The events of Hulu’s Boston Strangler are shocking, but it doesn’t depict what happened to Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole the credits roll? The true crime movie ends just after McLaughlin and Cole wrap up their work on the case of the infamous Boston Strangler serial killer. The two women were among the first journalists to report on the series of grisly murders in the 1960s, and McLaughlin coined the name “Boston Strangler.”
McLaughlin and Cole worked for the Boston Record American, a tabloid newspaper created from the 1961 merger of the Boston American and Boston Record. As shown in Boston Strangler, they covered the murders from approximately 1962 to 1964. Cole continued to write about Albert DeSalvo, who may or may not have been the real Boston Strangler, until at least 1967. But after the Boston Strangler faded from public consciousness, how did McLaughlin and Cole’s careers progress?
Jean Cole & Loretta McLaughlin Continued Their Reporting Career (& Both Retired)
McLaughlin left the Boston Record American sometime after the events of Boston Strangler. As stated at the end of the film, she and James J. McLaughlin divorced, and she eventually married James P. Becker. Fascinated by the psychology of DeSalvo and the Surgeon General’s report that linked cancer to smoking, McLaughlin continued to pursue a career related to public health. She became a science writer at Harvard University and executive director of public relations at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
In the 1970s, she returned to journalism as a medical reporter for the Herald American, the result of a merger between the Record American and The Boston Herald Traveler. She moved to the Boston Globe in 1976 and closely covered the 1980s AIDS epidemic, critiquing the federal government’s lack of response to the crisis. In 1982, McLaughlin published “The Pill, John Rock, and the Church: The Biography of a Revolution,” a book about the creation of the birth control pill. In 1992, she became only the second woman to ever be Editorial Page editor at the Boston Globe. She retired in late 1993 and died in 2018.
Jean Cole remained an investigative reporter for her entire career. This included covering what she and her Record American colleagues called the “Combat Zone,” a neighborhood in the city known for its high crime rates. She continued to work at the Record American as it became the Herald American (now the Boston Herald). She retired in 1981 and died in 2015. As Boston Strangler states, McLaughlin and Cole remained lifelong friends.
Why Jean Cole & Loretta McLaughlin’s Stories Are So Important In The Boston Strangler Movie
Though Boston Strangler makes some changes to the real story, it honors the truth of McLaughlin and Cole’s intrepid reporting amidst sexism. McLaughlin wrote in 1991, “When I first went to a newspaper, a suburban entry point, looking for a job, the editor snarled, ‘See that gate (to the newsroom). No skirt has ever passed that gate, and none ever will'” (via Boston Globe).
Boston Strangler shows how McLaughlin in particular had to force her way into better stories and higher positions that she knew she was qualified for. Even once she was able to do that, she still faced sexism, including the Boston PD refusing to talk to her and the newspaper editors printing her and Jean’s photos as a stunt. Boston Strangler shows that McLaughlin and Cole’s reporting was an important but overlooked part of history.