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Sebastian Junger: 'A Death in Belmont'

Apr 26, 2006 (Morning Edition)

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Sebastian Junger set out to write a book about a murder that occurred in the quiet neighborhood where he grew up. For Junger, author of the best-selling The Perfect Storm, the story of who killed Bessie Goldberg hit close to home in more than one way.

Goldberg's 1963 strangulation occurred at a time of a series of brutal murders that were blamed on the Boston Strangler. At the time, Junger's family lived in the idyllic Boston suburb of Belmont.

A black man named Roy Smith, who had worked cleaning the victim's house in the predominantly white neighborhood that day, was arrested and charged with Goldberg's murder. He had left Goldberg's house less than an hour before her husband came home and found her strangled on the living room floor. Smith was convicted of the murder.

In 1963, when Junger was a year old, his parents' house was being renovated. One of the workmen was Al DeSalvo, who in 1965 confessed to killing 13 women and being the Boston Strangler.

In A Death in Belmont, Junger set out to investigate whether Smith or DeSalvo killed Goldberg. He says he's still struggling to answer that question.

"Honestly, I do not know," Junger says. "That was the value of the book. In exploring something that you can't know for sure, and then you get to examine the ways in which you examine evidence, the ways in which you try to come to a decision the way juries must."

The victim's daughter, Leah Goldberg Scheuerma, has questioned the facts in Junger's book. She's convinced that Smith is the man who killed her mother.

"There is no book that I could have written on the topic that would have been OK with her," Junger says. "She lost her mom. She has apparently staked 40 years of grief on the idea that Roy Smith was the killer. I think it's almost emotionally impossible to dismantle the ideas you have about this terrible murder and start all over again decades later."

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