lemargold, April 16, 2006 (view all comments by lemargold)
I am the daughter of the victim in the story"A Death in Belmont". Junger's book is highly inaccurate because he wishes to present the reader with a mystery when in fact there is none. By leading the reading constantly to believe that Roy Smith the convicted killer has been railroaded to conviction, he creates an opening for the possibility that Albert DeSalvo who confessed and later recanted that he was the "Boston Strangler"had murdered my mother.This story quickly becomes a work of fiction. Roy Smith is caught in a web of lies and strong circumstantial evidence. Junger tries to lead the reader in another direction. The conviction of Roy Smith was appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1966. The conviction was upheld and I will refer to it in my comments. Junger never tells the reader of the appeal and the judges strong opinion of Smith's guilt upholding the verdict. Junger says Smith never lied to the police. Not true. Junger says I was at the scene of the verdict being handed down and even tells you what I was thinking about Smith's attitude toward the verdict. I wasn't there. Junger says police thought Smith was the Strangler. Not true. Police officials told me the evening of my mother's death that Smith had been in prison during many of the strangling murders. To show how Smith lied and some of the circumstantial evidence that was presented I will copy from the Mass Supreme Court Opinion 1966. 2. There was no error in the denial of the motion for a directed verdict. The evidence was circumstantial. The jury could have found as follows: On the morning of March 11, 1963, the defendant walked from his apartment at 175 Northampton Street, Boston, to the district office of the Division of Employment Security on Huntington Avenue. Between 11:45 A.M. and 12 noon he left that office with an identification card introducing him to Mrs. Goldberg at 14 Scott Road, Belmont, and a slip directing him to that address. The interviewer at the employment office, thinking that she detected liquor on the defendant's breath, had asked if he had been drinking. He had "leaned a little backwards . . . [and] said no" and the interviewer, then thinking he had not been drinking, had sent him out. The defendant arrived at the Goldberg house about 12:45 or 1 P.M. He later told the police that he arrived before noon and left at exactly 3:45 P.M. The jury could have found, however, from the testimony of several other witnesses, that he left the house at about 3:05 P.M. Israel Goldberg, the murdered woman's husband, telephoning from his place of business in Chelsea, spoke with his wife at about 2:20 P.M. Goldberg arrived home at about 3:50 P.M., found his wife's body in the living room and telephoned the police. They arrived in a few minutes and found Goldberg excited, nervous and hysterical. Mrs. Goldberg had been strangled with one of her stockings; the disarray of her garments and the bodily exposure (with the later report of a microscopic examination and related testimony of Goldberg) tended to show rape. The living room was in disorder, most of the furniture was in the middle of the room, the divan was pushed to one corner, living room ornaments were on the dining room table, and the vacuum cleaner, with attachments, was in the center of the living room. Page *605 Palm or fingerprints, later identified as the defendant's, were, in due course, found on the mantel in the living room, on the mirror hanging above it, and on the vacuum cleaner. After his arrest, the defendant told the police that he cleaned several rooms, got all through with his work and left the rooms in order; also that he did not clean the mirror, that he "didn't have anything to do" with it and he did not recall seeing a mantel.Children coming home from school about 3 P.M. and soon thereafter playing ball in the street saw the defendant on the street near the Goldberg house and saw Goldberg come home; they did not observe anyone else in the street near the house in the interval. Their opportunity for observation extended over a good part though not all of the time between the defendant's departure and Goldberg's return. A practical nurse employed in the house next to the Goldberg residence was watching the children in the street from about 3:25 P.M. until about 3:45 P.M. She saw no one around the Goldberg house other than the children. She saw Gloldberg come home. The defendant told the police that he had with him when he went to Belmont on March 11 and that he was paid .30 for his work at the Goldberg house. He had .20 with him when arrested. Goldberg had left bills (one in the amount of , five in the amount of ) on the night table in the bedroom before leaving home in the morning, after having a conversation with his wife. This was for her use in paying the expected cleaning man. He had given his wife on March 10 for some purchases; she had not spent it all. In the afternoon of March 11 her pocketbook was found open on top of a bureau with the wallet missing. The money was gone from the night table. The defendant on the evening of March 11 was seen with a ten, a five and some one dollar bills when he purchased whiskey. He made other purchases and expenditures between 3:05 P.M. on March 11 and the time of his arrest on March 12. The total of these was in the range of . This evidence was sufficient to take the case to the jury. (FN 5) Commonwealth v. Richmond, 207 Mass. 240 , 243-245, 246-247. Commonwealth v. Smith, 342 Mass. 180 , 182-184. Commonwealth v. Swartz, 343 Mass. 709 . Commonwealth v. Connors, 345 Mass. 102 . See Commonwealth v. Bonomi, 335 Mass. 327, 356, and cases cited. "Reasonable and possible" inferences were enough. Commonwealth v. Merrick, 255 Mass. 510 , 514. The jury could have found unusual opportunity, motive, possession after the crime of unexplained funds, incriminating action in leaving the house in disorder and the work unfinished, and subsequent conduct and false statements showing consciousness of guilt. Evidence of consciousness of guilt, while not conclusive, may with other evidence be sufficient to prove guilt.Commonwealth v. Curry, 341 Mass. 50, 55, and cases cited. Commonwealth v. Swartz, 343 Mass. 709 , 713.This is not a case on which the guilt of the defendant is left to conjecture and surmise with no solid basis in fact, such as Commonwealth v. Fancy, 349 Mass. 196 , 200 Junger reports a stranger in work clother had knocked on someone's door looing for work about the time my mother was killed. This is undocumented. The elderly man with an ill wife does not fit the description of anyone on Scott Road. The children playing outside for all but a few minutes until my dad came home saw no one on the street that afternoon other than Roy Smith. Junger has written a book of fiction, constantly telling the reader how to think. At no time was Smith in jeopordy of the death sentence as it was reserved for cop killers. No one has been executed in Massachusetts since 1947. Smith was given clemency, not exonerated of the crime, becaause he was dying of lung cancer and had good behavior in prision (accoring to his attorney ). Keep in mind you are always being led in the wrong direction. The jury could not find my mother had been raped beyond a reasonable doubt because the defense lawyer had presented expert witnesses who managed to confuse the jury. Also the question arose as to whether a dead person can be raped. It may be called something else. Smith told police he had been paid .30( .50 per hour for four hours and .30 for transportation). We know from the evidence Smith was at my home for only slightly more than two hours at most. Every time Junger says "He probably thought" or "He must have said" Remember you are reading fiction and he's trying to lead you. I hope I have made myself clear and my mother can rest in peace.Leah M. Goldberg
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W. W. Norton & Company -
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Bessie Goldberg was strangled to death in her home in Belmont, a Boston suburb, in March of 1963 — right in the middle of the Boston Strangler's killing spree. Her death has not usually been associated with the other Strangler killings because Roy Smith, a black man who was working in Goldberg's house that day, was convicted of her murder on strong circumstantial evidence. But another man was working in Belmont that day: Albert DeSalvo, who later confessed to being the Boston Strangler, was doing construction work in the home of Junger's parents (the author himself was a baby). Could DeSalvo have slipped away and killed Bessie Goldberg? Junger's taut narrative makes dizzying hairpin turns as he considers all the evidence for, and against, Smith or DeSalvo being Goldberg's killer; he also reviews the more familiar case for and against DeSalvo being the Strangler — for there are serious questions about his confession. As Junger showed in his bestselling The Perfect Storm, he's a hell of a storyteller, and here he intertwines underlying moral quandaries — was racism a factor in Smith's conviction? How to judge when the truth in this case is probably unknowable? — with the tales of two men: Smith, a ne'er-do-well from a racist South who rehabilitated himself before dying in prison; DeSalvo, a sexual predator raised by a violent father who was stabbed to death in prison. This perplexing story gains an extra degree of creepiness from Junger's personal connection to it." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day"
by Gary Krist, The Washington Post Book World,
"The result is a book full of unanswered questions — a book that is at once less satisfying and yet even more intriguing and unsettling than The Perfect Storm....Junger adeptly pulls together the various elements of this complex narrative, setting accounts of the Goldberg murder trial and Roy Smith's history against the backdrop of the Strangler hysteria that gripped the public for the better part of two years." (read the entire Washington Post Book World review)
"An intriguing crime story that also contains painful truths about race and justice in America."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"[Junger's] ripping, highly readable drama of crime and punishment highlights the random chance that often separates victim from survivor....A meticulously researched evocation of a time of terror, wrapped around a chilling, personal footnote."
by Library Journal,
"As usual, Junger has written a well-documented page-turner that leaves us wanting more....Highly recommended."
by Alan M. Dershowitz, The New York Times Book Review,
"[R]iveting....A Death in Belmont, though nonfiction, reads like a novel. Its narrative line is crisp....[A] worthy sequel to The Perfect Storm."
by Entertainment Weekly,
"[A]s A Death in Belmont shows, [Junger is] a hell of a storyteller....In the end, you can't help feeling that A Death in Belmont might have made a better magazine article than a 266-page book. (Grade: B+)"
by Denver Post,
"Sebastian Junger knows a good story when he comes across one. Fortunately for his readers, he also know how to flesh out such stories and then tell them in a beguiling and silky prose style."
by Cleveland Plain Dealer,
"The publisher boldly compares A Death in Belmont to In Cold Blood, but it is too flatly written to approach Truman Capote's masterpiece. Junger can quickly slide into the prosaic, though here his sentences serve his topic well enough."
by Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram,
"A Death in Belmont investigates the puzzling, lurid drama of the Boston Strangler....In a book as good as this one, conjecture rings with the force of conviction."
by Chicago Sun-Times,
"Junger's failure to couch his material in a consistently compelling narrative is the problem. And for all their fleshing out, his tragic characters remain curiously flat as well."
by David Mehegan, Boston Globe,
"The perfect story..."
by William Georgiades, New York Post,
"4 stars....Sebastian Junger's first brush with horror came early....Wondering if DeSalvo may have killed his neighbor, Junger exhumes the evidence in both cases. He recounts the crimes and trials and interviews witnesses, including his parents. As he goes deeper, the story becomes that much more awful, a commentary on racial assumptions and the illusion of suburban safety."
by Lev Grossman, Time,
"In DeSalvo's dark world, Junger's clear, beautifully reasonable writing is the literary equivalent of night-vision goggles....He's navigating a maze of shadows, and you can see all the more clearly what an enormously skillful prose artist he is."
In the spring of 1963, the quiet suburb of Belmont, Massachusetts, is rocked by a shocking sex murder that exactly fits the pattern of the Boston Strangler. Sensing a break in the case that has paralyzed the city of Boston, the police track down a black man, Roy Smith, who cleaned the victim's house that day and left a receipt with his name on the kitchen counter. Smith is hastily convicted of the Belmont murder, but the terror of the Strangler continues.
On the day of the murder, Albert DeSalvo--the man who would eventually confess in lurid detail to the Strangler's crimes--is also in Belmont, working as a carpenter at the Jungers' home. In this spare, powerful narrative, Sebastian Junger chronicles three lives that collide--and ultimately are destroyed--in the vortex of one of the first and most controversial serial murder cases in America.
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