The Boston police investigation of the murders of the 11 black women showed these black lives did matter. The police, media, Mayor White and District Attorney Flanagan acted to show their concern. All did their jobs in their own way while working together to solve these matters while being openly responsive to the public.
The black community also played a major role in holding everyone’s feet to the fire. From the early march to other protests they gave notice of their interest. On top of that, as one article noted, “Many black law enforcement officers have said privately that since they live in Boston’s black community, they have a special stake in the investigation.”
Sgt. Stephen Murphy head of a task force investigating the murders who was under much pressure tried to reassure people. He stressed there was no common link to all the murders other than the first two. He said: “I think there was some concern in the community that simply because the murders occurred, police weren’t doing anything. But one thing police don’t do is deter murder. Adding a few more officers may help solve more murders but it won’t deter them.” He probably was thinking back to the the Boston Strangler case where at times no matter how many police were on the case the murders continued.
It is difficult to compare the Boston Strangler case with the situation involving the murders of 11 black women. More resources were put on the former but that did not show a lack of commitment to the latter. The Strangler involved one maniac leaving no clues; the other multiple culprits with each case leaving its own clue. The lives of all these women mattered but it is certainly more terrifying thinking that one person is roaming the streets preying on innocent victims as compared to many people with their own individual involvement with the victims.
The black women were scared. They were staying inside more. They only went out when accompanied by others. They told how their habits had changed. They were checking on each other constantly by phone. One said: “The murders were so strange so many of them, that no one knows what they’re looking for or who to look for.” Another told how she if she goes out at night after walking a block or two she is “full of perspiration, and my heart is beating fast. I’ve asked myself sometimes when I walk “When is one of those fools going to jump out and attack me, kill me.”” A third who was thinking of moving added: “This city is a mad town.”
The police repeatedly assured the public they believed the victims had a relationship with the perpetrators, “They all appear to be crimes of passion. In most of the cases the victim knew the perpetrator.”
The false idea of someone being out there who arbitrarily preyed on black women had spread great fear similar to that caused by the Strangler among the public. It is easier to be able to distance oneself from murders between people who may know each other but far less when the murderer strikes randomly, suddenly, and indiscriminately.
Black lives did matter in the early months of 1979 during the investigation of the homicides of the eleven black females. That makes the failure of the police and media in the Dixon, Barrett, and Smith homicides that much more problematic. How could it be that a sensational triple murder got so little attention in 1968? Did the view toward black lives change so drastically in eleven years? Could you imagine a Dixon, Barrett, Smith type murder happening now and it vanishing after 2 days?
The FBI had an unsullied reputation and powerful friends back in 1968 when J. Edgar Hoover wielded his big stick. I can see it could have easily kyboshed a Boston police investigation whereby Stevie Flemmi could get his FBI friends to protect Martorano because if they didn’t Stevie might get charged. There is also the idea that the Boston police were indifferent because the victims were black but that did not appear to be the norm. From the law enforcement angle the lack of follow-up on the triple homicide seems to suggest something was rotten in Boston.
If it were only the police who acted this way that would be one thing. As far as I know the FBI did not control the media so why did it never do more with that triple murder. Why the page 17 and page 34 treatment. Triple murders usually command headline attention. How then explain the media’s indifference.
Maybe the Deborah Smith case will help us understand. (continued in part 9 on Wednesday)