Claire Folger/20th Century Studios
Writer and director Matt Ruskin, who grew up in Boston, heard about the Boston Strangler most of his life. But it wasn’t until a few years ago, while investigating a complicated case, that he was inspired to write his latest film, Boston Strangler, from a different perspective.
“When I started reading about the case, I realized I knew nothing about it. And I found this really multi-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 thought were so compelling that I thought it would make a really great movie,” Ruskin told Deadline in a recent interview. “I just could never get excited about making a hard-boiled detective version of this of the story. It has a lot of aspects that criticize the police, so it just didn’t fit together.”
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 reporters to connect the murders. In the course of reporting, she named the Boston Strangler after him. I love journalism stories and journalism movies and I have a huge respect for good journalism, which is as important now as ever. So I thought it would be a really interesting way to come back to this story.”
Ruskin delved into history to learn more about McLaughlin and Cole, who would be played by Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon in the film. He found that “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 that she had two daughters, and one of them had a Facebook profile with one picture of her with her arms around my old friend. So I called my friend Lana and asked her how she knew this woman, she said it was her mother and Jean Cole was her grandmother. When I told him of my interest in the story, he introduced me to Loretta and Jean’s families, who welcomed me with open arms and gave me access to old photos and diaries and old clips, and they gave me a never-ending 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 glorify the Boston Strangler, instead choosing to focus on two heroines whose stories were mostly consigned to history.
“I love true crime stories. I consider myself a fan, but as a filmmaker I really didn’t want to make a film that was free in any way, he said. “It was really important to respect these victims and not just glorify violence or create unnecessary depictions of violence. I’ve always wanted character-driven stories, so I was looking to find that human-centered element and anchor. 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.