A Death In Belmont

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9780007200054: A Death In Belmont

In 1963, with the city of Boston already terrified by a series of savage crimes known as the Boston Stranglings, a murder occurred in Belmont, just a few blocks from the house of Sebastian Junger's family -- a murder that seemed to fit exactly the pattern of the Strangler. Roy Smith, a black man who had cleaned the victim's house that day, was convicted, but the terror of the Strangler continued.

Two years later, Albert DeSalvo, a handyman who had been working at the Jungers' home on the day of the Belmont murder, and had often spent time there alone with Sebastian and his mother, confessed in lurid detail to being the Boston Strangler.

By turns exciting and subtle, A Death in Belmont chronicles three lives that collide -- and are ultimately destroyed -- in the vortex of one of the most controversial serial murder cases in America. The power of the story and the brilliance of Junger's reporting place this book on the short shelf of classics beside In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter.

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Review:

Imagine how strange and frightening it would be to see a picture of yourself, not quite a year old, with your mother and two men, one of whom is a confessed serial killer. This is what happened to Sebastian Junger, and only a small part of what he recounts in A Death in Belmont.

The quiet suburb of Belmont, Massacuusetts, is in the grip of fear. The Boston Strangler murders have taken place nearby, and now there is another shocking sex crime, right in Belmont. The victim is Bessie Goldberg, a middle-aged woman who had hired a cleaning man to help out around the house on that fall day in 1963. He is a black man named Roy Smith. He did the appointed chores, collected his money and left a receipt on the kitchen table. Neighbors will say that he looked furtive when he walked down the street, that he was in a hurry, that he stopped to buy cigarettes, that he looked over his shoulder. They didn't see a black man in Belmont very often, so, of course, they noticed him. So the story went, and on these slender threads, and his own checkered history, Roy Smith is convicted of the Belmont murder and sent to prison.

On the day of the murder, Albert DeSalvo, an Italian-American handyman, is also in Belmont, working as a carpenter in the Junger home, where the picture is taken. Two years after his work for the Jungers, he confesses in vivid detail to the crimes of which the Boston Strangler is accused, and sent to prison, where he is stabbed to death by an inmate. But he never confesses to the Bessie Goldberg murder. Could he have left the Junger home, committed the murder a few blocks away and calmly returned to finish his day's work? Could Roy Smith really have been the guilty party, even though his sentence was commuted after De Salvo confessed?

In the grand tradition of his bestselling The Perfect Storm, Junger tells a terrific story, lining up all the elements, asking all the pertinent questions, digging into the backgrounds of both men, retelling his mother's very strange encounter with Albert when she is home alone with Sebastian. He then asks the larger questions: Was Roy Smith convicted summarily because he was black? Was Albert De Salvo really the Boston Strangler?

Junger cannot answer all the questions, as no one can. Without DNA, there is no way to be certain of which of the two men might have committed the rape and murder of Bessie Goldberg, or if neither of them is guilty. While it is frustrating not to know for sure, the story is fascinating, reads like a tautly plotted mystery thriller, and Junger's close connection is downright creepy. --Valerie Ryan

About the Author:

Sebastian Junger is the New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Storm, A Death in Belmont and Fire. He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism. He lives in New York City.

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