Claire Folger / 20th century studios
Writer and director Matt Ruskin grew up in Boston and spent most of his life learning about the Boston Strangler. 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 another point of view.
“When I started reading about the case, I realized I knew nothing about it. And I discovered this really layered, fascinating murder mystery. There was a much bigger story about both the city and the time with a lot of twists and turns that I found so compelling that I thought it would make for a great movie,” Ruskin told Deadline during a recent interview. “I just could never really get excited about doing a hardboiled detective version of this story. There are many aspects that are critical of the police and so it just didn’t make sense.
He continued, “And then I heard an interview with this reporter named Loretta McLaughlin who told the story of the Boston Strangler; she was one of the first journalists to link the murders. During her reporting, she gave the Boston Strangler his name. I love journalistic stories and journalistic films 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 delved into history to learn more about McLaughlin and Cole, who would later be portrayed in the movie by Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon, respectively. He found that “very little information about them was available online,” but Cole’s obituary was the key to opening Pandora’s box.
Jean Cole’s obituary said she had two daughters, and one of them had a Facebook profile with a picture of 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 photographs and diaries to old clippings, and gave me the unvarnished family history. I was totally hooked at the time,” Ruskin revealed.
As a true crime fan, Ruskin felt it was important not to glorify the Boston Strangler, but to focus on two heroines whose stories had largely been lost to history.
“I like true crime stories. I consider myself a fan, but as a filmmaker I really didn’t want to make a movie that was unnecessary in any way,” he said. “It was very important to respect these victims, and just not glorify violence or create unnecessary images of violence. I’ve always been drawn to character-driven stories, so finding this human-centric element, that anchor, is what I’m looking for. I was so inspired by Loretta’s work and her passion for what she did that it felt like a really meaningful entry into this otherwise very dark story.