Return to Hidden Stories

  The Shadows of Albert DeSalvo

Slide Show
Click on the icon above to view

Dedicated family man or psychotic rapist ... extraordinary con or simple dupe ... promising trooper with the 2-14 ACR or brutal serial killer responsible for the deaths of thirteen women in greater Boston in the early 1960s ... the life of Albert DeSalvo is largely a series of unanswered questions. He admitted to the murders in great detail but was never charged. The arc of his life included a brutal childhood and a violent death. He claimed to love his wife more than life itself; his confessions to murder recalled rape without anger and murder without hate. He is the only trooper to pass through Daley Barracks and have a movie made about his life; he liked the fact that Tony Curtis was cast in the central role.

Thirty-one years after he was murdered in a Massachusetts high security prison, Albert DeSalvo, the "Boston Strangler" is still the subject of controversy, court fights and mystery. The dead never rest easily in affairs such as these; recently, both Albert and one of his victims were exhumed for medical examination and to extract DNA samples. Albert admitted to the murders in excruciating detail but was never convicted of these crimes. His plan, built with careful coaching from both celebrity criminal attorney F. Lee Bailey and George Nasser, a fellow inmate many consider the real killer, was to provide for his family by selling the rights of his infamous story to Hollywood and to escape a possible death sentence for a long string of brutal rapes by pleading guilty as a serial killer. If he was deranged, the state could not execute him and he planned to spend his life as the subject of study in a mental institution.

He had been a model cavalry trooper, numerous times, the top soldier at inspection and designated as the "Colonel’s Orderly". With a photographic memory, in 1951, he could recite Army regulations and all the special orders of the recon battalion. Years later, the same memory recalled the most trivial aspects of the murder crime scenes. Did he actually remember what had occurred or was he reciting facts provided by Nasser? On occasion, there were errors in his statements, the same errors appeared in the gruesome tabloid newspaper accounts of the murders that he may have read. He was a champion Army boxer with a charming personality, a broad smile and a fast left hook. He had overcome a horrific youth, was a skilled handy-man and a serial rapist. He loved his wife and in the modern medical vocabulary, was a psycho-sexual serial predator. Was he also the murderer of thirteen women?

We are not going to retell all the circumstances of the life and crimes of Albert DeSalvo or explore the theories that he was, or was not, the "Boston Strangler" in this piece. It is a long and complicated story, many books have been written on this topic, the average length, 300 pages. Two of the best, The Boston Strangler, by Gerold Frank and The Boston Stranglers, by Susan Kelly carefully sift and review the vast evidence and come to completely opposite conclusions as to whether Albert was the murder. Frank asserts that Albert did it, Kelly allows that Albert may have murdered one or two of the women but by no means was responsible for thirteen deaths. Both authors provide compelling cases built to support their conclusions.

On the Internet, a fast moving and sufficiently detailed study of Albert, the murders and possible culpability can be found here:

At a different web site, a shorter version may be found here. This site makes reference to Albert’s possible homosexuality and is the only source to make that claim. Almost all print sources agree that Albert was "hyper-sexualized".

In this Hidden Story, our efforts are to bring fresh light to some of those aspects of the story that were not deeply researched. We provide details, images and updates related to the very early days of Albert Desalvo and his time in a Massachusetts reform school, then working on Cape Cod followed by service in the Army to include duty with the 2-14 ACR in Schweinfurt and Bad Kissingen. Authors Kelly and Frank touch on these areas but because the events did not directly relate to the serial murders, their coverage was brief. We conclude with the intersection of Albert, the Internet and the on line auction business. If fame has a price and infamy can be sold to the highest bidder, what were Albert’s last letters and prison made gifts, sent to a teen age girl in the year immediately prior to his murder, worth? Crime finally did pay but who cashed the check? Through much of this, we are searching for a last glimpse of Albert’s shadow, in state and university archives, in decaying buildings and in minds of men who knew him.

The Lyman School, Westboro, Massachusetts:

The Noble Dream and a Grim Reality

Massachusetts considered itself a pioneering state for municipal operated training and reform schools designed to intervene in the lives of youths before they would fall into the adult system of crime, punishment and corrections. State mandated training schools and "reform schools" were established and funded through the later half of the 19th century as replacements for failed poor houses, farm and ship based prisons and youth jails that had served the state’s population of juvenile offenders, orphans, outcast children and troubled adolescents. Powered by the dreams of reformers and laws passed by the legislature, with the most noble ideals, the state crafted a system doomed to produce at best, marginal results.

The Lyman School, in Westborough Massachusetts was a first in the nation boys facility beginning operations in 1860 based on a communal cottage system for troubled male children as pioneered in France. The state mandated goal was to separate juvenile offender children from the cities, seen as breeding grounds for crime, and in the country, under blue skies and in the farm fields, provide one more chance to grow into productive citizens. The environment was to include a formal educational program, vocational training, counseling, productive work, recreation and religious worship. A safe but disciplined world, controlled by caring adults, not quite a prison camp but certainly not a children’s Summer camp.

Departing from the centralized, institutional wards seen in the failed earlier Massachusetts reform school, the boys and teens were to live in groups of 25-35 in a "home" type environment under the stern but fair oversight of a "cottage master" and his small staff of assistants and matrons. This was a large scale operation for Massachusetts, at peak capacity, there were over 350 beds. Other state schools stressed nautical training and "industrial training" but Lyman was to be the leader in terms of new approaches. The system could accommodate children as young as seven years and thousands passed through its doors while in operation.

The campus existed on a hill looking into broad valleys to both the north and south. In 1945, the area was rural and farming was still an active part of the local economy. The campus was built in a series of tiers ascending one side of Powder Hill. Storage, support buildings, the power plant and the superintendent's residence were at the lower level. Still near the base and running back towards Lake Chauncy were the farm buildings in support of the nearby fields and orchards that made up the school agriculture program as well as a small group of staff residences. Towards the middle and top of the hill were the brick residence "cottages". These had been built over the years primarily through the labor of the Lyman boys. Also in the mix, a school, an administration building, assembly building, parade field and clinic. While the prisons and state mental hospitals built in this era featured massive buildings with cell blocks or patient wards in long radiating wings, Lyman represented a very early attempt at the "group home concept" in a non institutional setting. It was designed to resemble a typical New England village to include an indoor roller skating rink.

The records of the Lyman School are held in the Massachusetts State Archives and the holding abstract indicates that the majority are client files, sealed by state law. What operational records were saved are a mixture of documents running from 1840 to the early 1960s. In 1988, however, James G. Leaf, a candidate in the Ph. D. program in the School of Education at Harvard University wrote his thesis on the history of the staff organization of Lyman School. His thoroughly researched work, based on interviews with former staff members, extensive readings and analysis of surviving reports sent from the Lyman and located in other state agency historical files allows us to create an image of the reform school as Albert DeSalvo found it.

Albert DeSalvo at the Lyman School

After a series of early brushes with the law, Albert DeSalvo was removed from his home in Chelsea, a working class city just north of Boston and sent, like his brother a few years earlier, to the Lyman School in Westborough in December 1943. Albert was just thirteen at the time and had previously received a suspended sentence to Lyman. His home life had been particularly difficult, his father sadistically beat his wife and children, brought home a string of prostitutes and had taught Albert to shoplift. The police and social workers knew the home address very well. About thirty miles west of Boston, rural Westborough and the Lyman school must have seemed like a different planet as he arrived.

Albert’s first stop was for a two or three week period at the Lyman-Chauncy cottage, one of the oldest buildings on the campus, it served as the initial in-processing point for those arriving. This entry phases was to familiarize the youth with the many daily routines that allowed Lyman to function and also, provide time for an extensive series of interviews, psychological and intelligence related tests to assess how the school could best address the needs of this particular client. Some appropriate combination of academic and pre-vocational training goals was to be determined as well as the number of "credits" the individual needed to attain to qualify for parole consideration. That was the plan.

The reality was that both constant budget shortfalls and severe staff loses related to the war years had turned Lyman into little more than a very productive, low security prison farm. The staff had lost the key psychiatrist who could accurately interview a newly arriving boy. The psychologist was also gone, all that remained of the assessment team was a staff pychometrician, skilled at giving a vast battery of tests but of very limited further clinical value. Dr. Leaf points out that during this period at Lyman, the annual reports that once proudly detailed the psychological testing and counseling system, contained very little information on the mental health programs at the school because they had become virtually non existent. If there were any indicators to what Albert was, or was to become, that could have been identified by some level of psychological screening, the opportunity was missed at Lyman. Following the in-processing period, Albert would have been assigned to one of the residential cottages.

The nine stone and brick cottages, individual home style dormitories, were built in two waves, through the early years of the twentieth century and into 1930s. Each featured a distinctive New England name, Oak, Westview, Sunset and Worcester for example. The top floor had open bay sleeping quarters, the second floor contained the staff quarters of the "cottage master", the adult overseer of all cottage activities. The ground floor held communal areas for dining, recreation and socialization, the basement had cold water shower-latrine area, changing rooms and at least one detention cell. One particularly remote cottage, Riverview, the only wood frame building in the group, was closed whenever possible because the time and distance always interfered with the otherwise clockwork scheduling that organized each day. One cottage was used as a "disciplinary home", one was reserved for children who had been classified as clinically retarded or having a particularly low IQ. Elms cottage was reserved for the oldest teenagers. There were no fences and beyond the cottage overnight staffs, only a sufficient watch force to prevent outside theft or vandalism was present during the night hours.

In the cottages, the "cottage master" ruled all aspects of life by combination of force of character, guile, experience and brute strength. The most successful were those who knew how to maintain order for the then average population of 35-45 delinquent boys with a glance or a word rather than constant beatings. Corporal punishment was allowed at Lyman when Albert was there; it ran from slaps to clinched fists to a ruler across the back of the hand to flogging with a bicycle inner tube nailed to a wooden handle. For assistance, the master had a thin staff of matrons, an assistant, a night relief and "house boys", Lyman trustees or underage parolees with no where else to go. From start of day at 0500 to lights out at 2000, the cottage master was responsible for all aspects of life except for when the boys were turned over to the school or work details.

There is no known record to which residence cottage Albert was assigned. All aspects of Lyman life were structured, running on familiar patterns with military precision made life somewhat easier for both boys and staff. Nevertheless, the master needed to be constantly vigilant for bullying and abuse by older teens of younger cottage residents. DeSalvo would have been no easy prey in that environment. As a middle teenager, Albert would have been at about the average age for Lyman boys. He certainly knew how to take care of himself and in determining cottage pecking order, one cannot imagine DeSalvo anywhere but near the top.

During the war years, the formal educational part of the Lyman School had virtually ceased to exist. Academic classroom training was to have occurred in both the early morning and afternoon but the program had all but collapsed during the war due to staff shortages and the need to insure that the farm was as productive as possible. Likewise, the pre vocational programs that Lyman was mandated to provide also ended as most of the instructors went off to war. The only major program that survived, in fact expanded, was the farm program. Always intended to help control costs and make the school self sufficient, the farm, with minimal supervision and requiring only a few hired "experts" was an ideal program to occupy the Lyman boys for long, productive hours. Notably, the food at Lyman was always recalled as plentiful and of sufficient variety. The boys were fed all meals at the cottages in the communal setting, the food delivered after preparation at the school’s central kitchen.

When Albert DeSalvo arrived in January 1944, the agricultural work would have been done for that year. The major occupations in the Winter months were building repair projects, snow shoveling as needed and shoveling coal for all the buildings. The oil heat systems had been converted back to coal fired boilers as a wartime austerity measure. Tons of coal and ash were handled by the cottage residents. Using hand carts and wheel barrows, the boys and teens made the round trip haul from the Westborough town railroad siding up the long hill to the school, a total distance of over three miles. As Spring arrived, Albert would have gone to the fields and orchards in the blue work pants, suspenders and work shirt that was the standard state supplied uniform. Movements around the school area were almost always done in long lines of pairs at the "convict shuffle", not a run but more than a walk. The steam whistle signals at the power house helped control an already well regimented day. The whistle also signaled the staff of individual or group escapes. Residents of the surrounding towns could earn a dollar or two bounty by apprehending a boy and calling the school.

Life at Lyman for DeSalvo could have stark contrasts. On the one hand, in many respects, it resembled a youth prison without walls more than at any other time in its history. With the loss of staff to the war, Dr. Leaf notes that reading between the lines of the Superintendent’s Official Reports, it was clear that runaways, mass escapes, riots and assaults were not uncommon. Even with the demands of the farm, however, there still were periods of free time and the school offered a gym, pool and under funded but probably still available programs such as the chorus, games and sports programs. The cottage masters enforced discipline but also tried to play a positive role in the lives of the boys by structuring enjoyable activities for the few available hours of free time. Each boy received a daily ration of cigarettes distributed to the group one at a time. Staff insured that if 25 were given out, 25 butts and spent matches were collected at the end of the break.

Albert DeSalvo reached his required number of credits for parole in November 1944. Credits were earned for each month spent at Lyman, 125 for the first month and then 145 each successive month and, in theory, for successful participation in the education, counseling and vocational programs. With these virtually gone during the war, credits may have accumulated for not creating trouble on the work details. His stay, seven months, seems just at the longer end of what would have been normally expected. Whether he was a discipline problem or lost credits at some point is unknown. Throughout his life, DeSalvo seemed adaptable and easily fit into a regimented environment. He returned home to Chelsea and found a much improved domestic situation. His brutal father was gone and Albert returned to public school, a series of part time jobs and eventually, his life of petty crime.

In August, 1946, despite many positive developments in his life, DeSalvo was remanded to Lyman for a second time, the offense was car theft. Reverend Robert Brown, Lyman School Chaplain from the late 1950s until the school closed, doubts that any second in-processing would have occurred. The long standing policy was that someone returning to the school would have been placed in an age appropriate cottage without further testing or screening. Dr. Leaf did not write in depth on the immediate post war period at Lyman, in all probability, the school was still on the war years budget with limited staff. Not until the opening of the Gabler Center in Waltham as a youth oriented psychiatric center and a legislature mandated major attempt at reform in 1947, were there any reported significant positive changes from the war years version of Lyman.

Albert briefly escaped in September and was returned. One would expect another seven or eight month period at Lyman with eligibility for parole in March or April. Rather, Albert is back in Chelsea months early. There is no apparent reason for this fast return. In The Boston Stranglers, Kelly speculates that the staff at Lyman found a way to expedite his departure. In his thesis, Dr. Leaf never reports encountering patterns of early release from the school although the post war years saw a burgeoning client load. The state made sure that while it was fairly easy to be remanded to Lyman, return to society would occur only when the necessary number of credits were earned. If a Lyman boy felt he could either intimidate the staff or create such trouble as to earn parole so the school would be free of him, this was a serious miscalculation. At any rate, Albert once again went to public school and finally graduated from the ninth grade, one of his major goals, in the Spring of 1948.

Could the Lyman School have made any potential difference in the outcome of Albert DeSalvo’s life? The answer is probably "no". Even in the middle 1930s, when for a few rare years, the school had a strong mental health staff and reasonable funding, there never was the luxury of in-depth individualized therapy programs and DeSalvo apparently exhibited no psychotic or other mental health related symptoms of particular note. The in-processing staff had been successful in shunting truly dangerous youths or those clearly mentally ill into the prison system or to Bridgewater State Hospital respectively, in the pre war years. With the war years staff reductions, both the dangerously mentally ill as well as feeble minded were allowed into the normal Lyman population. The staff made efforts to at least segregate them to their own distant cottage.

What Lyman did provide Albert DeSalvo was an opportunity to get into great physical shape through many hours of hard, manual labor. He had the chance to hone his fighting skills, Albert certainly was never afraid to take "matters into his own two fists" and in the boy’s pecking order of cottage life, although he was not an imposing figure, he learned the advantages of being the "top dog". Finally, he received a lengthy and early exposure to a regimented life very similar to the US Army. All of this paid dividends in 1948. Albert DeSalvo, later in his life, through the investigations, "Green Man" serial rape trial and subsequent imprisonment, was always willing to talk to any reporter or detective that passed by. As to the Lyman School, his flat comment was, "I hated that place and all the time I was there, I kept saying to myself that I was going to get into the Army and go overseas, as far away from Chelsea, Boston and Lyman as I could get.".

Cape Cod, Harwich, Massachusetts

The Summer Sun

The Summer of 1948 found Albert and an older brother working in the resort area of Cape Cod. The story becomes confusing as the two major authors, Kelly and Franks, provide remarkably different accounts of the period. Susan Kelly, convinced that Albert was not guilty of the serial killings briefly covers this period,

"... and spent the Summer of 1948 working as a waiter in a sandwich shop on Cape Cod.".

On the other hand, Gerold Frank goes into much more lurid detail as he builds the psycho-sexual case of Albert as the murderer,

"... upon graduating in June, 1948, from Williams School, he took a summer job as a dishwasher in a Cape Cod motel. He spent most of his spare time on the roof, from where he could look directly into some of the rooms and see couples making love. Watching, he would relieve himself by repeated masturbation. He had been an involuntary voyeur during his childhood: since puberty voyeurism had become a regular means of sexual stimulation and fulfillment.".

Certainly a strong statement but where did Franks get this very detailed story? His book provides no set of end notes or sources but this was common in the middle 1960s. Susan Kelly’s book came to print twenty years later and while not annotated in the academic sense, does list her primary and secondary sources. Embellished or not, much of the Gerold Franks book seems to particularly emphasize the narrative to support the Albert as sex driven murder theme. In Harwich, where ½ million dollars will now buy a small beach home, no memory of DeSalvo is recalled by the local historians. The telephone book at the historical society from that period records several different hotels and motels as well as four different coffee shops. That Fall, with a waiver of his most recent parole from Lyman, he joined the Army.

Albert Desalvo, US Cavalry Trooper

Schweinfurt and Bad Kissingen

The 1952 14th Reconnaissance Regiment unit yearbook features no recognizable photos of trooper Albert DeSalvo. Fully ½ of the soldiers appear to be absent from the company group photographs. The end of the yearbook does, however, include a full list of all soldiers assigned to the Regiment as of the printing date and their homes of record. Albert DeSalvo appears on that list.

We talked with nine troopers from the 2 Battalion, 14th Reconnaissance Regiment who were in Germany during Albert DeSalvo’s period. In their early seventies now, they were Albert’s contemporaries, interestingly, many were also from the New England. We heard great stories of the very early days of the unit in Schweinfurt and then Bad Kissingen. Tanks that wouldn’t start and then ... wouldn’t stop, gunnery training and the first jeep patrols on the border, one trooper so enjoyed the area that after his enlistment was over and he left the Army, he caught the first passenger ship back to Germany and moved into Bad Neustadt for five years. His new German wife’s family ran a Gasthaus, he drank beer every day at 1600 and watched the US scouts go by. The unit was big and busy and none of the first men we reached recalled DeSalvo. Fifty years is a long time but then we found two men who did remember. One asked that after all these years, his name not be used.

Robert Vadains

"I recall those days very well, I was with the unit from 1951-1953. We came over on the troop ship Alexander Patch, got off at Bremerhafen and then by train to Schweinfurt. The city was still in bad shape, I was assigned to Recon Company F as an infantryman. We had the ½ track carrier and once we made the move to Bad Kissingen, we did all the regular training and helped the scouts on the border. Those were interesting times."

"Albert DeSalvo was in my company and I won’t say he was my friend but I do recall him. In the 14th Cavalry, the unit sports thing was really big and I participated in as many events as I could, football, basketball and boxing in particular. I guess I was best as a boxer and recall DeSalvo from that sports program. I think he was kind of a "loner", maybe just a regular guy but he sure could box. He was a left handed fighter and not a big guy, maybe 5 ‘ 10"or so but he could fight."

"We boxed with the amateur rules, three minute rounds without headgear, three rounds and then a decision. We tried to train as much as possible, in the infantry squad with the border and all, sometimes it was difficult. I guess I did good in the preliminary bouts, went on to represent the company in my weight class. DeSalvo never had any trouble in his class and became the company-then battalion-then maybe regimental champion as well, I guess as a middle weight."

"I think he was a tanker, I don’t remember him on the border with the scouts and he wasn’t with me in the infantry. The tankers didn’t go to the border so maybe that gave him more time to train."

Some written reports recall DeSalvo rising to the EUCOM boxing champion for his weight class. Authors Kelly and Franks did not pursue this period in any detail. Another trooper, who requested that his name not be used also recalled Albert DeSalvo in the Bad Kissingen.

"I came to know DeSalvo in the Germany, he was in the armored cavalry with me, different company. I guess I first was aware of him as a boxer. The ‘ Friday night fights ‘ were a big event for us at the barracks. There were a series of preliminary fights as each company determined its champions, then they boxed to find the battalion level champs and so on. It stretched out over several weeks and was very popular. DeSalvo was a left handed fighter, a ‘ south-paw ‘ and certainly knew his way in the ring ... maybe he even had a job in the gym, something makes me think he did."

"Later, I got to ‘ know ‘ him better because I was dating a German woman in BK and she had a friend who was dating DeSalvo. Now and then, we went out as couples. He was not a drinker and certainly was a sharp dresser in those days. I guess you would call him a ‘ real operator ‘ and what ever you had, he had to do one better. So, if I had new shoes, he would show up the next time with more expensive new shoes, that’s the way it was. He certainly was a ‘ ladies man ‘ and could ‘ charm a snake ‘."

"He always turned out in a perfect uniform for guard duty, and many times got the job of being on the roving jeep patrol that would keep watch on the troops who had passes to go into BK. I guess as a champion boxer with a great uniform, that was a natural choice."

"I wouldn’t say he was a friend, just someone you came to know. Honestly, I always thought there was something really odd about him. And, many years later, our paths crossed a few times again in Boston. I was interviewed by all the police and investigators working on the murder cases and even some of the newspaper and book authors. After the fact, one of the investigators told me they even were checking into unsolved murders and rapes going all the way back to Bad Kissingen and the early 1950s. I’ll tell you this, writers can write what they may to sell their books, but there is no doubt in my mind. Albert DeSalvo was a serial rapist and murderer. He did the strangler murders and in prison a few years later, he got what he deserved."

Albert DeSalvo

The Bidding is Open

DeSalvo was convicted of a long string of sexual assaults in New England called the "Green Man rapes" . The name was coined because victims consistently recalled their attacker wore a green set of work clothes. He had spent seven and one half years in the Army, had risen to the grade of sergeant but then, following Bad Kissingen and the 2-14 ACR, had been reduced in grade in New Jersey for striking an officer. He had married the German girl he dated in Bad Kissingen and brought her to America. Back in Boston, a steady string of construction and handy-man jobs and the life of a serial rapist began. The first murder attributed to DeSalvo occurred in mid 1962, twelve more occurred over the next 19 months.

Albert DeSalvo’s confession to the murders was never allowed in court. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the rapes and initially was remanded to the state mental hospital prison at Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He had escaped the death sentence and landed in the high security hospital, seemingly the strategy had worked, however, Albert soon was bored with the environment and, much like at the Lyman school several years earlier, planned and executed an escape. He did not go far, just a few towns over, walked around for a day or two then called his attorney to arrange being picked up by the police. The next stop was the maximum security prison at Walpole.

Massachusetts never went forward with an indictment and trial against DeSalvo for the serial murders. These were the days before DNA evidence and there were no witnesses who could place Albert at any of the crime scenes sufficient to build a solid case. The prosecution would have been built on Albert’s confessions and circumstantial evidence. With the "strangler" at Walpole for life, it just wasn’t worth the expense or political risk. On the books, technically the investigations are considered " cold cases ", open and unsolved.

At Walpole, DeSalvo was kept in the prison hospital ward, there was a fear for his life if allowed into the general population. He adapted well and, in one of the therapy programs, made costume jewelry for sale in the prison gift shop. His specialty, ear rings and choker necklaces.

In 1973, Albert DeSalvo was stabbed to death in bed, in the secured ward of the prison hospital. An amazing coincidence of seven doors unlocked and two guards conveniently elsewhere created the opportunity for the murders to have sufficient time and access. They were twice indicted, twice the jury could not reach a decision. According to Susan Kelly, one is now free and one remains in prison on his initial conviction. The murder was generally attributed to DeSalvo’s involvement with the prison drug ring.

About a year prior to his murder, a local teenage girl began a series of correspondences with DeSalvo, misguided infatuation on the one side, the opportunity for the "smooth operator" to reach out to a young woman on the other.The letters and jewelry gifts collected by the girl came up for auction at a specialty Internet site s few years ago; click here to read more about the contents.

On E Bay, there is a steady string of DeSalvo related items, copies of the various books written about the "strangler", odd artifacts and old magazine articles. With limited bidding action, the items come and go. Each time the Tony Curtis "Boston Strangler" movie is shown, a very small residual fee is paid to the surviving key actors and production staff associated with the film. Fifty years after the crimes, the shadow of Albert Desalvo still scuttles across the floor and the screen.

Thanks to the following: Harvard University Widner Library, Archives Office and the Doctoral Thesis of James G. Leaf Ph. D., Massachusetts State Archives, Westborough Public Library and Westborough Historical Society, Harwich Library and Historical Society and Reverend Robert Brown, last Chaplain of the Lyman School.

Postscript by Reverend Robert Brown

I was a member of the Lyman School staff from the 1950s until it closed in 1972 and saw much that went both right and wrong in our efforts. In that there is virtually nothing about the Lyman School on the Internet, I would like to write a short epitaph, an end note to an experiment that so many of us tried to make work.

Lyman, for all its years, was a work in progress. The reformers had a vision of a desired result for their reforms, but they had no capacity to develop a game plan to chart the course. They always believed that a boy could be "made" to reform. We approach these problems differently now.

It took us a long time to finally see that reform would only come in a boy’s life when he chose to reform and begin a new path in life. In the last days of Lyman, we were making progress in creating a program which coaxed a boy to choose to become a non-delinquent.

Rather than stressing the negatives and rushing to use punishment as a tool of choice, we struggled to create programs which allowed a youth to see how great he could become. An example of this was when we integrated the Outward Bound program to the school. We enrolled as many boys as possible in the local school systems, created a cottage solely for them and found meaningful true pre vocational training and jobs with local businesses and tradesmen. A volunteer program brought local citizens on to the campus to further provide enrichment. New training began with educational programs such as auto shop, weight lifting, the farm Heifer project (the last stand of the once proud farm program), heavy equipment operation and maintenance were all added to the mix. Each cottage had a Sunday School teacher from the community; each boy had a birthday party celebration, all the local churches were active in trying to help out. We did much in the last years to combat the new problems of race and drugs that so dominated the youth services programs of the 1960s. Were there still runaways and fights, yes, had we found new ways to try and adapt, yes!

I felt we made tremendous strides in the final years although there were still many problems and programs that did not work well. The final years of the school saw an ill conceived effort to make the campus co-educational. But through it all, particularly in the years of new reforms following World War II, there was steady progress from what Albert DeSalvo encountered. We were far from perfect and now new methods have largely replaced state administered programs. Much of the work is done now by the private sector with supervision and assistance from social workers and educators. Considering the past, failed alternatives, the Lyman School program did much more good than harm, and to this day, I am in contact with boys who passed through the school on the hill and became wonderful and productive citizens.


Return to Hidden Stories