From the outside, there isn’t much that distinguishes the home at 14 Scott Road from its neighbors in Belmont, MA. The 1,880-square-foot home—which sold last week for $ 750,000—is located in a safe and comfortable suburb of Boston, with top-notch public schools, just 20 minutes from downtown and less than that from Harvard University. And while homes in the 02478 ZIP code generally go pretty fast, 14 Scott Road generated a new—and unprecedented—level of intense interest.
But February wasn’t the first time 14 Scott Road had been in the headlines: It was also, in the 1960s, the site of one of the most notorious murders in modern Boston history.
Before we look at that, let’s put ourselves back in February. The Boston area was still deep within the coldest, snowiest winter ever recorded, and the season was already being blamed for seriously disrupting the real estate business. Then 14 Scott Road went on the market. The listing garnered more than 600 page views on this website, a serious increase from the ZIP code’s already high average of 130. And when listing agent Catherine Luther of Weichert Realtors, Channing Real Estate, threw open its doors on Saturday, Feb. 28, house hunters poured in.
“It was a total zoo,” Luther told us. “We opened up, and it was completely crazy. We had over 100 people in the first 45 minutes. People were parking on both sides of the street. The police officer asked us to shut down, and just before 1 p.m. I had to shut down. People [who had come to see the house] were very unhappy with me.”
Luther hired an off-duty officer to direct traffic for the next day’s open house, and the officer counted more than 150 cars parked on the usually quiet street that day, presumably for the open house.
But why did this particular house incite so much interest? Was it merely pent-up demand after a winter of slow sales? It seems possible. Did it somehow achieve the perfect blend of price and curb appeal? The three-bedroom, two-bath home with a spacious yard, in the idyllic Belmont Hill area, was going for $ 699,000—about 30% below the area’s median price.
That price and neighborhood would certainly command attention, said Gail Roberts of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Cambridge: “Think about it. … Condos in Cambridge with two to three beds are over $ 700,000.”
Luther chalked the attention up to marketing: “A lot of mailings. Posts on MLS, Facebook, and LinkedIn, which generates a lot of interest.” She also cited the town’s excellent schools. “That in turn led to this crazy situation.”
Not the first crazy situation
There was, however, one aspect of the house that did not make the news: It was home to one of the infamous Boston Strangler’s possible victims. Bessie Goldberg lived at 14 Scott Road until March 11, 1963, when her husband, Israel, returned home and found her raped and strangled to death on the living room floor.
The house is just a couple of streets over from the childhood home of Sebastian Junger, who wrote about the murder in his book “A Death in Belmont.” In the book, Junger recounts his brush with Albert DeSalvo, who eventually claimed responsibility for the 13 murders attributed to the Strangler—but not Goldberg’s—and was convicted of 11 of them. DeSalvo, along with two other men, had been hired to build a small studio behind Junger’s home. Immediately after hearing of the murder on that day in 1963, when Sebastian was just a baby, his shocked mother had spoken to DeSalvo about the killing. “Al,” as he was called, seemed just as surprised by the murder as anyone, says Junger.
Ultimately, Roy Smith, an African-American laborer who was hired to clean the Goldbergs’ home that day, was arrested and convicted for Bessie Goldberg’s murder. Junger has repeatedly questioned this conviction, saying Smith was arrested largely due to circumstantial evidence, and the fact that many of the neighbors who identified him were shocked to see a black man walking through a white neighborhood. Goldberg’s daughter, however, maintains that Smith was to blame.
“What happened at 14 Scott Road that afternoon could never be determined with absolute certainty, so a jury of peers was required to decide what they thought happened,” Junger wrote. “This was exactly the kind of case that the great, awkward loops of logic employed by the law are designed to resolve. Roy Smith’s case was entirely circumstantial but nearly airtight, marred only by the fact that he refused to admit that he did it. A jury would have to step in and say it for him.”
Coincidentally, the police officer who shut down the open house at 14 Scott Road in February told Luther that his cousin, who was a child at the time, lived next door at the time of Goldberg’s murder, and that she had seen Smith leave the house.
Luther said over a dozen offers came in. After a couple of months spent “under agreement,” the sale of the home closed on May 14 for $ 750,000. The successful sale had nothing to do with the home’s history, Luther said, adding that another home around the corner that was larger and renovated went for almost $ 1.2 million just a week before the open house.
“A couple of people knew, shrugged their shoulders, and said, ‘No big deal,’” she said of the murder. “For them, it’s their grandparents. It’s ancient history. I was worried about that being an issue, and that wasn’t the case.”
The real shocker may have been finding a reasonably priced home in a desirable area.
“Everybody there was very anxious to find a single-family home for under a million dollars in Belmont,” Luther said.