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Julian Soshnick, charismatic lawyer

By Gloria Negri
Globe Staff / August 12, 2004
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In his 1966 book, "The Boston Strangler," Gerold Frank introduces Julian Soshnick this way: "Soshnick had driven up a few minutes before. He had brought, in the locked trunk of his car, two large boxes. One contained the nylon stockings, scarves, blouses -- the 'decorations' -- used by the Strangler on his victims. The other held nearly three-hundred eight-by-ten police photographs of the strangling scenes, in sets from fifteen to twenty-five in each case. Peter had asked for both -- objects he would use in his psychometry."

In the 1960s when the Strangler terrorized the women of Boston, Mr. Soshnick was an assistant attorney general in the office of Attorney General Edward Brooke, who later became a US senator. His assignment was to hide from the press Peter Hurkos, the clairvoyant whom authorities, desperate to find a suspect, brought in to help solve the case.

Mr. Soshnick died of lung cancer Sunday at his Rockport home. He would have turned 72 next Tuesday.

"Julie hid Hurkos in a motel in Lexington where we were living at the time," Mr. Soshnick's wife, Martha, said. It was sort of difficult to hide Hurkos, she recalled, because he traveled with "a 6-foot-6 bodyguard with a pistol on each hip."

Later, Mr. Soshnick had a cameo role in the film "The Boston Strangler."

"Julian was charismatic, dynamic, very intense, and very sardonic," said his wife. "He was a character and was extremely brave."

In the 1960s, when Vietnam veterans were arrested for protesting the war on Lexington Green, "Julie was the only lawyer who showed up to defend them, of all the others who promised they would," she said.

One of the veterans Mr. Soshnick represented, she said, was John F. Kerry.

Early in the 1960s, she said, she believed her husband was the first to bring a case before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination when an African-American former diplomatic vice-consul abroad was denied the right to rent a home in Lexington.

"The contractor told the vice-consul the house had been rented but Julian and a woman asked to rent it, and they were accepted," she said, adding that the MCAD heard the case and the house was rented to the vice-consul.

Mr. Soshnick was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and when his family moved to Manhattan he finished school there, graduating from high school at 16 and enrolling at Brandeis University. After Brandeis, he went to Boston University Law School.

He was drafted into the Army in 1957, the year he met and married Martha. A week later, she said, "He was shipped out to Germany and I went with him." In Germany, Martha worked for an Army newspaper while her husband was assigned to the Judge Advocate General's Corps, serving as either prosecutor or defense counsel.

Mr. Soshnick served in Germany for four years before returning to live briefly in New York. He moved his family to Massachusetts in 1960.

At first, Martha said, her husband worked with other lawyers and then struck out on his own. "Julie did all kinds of law," she said. "White-collar crime, blue-collar crime, a lot of divorce work. A lot of judges have told me that it was a great deal of fun when Julie walked into the courtroom. He was very dramatic, had a deep voice, and could shoot from the hip. The very essence of Julie was a lawyer. Being married to him was never boring."

Mr. Soshnick first worked in the attorney general's office under Edward J. McCormack, and then under Brooke. He and Assistant Attorney General John Bottomly were assigned to the Strangler case.

"Julie was very close to Bottomly," Martha said, "and knew a lot of what was going on. He always believed that they had the right man when Albert DiSalvo was arrested for the murders because DiSalvo could describe the insides of the places where the victims were found in detail that had never been in the newspapers."

Even now, she said, with most of the principals in the case dead, her husband was getting calls for information about the case.

When Mr. Soshnick needed a break from the law, he took his family sailing, a skill he learned years ago on the Charles River. He once had just the hull of a power boat built in Nova Scotia and, according to his wife, "motored it on the water from the Bay of Fundy to Boston sitting on a milk crate."

"We sailed in that boat all over New England," she said, mostly while it was unfinished. "Julie would use rainy days to finish it and did about three years ago."

He named the boat "The Fifth Amendment."

Twenty years ago, Mr. Soshnick became general counsel and corporate vice-president of Analogic Corp. of Peabody, a company in the medical imaging field. "Julian was instrumental with me in founding the company in 1967," said Bernard Gordon, its founder and past president. One of Mr. Soshnick's inventions, Gordon said, was "a means of taking technical high-speed data from a CAT scanner and transmitting it optically.

"Julian was a brilliant man who would put his mind into both the legal and technical efforts of any technology," he said. "When he represented a client, it was as if he was defending himself."

Mr. Soshnick was slowed by illness, but didn't retire. He continued to help people with legal problems pro bono and mentored young lawyers. He was on a conference call the week before he died, said his wife. "He was a lawyer until he died."

Besides his wife, Mr. Soshnick leaves a daugher, Jo Anne of Brookline; a son, Jeffrey Adam of Salisbury, N.H., and a granddaughter.

A remembrance of his life will take place Sunday at his Rockport home.

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