New York Daily News
TAKE IT TO GRAVE
Killer is convicted, but
It was the kind of hotel where folks kept their heads down and minded their own business, but it was hard not to notice the odd-looking couple that had been boozing it up for hours in the lobby bar.
The man was in his early 30s, well over 6 feet and so slender you’d think he subsisted solely on the salted peanuts served with the cheap whisky he was pounding.
The woman was old enough to be his mother, a tiny thing barely 5 feet tall even in pricey pumps and who looked increasingly haggard as the night wore on and the alcohol flowed.
Staff and guests at the Woodstock Hotel on W. 43rd and Sixth, just off Times Square, would later recall how the dark-eyed man spoke softly in a New England accent while she sounded European, and how the elegantly dressed woman would absentmindedly clutch her colorful scarf close to her throat as if to ensure it didn’t slip off.
A little after midnight on that Friday, May 31, 1963, the mismatched mates decided to move the party upstairs. They staggered to the elevator and went to the woman’s room on the 11th floor, from where she called the front desk and asked for a bellhop to fetch a fifth of Scotch.
It was the last time anyone would see her alive.
On Sunday morning, a maid entered the room and found 62-year-old Zenoria Clegg on the bed with a sheet pulled up to her face, empty eyes half-closed and mouth agape. She had been beaten and the room ransacked.
There was no sign of the towering man with the piercing stare and pencil mustache.
Police who responded to the call were aghast when they pulled the sheet off the victim. Clegg was completely nude, save for the festive silk scarf now wrapped tightly around her neck and tied into a big bow by the killer.
Next to her right leg he placed a pear from the complimentary fruit bowl, in what may have been some sort of twisted message to cops.
But there was no doubt about the murderer’s level of depravity. She was posed in a sexually suggestive manner, with legs apart. And he had violated her body with the liquor bottle.
The Daily News described the disturbing desecration as a “peculiarly perverted form of sadism,” and the city was suddenly on edge thinking it could be harboring its own version of the “Boston Strangler.” The homicidal maniac who’d been terrorizing Beantown for the past year had so far claimed 10 victims, mostly older women he molested, choked to death with articles of their own clothing, then posed their violated bodies in grotesque positions.
NYPD detectives on the hunt for their own demented sex fiend delved into Clegg’s
life and retraced her steps on her last night for clues. A native of Romania who settled in San Francisco, Clegg had come to New York nearly two weeks prior — the last leg of a yearlong, worldwide tour she’d embarked on after divorcing her husband.
There was a sense of urgency to the lonely woman’s travels. She had been battling cancer for a while and the trip was meant to be a whisky-fueled last hurrah before she succumbed to the disease. Her scarf, in fact, wasn’t just a colorful fashion statement. It was worn to cover Clegg’s ugly surgical scars.
That she was brutally murdered while trying to squeeze some enjoyment out of her last days was tragic enough. But an autopsy would reveal a cruel twist: The operations had worked. Clegg never realized she’d been cancer-free all this time.
She also hadn’t been raped, leading police to wonder what the real motive was. While the room had been tossed, Clegg’s jewelry and cash weren’t taken.
Investigators soon had their answer. Using what The News described as a “newfangled electronic image maker,” police came up with a good rendering of the suspect based on multiple witness descriptions, and detectives led by Lt. Thomas Cavanagh bagged a suspect within a week of the murder.
He was Charles Edward Terry, a 34-yearold high school dropout, drifter and former Marine from Maine whom cops found in a Greenwich Village tavern after a bartender tipped them off.
There was no doubt they had their man.
The 6-foot-5 Terry not only looked just like his sketch, he’d done eight years in a Maine prison for rape and a shorter stretch for badly beating a woman. He was also a suspect in a 1951 unsolved murder of a Maine woman who’d been strangled — with her own scarf.
Not to mention Terry was carrying a gold cigarette case inscribed with Clegg’s name and $600 in traveler’s checks when they grabbed him.
Cavanagh, a highly respected veteran renowned for his smooth interrogation skills — his exploits partly inspired the ’70s cop show “Kojak” — pulled a confession out of Terry after an all-night grilling.
Terry admitted to meeting Clegg on the street after she asked him for directions to a restaurant, then joining her for drinks at the Woodstock. While in her room, he said he flew into a blind rage, beat her senseless and choked the life out of the frail woman — all because she mocked him for being impotent.
It looked like an open-and-shut case that quickly plucked a sadistic deviant off the streets of New York before he could do more harm. But seeing as how several of the first Boston slayings mirrored Terry’s MO — from the victims’ ages to the way their bodies were posed and violated by objects — Cavanagh played a hunch and asked him whether he’d been there recently.
Terry reluctantly said he had. And then clammed up before Cavanagh could get anything more out of him. A team of Boston homicide dicks even flew to New York to question Terry, but he refused to see them.
Cavanagh later claimed his efforts to tie Terry to the Boston cases was thwarted by cops afraid New York would “get all the glory.”
Whether Terry was responsible for any of the 13 murders ultimately attributed to the Boston Strangler was moot when in 1964 cops arrested a maintenance worker named Albert DeSalvo on charges he broke into dozens of other women’s homes and sexually assaulted them.
Despite DeSalvo’s confessing to the stranglings, he was slapped with a life sentence for rape and robbery — giving true crime authors, reporters, filmmakers and aficionados alike reason to doubt he was behind all of the crimes and making Terry the prime suspect as the real Strangler.
DeSalvo — who later recanted his confession, deepening the mystery further — was stabbed to death in a Massachusetts prison in 1973, taking the truth with him.
Cavanagh never did get another chance at Terry, who was convicted for Clegg’s killing and given a death sentence in 1964. A judge commuted it to life imprisonment, and Terry died at Attica prison in 1981 at age 50 from a pulmonary embolism, likewise taking the answers to the Boston Strangler case to his grave.
Decades later, Cavanagh still remained convinced Terry was guilty of at least some of the first few murders blamed on DeSalvo. Long after his retirement from the NYPD,
Cavanagh, with the help of some of his old buddies on the force, continued to dig at the truth.
“There’s no doubt in my mind if they had pursued Terry they would have had the man who killed the first five older women,” Cavanagh said in a 1993 interview three years before his death at age 82.
“He had the history of rapes and assaults. He lived in Boston during the weekends of the first five murders and then heads to New York. What better place for new victims than the big city?”
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