For decades, the worst serial killing case in Massachusetts since the Boston Strangler has haunted Professor Maureen Boyle, award-winning former investigative journalist and today the director of the College’s journalism program.
Still unsolved, the case stems from 1988 when 11 New Bedford women disappeared, nine of whom were subsequently found dead along local highways. In Shallow Graves: The Hunt for the New Bedford Highway Serial Killer, Boyle tells this story through the eyes of the investigators and some of the families. According to one reviewer, the book reads “like a first-rate novel, but enlightens like a detective’s handbook.”
In a recent interview with Boyle about Shallow Graves, which comes out on September 5, she shared six insights on the case and what she has learned from covering it for over 30 years.
- Don't judge people based on their circumstances. When I first began interviewing heroin addicts - and in particular female addicts who were prostitutes on the street - I quickly discovered they were smart, interesting, funny, and struggling to overcome one of the most insidious addictions around. They were honest and forthcoming about what they saw, what they did and the life they hoped they could one day return to. Many of the female addicts were middle-class women whose families didn't know how to help them. Drug treatment programs weren't easy to get into at the time, especially if the addict was a woman.
- Journalism can make a difference and, as a reporter, you are on the front lines to help people. Over the years, I forged close ties with many of the families of the victims and saw the pain they endured close up. You can do your job as a reporter with grace, good taste and sensitivity. Being a jerk isn't what journalism is about.
- Go with your gut and knock on those doors. When women began going missing in New Bedford in 1988 (and two bodies were first found along two nearby highways), I pursued the story head-on thanks to the behind the scenes cooperation of investigators on the New Bedford police department and State Police. I also made those cold calls to families of the missing women, always uncomfortable for reporters, and always kept in mind a single thought: how would I want to be treated if this was my relative.
- No one should get away with murder. The women went missing 30 years ago as of 2018. Some people say the killer left. Others say he is dead. It doesn't matter to me. The families and the community deserve an answer to who killed these women. The two families of the women who are still missing also deserve to know where their loved ones are.
- Police know more than the public thinks they do. Not all evidence is reported in the press. Not everyone who is questioned is a suspect. Sometimes investigations go down rabbit holes.
- Writing and reporting is work. You can't take shortcuts.