Growing up in Boston, writer and director Matt Ruskin heard about the Boston Strangler most of his life. But it wasn’t until a few years ago while researching the complex case that he was inspired to write his latest film, Boston Strangler, from a different point of view.
“When I started reading about the case, I realized I didn’t know anything about it. And I discovered this really layered, fascinating murder mystery. There was a much bigger story both about the city and the time with a lot of twists and turns that I found to be so compelling that I thought would make for a really great film,” Ruskin told Deadline during a recent interview. “I just could never really get excited about doing a hard-boiled detective version of this story. There are a lot of aspects to it that are critical of the police and so it just didn’t really add up.”
He continued, “And then I heard an interview with this reporter named Loretta McLaughlin who broke the story of the Boston Strangler; she was one of the first journalists to connect the murders. During the course of her reporting, she gave the Boston Strangler his name. I love journalism stories and journalism movies and I have tremendous respect for good journalism, which is as important now as ever. So I thought that would be a really interesting way to revisit this story.”
Ruskin dove into history looking to learn more about McLaughlin and Cole, who would go on to be portrayed in the film by Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon, respectively. He discovered “there was very little information about them available online” but Cole’s obituary was the key to opening Pandora’s box.
“Jean Cole’s obituary mentioned she had two daughters, and one of them had a Facebook profile with one photo showing her with her arm around an old friend of mine. So I called my friend Lana and I asked her how she knew this woman, she said it was her mother and Jean Cole was her grandmother. When I told her about my interest in the story, she introduced me to Loretta and Jean’s families who welcomed me with open arms and gave me access to everything from old photos and journals to old clippings, and they gave me the unvarnished family history. I was totally hooked at that point,” Ruskin revealed.
As a fan of true crime himself, it was important to Ruskin not to glamorize the Boston Strangler opting instead to focus on two heroines whose stories were mostly lost to history.
“I love true crime stories. I consider myself a fan but as a filmmaker, I really did not want to make a film that was gratuitous in any way,” he said. “It was really important to be respectful of these victims, and just not glorify violence or create gratuitous depictions of violence. I’ve always gravitated towards character-driven stories, so finding this human-centric element, that anchor is what I look for. I was so inspired by Loretta’s work and her passion for what she did, that it felt like a really meaningful way into this otherwise very dark story.”