While this book is not at all Christian and contains lurid details of violent serial killings and sexual abuse, it is not quite a departure from my personal reading style. I have always been fascinated by non-fiction of all shapes and colors, specifically adventure novels of man vs. nature. And while “true crime” has never enticed me, I absolutely loved Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm and the research efforts this journalist put into that work. And so I was drawn to A Death in Belmont first by the author and then, once I understood its premise, by the story itself.
Sebastian Junger grew up in the Belmont, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. In the mid-sixties, this suburb was a quiet place, white and safe. Everyone knew everyone, and nothing bad ever happened in Belmont. Boston, on the other hand, had been recently savaged with a string of serial killings by an unknown assailant dubbed “The Boston Strangler,” someone who strangled his elderly female victims with whatever cloth was handy before raping them. Then in the fall of ’62, as the Junger family needed some house work done, they hired a contractor who himself hired another man named Al Desalvo to help. When an elderly woman was violently murdered inside her Belmont home just a mile away from the Junger’s place, Mrs. Junger raced out to tell Al the news who seemed both shocked and disgusted. A black man named Roy Smith who had been working that afternoon in the woman’s home was arrested and later convicted of her murder, a murder nearly identical to all other Boston stranglings. Several years later, however, the Junger family along with all of Massachusetts was shocked to find that Al Desalvo, the quiet, hard-working family man, admitted to being the Boston Strangler after being brought up on several other charges of rape and social indecencies.
The questions Junger raises in this dramatic account of murder and seeming injustice involve the both the innocence of Roy Smith and the guilt of Al Desalvo. Had Smith’s jury jumped to too many conclusions based on circumstantial evidence, if not race and desire to give “The Boston Strangler” a face? If so, why had the stranglings continued after his conviction? And could Al Desalvo have really murdered this woman and then only minutes later head back to the Junger home to paint? And if Al Desalvo admitted to strangling all those Boston women, why did he never admit to the death in Belmont?
While Sebastian leaves the reader to draw his own conclusions, he draws several conclusions himself, giving the book a less-than-objective air. His writing style is fascinating, and his research ability is beyond critique. A Death in Belmont brings to light the likelihood of injustices wrought throughout the American judicial system, specifically in cases involving race during the tempestuous 1960s. If you’re a journalism fan like I am who finds more interest in age-old mysteries than in present-day pop-trials, perhaps you would enjoy delving into this book, A Death in Belmont.