Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon step into the shoes of 1960s investigative reporters in filmmaker Matt Ruskin's movie Boston Strangler (on Disney+ March 17), based on the "Boston Strangler" serial killer case, believed to be connected to the deaths of at least 11 women around the Boston area.
“This whole film is really a love song to female investigative journalists, and really highlights how important it is to have women in positions of power in storytelling,” Knightley said in a press conference ahead of the film's release. “Because it was these two women that really went, ‘This is an important story. This is information that needs to be in the public in order to keep women of Boston safe.’”
“I think, largely, it was a story that had been, at that point, ignored by the male establishment.”
What happened in the Boston Strangler case?
Between 1962 and 1964 13 single women ranging in ages from 19 to 85, were victims of a serial killer and rapist in Massachusetts.
It has been documented that these women were largely attacked in the same way. The attacker disguised himself as a repairman in order to be let into the homes of his victims. Most of the women died of strangulation and the killer would leave a personal item, like a pair of stockings, tied around each victim's neck.
Albert DeSalvo confessed to being the Strangler, but there continued to be several questions around whether there was more than one attacker, largely due to how spread out the committed crimes were and a lack of tangible evidence. He was never charged in any Boston Strangler cases.
'They’ve largely sort of been erased from the history of this case'
While the Boston Strangler case has fascinated people for decades, Ruskin chose to focus on the lives of Record-American newspaper reporters Loretta McLaughlin (Knightley) and Jean Cole (Coon). As the film depicts, not only are they trying to investigate these Boston area murders, they were doing so while trying to sustain some sort of personal life with their family, in the misogynistic atmosphere of a 1960s newsroom.
For Coon, playing Cole was compelling because it echoed the lives of women she grew up with in the Midwest region of the U.S.
“My mother was a nurse, one of my grandmothers was a teacher, and the other was a homemaker, and those were the opportunities available to women, aside from secretary,” Coon said at the press conference. “So Jean’s fight to become a journalist at all was very moving to me.”
“I think there is a story built in that is about female allyship. There's the broader story that [these women] warned the women of Boston that there was a danger to them and cautioned them on how to protect themselves, which is not the story that we often tell.”
Knightley revealed that while she had heard of the Boston Strangler, she didn't really know anything about the case, until she read Ruskin's script.
“I just thought it was a really interesting way of telling the story of a serial killer but through the point of view of these two female journalists," she said. "And the fact that you’ve kind of got a case where most people didn’t know that it was two women who broke the story, that they’ve largely sort of been erased from the history of this case, I thought was really interesting.”
Interestingly, Ruskin had read Cole’s obituary, which mentioned that she had two daughters. He looked them up and one posted a photo on Facebook with her arm around one of Ruskin's friends.
"So she introduced me to both families and the more I got to know about these women and reporters, the more I grew to admire them, and just felt incredibly compelled to trying to tell their story," Ruskin said.
Knightly highlighted that many women have specifically told her that they felt it was "cathartic" to see the film, something the actor she feels she shares being part of telling this story.
"Whether it's the male-dominated workplace or desperately trying to have a home life and a job, ... I think it's something that a lot of women today can relate to."