, Salem, MA

September 7, 2013

50 years ago, Boston Strangler struck in Salem


---- — SALEM — A morning fog had burned off by early Sunday afternoon when a woman in hysterics called Salem police to report a murder in her apartment building on Lafayette Street.

Inspector John Moran, a Salem detective, was the first to arrive at the Langdon Apartments, a brick building at 224 Lafayette St. He entered the first-floor apartment around 1:30 p.m. with another officer who drove the police ambulance.

“The only thing I told Charlie was, ‘Jesus, don’t touch anything. We’ve got another strangler here,’” said Moran, now 89.

The date was Sept. 8, 1963.

The victim was Evelyn Corbin, a 58-year-old divorcee who lived alone and worked at the Sylvania lighting plant.

Corbin had breakfast with an elderly female tenant on the first floor that morning before going back to her apartment around 9:30 a.m., according to Salem police files. That was the last time she was seen alive.

When the neighbor, Flora Manchester, didn’t see Corbin leave for Mass and learned she had not picked up her Sunday paper at the Eaton Drug Store across the street, she grew suspicious.

She also told police that someone had tried to open her door that morning.

When police entered the apartment, they found Corbin on a bed, half-naked, with two silk stockings knotted around her neck.

The next day the story was all over the papers. The Boston Strangler had struck again. Since 1962, there had been eight victims, all women. Corbin made nine.

In 1964, police arrested 33-year-old Albert DeSalvo of Malden and charged him in connection with a string of robberies and rapes.

The following year, while being held in a facility for the criminally insane, DeSalvo confessed to being the Boston Strangler. In fact, he claimed 13 murders between 1962 and 1964, two more than the newspapers had pinned on him. He later recanted before being killed in prison.

This summer, DNA tests officially linked DeSalvo to one of the murders after his remains were exhumed from a Peabody cemetery. Attorney General Martha Coakley said DeSalvo “most likely” was the Boston Strangler.

Moran, however, still has his doubts — at least, in the Corbin case.

“I think it was a copy-cat, and there was more than one,” said Moran, seated around a large table in a meeting room at police headquarters. During the hourlong interview, other detectives sat in to listen.

Moran, who retired in 1981 as a lieutenant, is still a legend at police headquarters.

At 6-1 and 225 pounds, the former Marine and high school football star was an imposing figure in his prime. He had been commended more than 50 times and had powder burns on his face from a gun fired at him at point-blank range.

Moran not only was first on the scene the day of the Corbin murder, he was one of the principal investigators. He even served on a state “strangler task force” set up by the attorney general.

He liked another suspect, a 25-year-old Lynn man with a past who had stayed nearby in a friend’s apartment.

The two men bought doughnuts the night before. The morning of the murder, the Lynn man put a couple of doughnuts in his pocket before leaving, a witness told police.

“When we were investigating how (the murderer) got into the apartment ... I felt he went in the fire escape,” said Moran. “And on the fire escape outside the window there were two doughnuts ... like somebody was going to climb in the window and didn’t want to crush the doughnuts.”

The day after the murder, the Lynn man picked up a 16-year-old Salem girl and drove to Hudson. N.Y. She later told police the man slid down low in his car while picking her up so as not to be seen.

After the pair was picked up by Hudson police, Moran and another Salem officer drove to New York to pick them up.

Although he worked the case hard, Moran was never able to charge the Lynn man with Corbin’s murder.

But he never believed DeSalvo did it. There were too many inconsistencies in DeSalvo’s story, he said.

“I never questioned DeSalvo and I made requests to ...,” Moran said. “Of course, DeSalvo went and confessed to all of the cases and how he got in. I never, ever bought him on any of them.”

There was a lot of public pressure, he said, to end the hysteria and the headlines.

“That’s what I feel,” said Moran. “The attorney general (Edward Brooke) wanted to wrap the thing up.”

Moran also feels the evidence he found on the fire escape trumped any other evidence and even DeSalvo’s confession.

“The doughnut was a better (clue),” he said.

Tom Dalton can be reached at