Between 1962 and 1964, thirteen women were sexually assaulted and murdered in the city of Boston. This series of murders was called the Boston Strangler murders. Though most of the victims were older women, a few were in their early twenties, and one young woman was in her late teens. All of the victims were strangled, usually with a personal item the woman owned, such as tights or stockings. The Boston Strangler would gain access to his victims by posing as an official needing to perform a service in the women’s homes. In 1964, Albert de Salvo confessed to having committed the crimes (Chitolie, 1997).
Because the Boston Strangler killings involved a repetitive pattern, which always involved specific behaviors, social learning theory is most useful in explaining this case. According to social learning theory, an individual learns by observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others (Kearsley, 2007). People learn societal norms and appropriate, healthy behaviors by modeling others. After one becomes aware of a behavior by observing it, he will usually apply the behavior in future situations, reflecting upon past outcomes that occurred when the behavior was originally observed.
The Boston Strangler observed the reactions of his earlier victims and based his approach to future murders on the outcomes of his prior crimes. For example, he knew that by dressing as a serviceman, de Salvo’s victims would respond by trusting de Salvo and allowing him to enter their houses. Consequently, de Salvo used this tactic repeatedly. A more general example of how learned behaviors may influence future practices is evident in the treatment of animals. Many children go through a stage in which they innocently harm insects or small animals (i.
e. by trapping them and keeping them in jars, etc. ). In most cases, a parent or other adult intervenes, and the child learns to respect animals. As a result, the child does not have a desire to cause the animal pain. There are some cases, however, in which the child never learns empathy for animals and the pattern of torture intensifies. Based on prior experiences (i. e. causing pain in animals as a form of enjoyment, and not having an adult stop the behavior), a child may continue the undesirable practice.
Sometimes, the child’s violent tendencies toward living things may escalate so much that it is later transferred to human beings when the child becomes an adult. As a child, Albert de Salvo trapped cats and dogs and shot them with arrows. It may be argued that de Salvo never learned appropriate behavior in dealing with living things, and as a result, de Salvo’s practice of trapping animals, rendering them helpless, and killing them progressed to trapping and torturing the women he murdered during his adulthood.
The childhood practice of continued animal cruelty can be observed among a number of other infamous serial killers as well (Finch, 1992). In the context of social learning theory, the Boston Strangler’s killings perhaps occurred because the individual who committed these crimes lacked proper role models to teach him the rules and norms of society. It appears that this individual was never effectively discouraged from harming living organisms, and it is even possible that he may have witnessed violent acts (perhaps the violent acts of men against women) during his early years of development.
Nevertheless, when examining the killings, from the general events that took place to the minor details, there appears to be an obvious pattern of repetitive learned violent behavior. Bibliography Chitolie, Raymond. Serial Killers—Case Files [The Boston Strangler]. 1997. Retrieved March 16, 2007, from http://hosted. ray. easynet. co. uk/serial_killers/boston. html Finch, Patty A. Abuse. 1992. Retrieved March 16, 2007, from http://www. vospca. org/archive/abuse. html Kearsley, Gregg. Theories. 2007. Retrieved March 16, 2007, from http://tip. psychology. org/bandura. html
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