always wondered why so many people will assume someone is guilty just because they have been accused of a crime even when the evidence isn’t really there? People scare me because I have spent so many years chasing articles about child abuse in my quest to understand how a parent can kill their own child. I have found we haven’t come very far from the Mary Shelly vision of a mindless mob heading to the castle with torches pitchforks. If you have ever read any of the comments at the end of these articles it will make your blood run cold. Don’t these people realize they sound worse than the accused they are so happily vilifying?
    I know people need to have someone to hate and to blame when a bad thing happens to them or to someone they love from my own experience. We all have to channel that rage somewhere and if you don’t choose God to blame you have to find someone it’s just human nature.
    One of the things we did while waiting for trail over the murder of my grandson was make sure the DA understood we didn’t just want “someone” we wanted the RIGHT one, and indeed we got them both convicted and sent to prison!
    In these cases you wrote about even if these men were involved in killing “someone” what good does it do to tag them with all the killings? Doesn’t that leave the real killer available to kill more people? I am sure there is pressure to close these cases and I am also sure I would not want to be one of those whose responsibility it is to get it done but I would hope protecting the public from a false sense of security should hold some sort of priority.

    • Kelly says:

      Your view on this topic is fascinating, would be interested to know your background?

    • Pat Brown says:


      You are awesome and I love that you could put aside justified feelings of rage toward the defendant long enough to rationally and ethically state that you wanted to be sure it was the right guy. I remember being appalled at a set of parents who were willing to leave their daughter’s killer at large in order to believe in a dead suspect’s guilt in spite of no evidence supporting that guilt and much supporting a still free suspect. They wanted “closure” at the expense of some other girl suffering the same trauma and horror their daughter went through. I couldn’t wrap my head around that.

  3. Paula says:

    Very interesting, and I think if you study enough crime, you will find elements of this in many murder cases. I believe this desire by departments even in everyday situations dictates what priority is placed on what types of crime. After a community meeting, I barraged a couple of officers with questions and that’s what led me to that conclusion. They don’t like to spend time on crimes where they have to rely on a witness instead of physical evidence, where it’s going to be “he said/she said,” or where it’s the officer’s word against the perp’s. That’s why you see so much emphasis on drug and alchohol cases, because there’s incontrovertible physical evidence, and that ensures a very good solve rate for the public to see.

    I think for decades we’ve all seen the frustration police have with domestic violence cases because they say often the victim will not press charges or won’t testify. Some laws changed making it not always up to the victim to press charges, but the same stigma is attached to it. One of my hot buttons here locally is that police in North Texas, though they will answer a domestic violence call, will usually only arrest the abuser once someone has been shot, killed, or taken hostage. We recently had a case where the chief’s son’s girlfriend called saying the son was going off, was waving a gun around, and had locked her out (with stepson inside) after hitting her in the ribs. Police came, told her to go to a friend’s, and did not arrest him. 7 hours later, the police chief’s son shot and killed one random person in the parking lot in front of his wife and kid and then shot and killed a responding officer.

    People thought this was an aberration because of him being the police chief’s son, but it is not. I’ve been following crime for years here, and this is normal. They would rather set traps for drunk drivers and make traffic stops only on drivers who they know may be holding drugs than make arrests on domestic violence, which requires time, resources, skill, investigation and interviews with witnesses to prove. As a result, we have very little protection or deterrence for domestic violence in my area, and in many others. L.A. comes to mind, as you’ve seen high profile actors walk free in recent months without any jail time.

    Because of this desire to have a good resolution rate, they are sacrificing the safety of the citizens. In cases of serial killers above, it’s more about making themselves look good, because either way, there has to be resources and investigation, but it’s still only one more problem with the overall trend to make the easy busts. Since it’s often pressure from the City to make themselves look good, we should all write our councilmen.

    • Pat Brown says:

      You are correct about the easy cases getting worked on more than the hard ones. Serial homicide qualify as the most difficult and requiring the most resources which are often very scarce. Some detectives simply are cynical and practical as they have been burned by the criminal justice system so often they feel cases without overwhelming physical evidence are a waste of time and effort.

  4. The suggestion that the Boston murders may have been done by one or more perpetrators leads one to ask if this is a group of killers (2 or 3) who are connected re know each other. Is this a possibility?

    And if it is, why would they have stopped?

    • Pat Brown says:

      Not likely a group of killers. Serial killers just don’t work that way. Sometimes you will get a killing duo – a stronger personality and a weaker follower one – but nothing like some organized serial murderer bunch. The recent Smiley Face Killers urban legend fails to be likely for this reason. Psychopaths of this nature don’t work well together and get a kick out of slithering around on their own. They also usually strike when their egos are down and at other times just go on with regular life.

  5. Nell says:

    While I agree wholeheartedly that LE would love to forget about some of the cold cases in Wichita, Kansas…that Rader very likely could have done…I do not understand how you can come to the conclusion that he did not kill some of the early victims. He was linked via dna to the Otero murders, to the Fox murder, to the Wegerly murder.

    Are you suggesting that LE lied under oath that this dna was found and tested connecting Rader to these murders?

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