Disney Plus’s ‘Boston Strangler’ follows the story of Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole, the reporters for Record American who closely followed the case of the infamous serial killer of the same name. With women being killed in quick succession and the same method, Loretta is the first to break the story that the murders are connected, and only one person is behind them. At first, no one takes her seriously, but as the murders continue, Loretta is put on the story alongside Jean Cole.
Played by Carrie Coon, Jean is a smart and resourceful reporter who becomes instrumental in digging deeper into the investigation. She is more experienced than Loretta and helps her learn a few tricks of the trade in the process. If you are wondering whether she is inspired by a real person, then here’s what you should know.
Jean Cole Was an Actual Investigative Journalist
Yes, Jean Cole was a real investigative journalist who reported on the Boston Strangler case along with Loretta McLaughlin. The duo worked together on reporting as the stories broke out about the murders and how the police were tackling the case. They didn’t receive a warm welcome and barely had words of encouragement from people in law enforcement. Described as “very tough” by her brother, Kevin, she was said to have put up with harassment from superiors who didn’t believe that women could be investigative journalists. “She did the stories women didn’t do — murders included,” Kevin said.
Born and raised in Scituate, Massachusetts, she started working for the Boston Daily Record in 1944 at an early age. She started from being a “copy boy,” but slowly, she carved a place for herself and rose through the ranks. She married a man named Frank P. Harris and balanced work life and family while continuing to work as a reporter, winning several awards for the stories she covered over the years.
In ‘Boston Strangler,’ when we first meet Jean, she is working undercover in a nursing home. In real life, too, she worked as a nurse’s aide to expose “the need to upgrade the care of the elderly in the state’s nursing homes” twice. In 1953, the England Women’s Press Association bestowed the title of Woman of the Year for her work in exposing “the abuse and deplorable conditions” in nursing homes.
Through her keen investigative and reporting skills, she also helped expose “criminal elements operating in Boston’s theater, restaurant, and entertainment district,” which was termed the Combat Zone by her. When the Boston Herald American succeeded Record American, she continued to work there and retired in 1981. In 1999, she moved to Anna Maria, Florida, where she spent the rest of her life.
Jean Cole died of natural causes on August 8, 2015, at the age of 89. She was at her daughter’s house in Housatonic. She received a private funeral service. Her grave is in Greenlawn Cemetery, Housatonic. She was a parishioner of St. Bernard’s Church in Holmes Beach. She had two daughters, Julie Harris Donovan, and Jane Harris Coleman. Apart from them, she is survived by ten grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
One of her grandchildren became friends with Matt Ruskin, the director of ‘Boston Strangler.’ The director had been researching the case and wanted to get in touch with Cole’s family. He was surprised and elated to discover that one of Jean’s daughters was his friend’s mother. Through her, he got in touch with Jean and Loretta’s family to find out more about their personal and professional life to represent their characters in the movie as accurately as possible.
Read More: Is Boston Strangler Based on a True Story?