The Kensington Strangler Is Putting Philly On the Map

For all the wrong reasons

What comes to mind when people think about Philadelphia this holiday season?

The Macy’s holiday show?

Our badass quarterback?

How we bested New York and snagged Cliff Lee?

Rendell’s wussification rant? [SIGNUP]

Maybe.

But proof is growing, growing, I tell you, that it could be that people from places near and far are thinking something far more sinister about Philadelphia this season. I’m talking about a drop dead alleyway impression of Philadelphia that darkens the soul and throws the image of our metropolis back three or four decades—to a time, my friends, when living here brought something approaching embarrassment, if not outright shame.

I speak not of the police department, nor of the school system, nor of the approaching strutting Mummers.

I speak instead, of course, of the Kensington Strangler.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him? The Strangler’s been grabbing more ink than Jose Garces and Sharon Pinkenson put together these days.

How big is the Strangler getting?

Google the loser.

Scroll past all the philly.com and Channel 6 stories.

That stuff, we expected.

But Reuters, AP, Yahoo News, the Daily Mail?

The Dubuque Telegraph Herald?

And there’s lots of word of mouth proof that the Strangler’s rep is booming.

There’s my friend Maggie, for example. Maggie just returned from spending the holidays with her family in Michigan. People are really nice in Michigan. You don’t hear talk about stranglers in Michigan much.

Maggie’s mother had read all about the Kensington Strangler in her Michigan newspaper, and since her daughter lives in Philadelphia, well how can that be good?

It can’t, and it didn’t much matter to Mom that her daughter lives in Center City, which might as well be a continent away from where the Strangler crawls out from underneath his rock. The point is, he strangles women in Philadelphia.

This week I was in Kensington visiting an education program and asked the woman in charge about the general safety of the neighborhood where she worked. I wasn’t thinking about the dopey old Strangler.

Suddenly, maybe because people in Kensington have had enough of all this, we were talking only about the Strangler—or she was, anyway—and what she had to say went something like this: We don’t think about the Strangler here. We’re dealing with real life concerns. Yes, safety’s one—but not safety from the Strangler. No disrespect to the families of the victims, but no one’s walking around thinking they’re going to get attacked by the Strangler.

Strangler stories sell. They can even sell when printed on paper products. And in these times, you’ve got to sell paper products with something.

Why not that bad ol’ Kensington Strangler?

Maybe because this sad sack loser has killed three women, and horrific and despicable as that is, the attention it’s getting is out of proportion.

The Boston Strangler, you may remember, terrified Boston in the ‘60s, and for good reason: he killed 13 women.

This miserable excuse for humanity will be caught, and soon. In a few short months, if not weeks, all but the families of his victims will remember that he existed at all, and you can be sure they’ll be doing their best to forget him too. It might be something worth keeping in mind now, all of us.

Tim Whitaker (twhitaker@mightywriters.org), is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.

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