Author Casey Sherman spent years researching the case of the serial murderer known as the Boston Strangler because his aunt was believed to be the strangler’s last victim.
After his book “Search for the Strangler” was published seven years ago, he began giving talks based on his research and the surprising conclusions of his reinvestigation. People were interested. The case of the Boston Strangler had dominated headlines for years in the early 1960s. After giving his book talk many times, he honed it, learning how to deliver a story in a way that pleases an audience.
“There are other ways to tell the story for people who aren’t going to read the book,” said Sherman, who put together “Writers, Gangsters, Killers & Thieves,” a three-author program that comes to the Company Theatre in Norwell next week.
One way was live storytelling, Sherman said from his Marshfield home last week.
“People love to hear good old-fashioned storytelling,” he said. “When you get them to laugh at the right places, gasp at the right ones . . . the show is terrifying at times, humorous at times, and people are going to be on the edge of their seats.”
To develop the show and “shape it,” Sherman brought in other authors whose books gave dramatic pictures of crime stories that had grabbed headlines for months and years. Journalist and radio host Howie Carr, who appears with Sherman in “Writers, Gangsters, Killers & Thieves,” tells the story of Whitey Bulger, the fugitive crime boss who was finally captured at a California apartment last year with his longtime partner, Catherine Greig, delving into the notorious gangster’s past and looking toward his future.
The author of the best-selling “The Brothers Bulger,” published seven years ago and described by Kirkus Reviews as “a classic, seamy portrait of widespread moral turpitude, conveyed with crackling Boston-Irish sarcasm,” Carr’s storytelling draws on his knowledge of the Boston gangster to paint a dramatic account of a case that has dominated the Boston news media for decades.
“Howie Carr tells a lot of his Boston mobster vignettes,” Sherman said.
The show’s third storyteller is Anthony Amore, a specialist on the still-unsolved Gardner Museum art theft whose best-selling book “Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists” takes readers into the highly profitable but little known industry of art theft.
Amore, who took over as director of security at the Gardner Museum about a decade after the theft, is “the man who has the $5 million reward to give out,” Sherman said.
The theft of 13 masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston took place 23 years ago when thieves impersonated police officers and lured the museum’s two security guards into a trap, where they were bound with duct tape. The thieves disabled the alarm system and took their time removing some of the museum’s most valuable paintings, including Rembrandt’s only known seascape, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” An even worse loss for art historians was the Dutch master Vermeer’s “The Concert,” since it’s one of only 34 known Vermeers.
Sherman’s connection to the Strangler case is an intensely personal one. Growing up in a Boston Irish-American household, he heard whispers of the murder of his mother’s sister, Mary Sullivan. After watching the movie version of the case, in which Tony Curtis took the role of confessed strangler Albert DeSalvo, he turned to his mother for the deeper story and learned that Mary had been her best friend and they had planned their lives together.
“That had been stolen from her,” Sherman said. “So I said, at least they caught the guy who did it. And she said, ‘No, they never did.’ ”
He went to school for journalism and became a TV producer, a platform from which he began reinvestigating the case. He found that police had no physical evidence connecting DeSalvo to the murders; the only evidence was DeSalvo’s confession. Tracking down the confession tapes (found in the possession of a retired police officer), he compared DeSalvo’s account to the actual facts of the murders and found glaring inconsistencies. His TV station (WBZ) mobilized a team of forensic investigators, who discovered a trace of the killer’s DNA. Other evidence led him to an early suspect for Sullivan’s murder, then a Boston University student. Surreptitiously gathering DNA evidence from this suspect, investigators made the match.
Sherman said the reinvestigation showed there was no single “Boston Strangler” but a string of “copycat murderers.”
“And the police knew it,” Sherman said. “They [the detectives working on the investigation] were all frustrated. They were told to bury their own evidence.”
Later, these officers shared their information with Sherman when he began to publicize his findings on his television series.
Audiences respond strongly to the three-author show, which has been performed at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre, the Somerville Theatre, and other venues. Sherman said the “groundswell” of follow-up responses, e-mails, and letters after each show helps investigators and historians tell a fuller tale of Boston’s “gangsters, killers, and thieves.”
Robert Knox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.