Donald Harvey – America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer – Angel of Death

Donald Harvey – The Angel Of Death

Donald HarveyDonald Harvey, born in Butler County, Ohio in 1952, is known as one of the most prolific serial killers of all time, claiming to have murdered 87 people, while the official death toll has ranged anywhere from 36 to 57. He is a self-professed “Angel of Death” and is currently serving four consecutive life sentences at the Warren Correctional Institution in Ohio.

Early Life of Donald Harvey

Shortly after his birth, Harvey’s parents relocated to Booneville, Kentucky, a small community nestled away on the eastern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains. In an August 14, 1987, interview with Cincinnati Post reporter Nadine Louthan, Harvey’s mother, Goldie Harvey, recalled that her son was brought up in a loving family environment and had always been a ‘good boy.’

Martha D. Turner, who was principal of the elementary school Donald Harvey attended for eight years, comments in her own interview with the Cincinnati Post the “Donnie was a very special child to me. He was always clean and well dressed with his hair trimmed. Donnie was a happy child, very sociable and well-liked by the other children. He was a handsome boy with big brown eyes and dark curly hair he always had a smile for me. There was never any indication of any abnormality.”

Former classmates of Donald Harvey described him as a loner and teacher’s pet. He rarely participated in extracurricular activities, opting instead to read books and dream about the future.

High School For Donald Harvey

Following his graduation from Sturgeon Elementary School, Donald Harvey entered Booneville High School in 1968. Earning A’s and B’s in most classes with little effort, he became bored with the daily routine and dropped out. Having no real goals, Harvey was not sure what he wanted to do with his newfound freedom. For unknown reasons, he eventually decided to relocate to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he secured a job at a local factory.

In 1970 work began to slow at the plant and Harvey was eventually laid off. His mother called him a few days later and asked him to travel to Kentucky and visit his ailing grandfather, who was recently placed in a hospital there. Harvey agreed and within days set off for Marymount Hospital in London, Kentucky. Although no one knew it at the time, this trip would later prove to be the beginning of a long journey into madness and murder.

Donald HarveyDonald Harvey Gains Meaningful Employment

While in Kentucky, Harvey spent much of his time at Marymount Hospital, and was soon well known and liked by the nuns who worked there. During one particular conversation, one of the nuns asked Harvey if he would be interested in working there as an orderly. Since he was currently unemployed and didn’t want another factory job, Harvey agreed and started work the next day. Although he was not a trained nurse or doctor, Harvey’s duties required him to spend hours alone with patients. Some of his duties included changing bedpans, inserting catheters and passing out medications.

The Killer Inside Donald Harvey Is Triggered

Harvey’s first few weeks at the hospital were uneventful, but something snapped within him along the way. To this day, criminal psychologists are unable to explain what brought out his murderous tendencies. Whether he was unable to cope with the pain and suffering around him or simply enjoyed watching his victims die may never be known. According to Harvey’s later confessions, he considered himself an “angel of death,” or mercy killer. But the details he eventually revealed about his first murder negate that self-serving description.

During an evening shift, just months after starting at the hospital, Donald Harvey committed his first murder. Years later, in a 1997 interview with Cincinnati Post reporter Dan Horn, Harvey described it: When he walked into a private room to check on a stroke victim, the patient rubbed feces in his face. Harvey became angry and lost all control.

“The next thing I knew, I’d smothered him,” he said. “It was like it was the last straw. I just lost it. I went in to help the man and he wants to rub that in my face.”

Following the murder, Donald Harvey cleaned up the patient and hopped into the shower before notifying the nurses. “No one ever questioned it,” he said.

The Angel Of Death Was Now Loose

Just three weeks after committing his first murder, Donald Harvey killed again when he disconnected an oxygen tank at an elderly woman’s bedside. As the weeks went by, and no one detected foul play in his first two murders, Harvey became more brazen. Whether out of boredom, opportunity or experimentation, his methods varied with each murder. He used various items, such as plastic bags, morphine and a variety of drugs, to kill more than a dozen patients in a year.

In one case, Donald Harvey chose an exceptionally brutal method. The patient had an argument with Harvey because he thought Harvey was trying to kill him, and during the course of that argument, he reportedly knocked Harvey out with a bedpan. Upon recovering from the blow, Donald Harvey waited till later that night, snuck into the patient’s room, and stuck a coat hanger through his catheter. As a result of the puncture, infection set in and the man died a few days later.

A Change Of Scenery For Donald Harvey

Donald HarveyOn March 31, 1971, a drunk and disorderly Donald Harvey was arrested for burglary. While being questioned about the crime, Harvey began babbling incoherently about the murders he had committed. The arresting officers looked into his claims and questioned him extensively about them, but in the end they were unable to find any substantial evidence to back them up, or charge him with any crime relating to them. A few weeks later he went to trial for the burglary charges and pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of petty theft. After paying a small fine for his indiscretion, Harvey decided it was time for another change of scenery and enlisted in the United States Air Force.

Donald Harvey Goes To The Mental Ward

Donald Harvey served less than a year in the Air Force before he received a general discharge in March 1972. His records list unspecified grounds for the discharge, but it was widely rumored at the time that his superiors had learned of his confessions to the Kentucky police and did not want to deal with any similar matters in the future. After his release from the military, Harvey dealt with several bouts of depression. By July 1972, he was unable to control his inner demons and decided to commit himself to the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky.

Harvey remained in the mental ward of the facility until August 25, but then admitted himself again a few weeks later. Following a bungled suicide attempt in the hospital, Harvey was placed in restraints and, over the course of the next few weeks, received 21 electroshock therapy treatments. On October 17, 1972, Donald Harvey was again released from the hospital. Goldie Harvey later condemned the hospital for releasing her son so abruptly, feeling that he had shown no apparent signs of improvement from the time of his admittance.

Donald Harvey On The Loose Again

Harvey spent the next few months trying to get his life back in order and eventually found work as a part-time nurses’ aide at Cardinal Hill Hospital in Lexington. In June 1973, he started a second nursing job at Lexington’s Good Samaritan Hospital. Harvey kept both jobs until August 1974, when he took up a job as a telephone operator, and then secured a clerical job at St. Luke’s Hospital in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. According to his later confessions, Harvey was able to control his urge to kill during this time. The more feasible explanation would be that he did not have the same access to the patients as he did at Marymount Hospital, which could also explain why he shifted from job to job during this time.

Donald Harvey Needed An Environment For Murder

The majority of serial killers are opportunists and Donald Harvey was a man with few opportunities. He had not yet evolved enough to take his urges outside of the place he felt safe in committing his crimes, the dimly lit patient rooms, his killing sanctuaries. Donald Harvey was a different kind of hunter and in order for him to get hold of his prey, he had to first find the right environment.

In September 1975, Harvey moved back to Cincinnati, Ohio. Within weeks he got a job working night shift at the Cincinnati V.A. Medical Hospital. Harvey’s duties varied and he performed several different tasks, depending on where he was needed at the time. He worked as a nursing assistant, housekeeping aide, cardiac-catheterization technician and autopsy assistant. Donald Harvey had found his niche and wasted little time in starting where he had left off. Since he worked at night, he had very little supervision and unlimited access to virtually all areas of the hospital.

Donald Harvey And The Diary of a Death Angel

Over the next 10 years, Donald Harvey murdered at least 15 patients while working at the hospital. He kept a precise diary of his crimes and took notes on each victim, detailing how he murdered them — pressing a plastic bag and wet towel over the mouth and nose; sprinkling rat poison in a patient’s dessert; adding arsenic and cyanide to orange juice; injecting cyanide into an intravenous tube; injecting cyanide into a patient’s buttocks. All the while Harvey was committing his crimes, he was refining his techniques by studying medical journals for underlying hints on how to conceal his crimes.

Over the years, he amassed an astounding 30 pounds of cyanide, which he had slowly pilfered from the hospital and kept at home for safekeeping. Typically, Donald Harvey would mix a vial of cyanide or arsenic at home and then bring it to work. When no one was around, he would slip the mixture into his victim’s food, or pour it directly into their gastric tube.

Donald Harvey Moves Outside His Comfort Zone

The early 1980’s brought about variations in Harvey’s methods. He moved in with a gay lover, Carl Hoeweler, and soon began poisoning him out of fear that his mate was cheating on him. Harvey would slip small doses of arsenic into Hoeweler’s food so that he would be too ill to leave their apartment. Harvey’s confidence was hitting peak levels and he began feeling as though he was unstoppable. On one occasion, following an argument with a female neighbor, Harvey laced one of her beverages with hepatitis serum, nearly killing her before the infection was diagnosed and treated. Another neighbor, Helen Metzger, was not so lucky. Harvey put arsenic in one of her pies, and she died later that week at a local hospital.

In April 1983, Donald Harvey had a squabble with Hoeweler’s parents and began to poison their food with arsenic. On May 1, 1983, Hoeweler’s father, Henry, suffered a stroke and was remitted to Providence Hospital. Harvey visited Henry Hoeweler there and placed arsenic in his pudding before leaving. Hoeweler died later that night.

Harvey continued to poison Carl’s mother, Margaret, off and on for the next year, but was unsuccessful in his attempts to kill her. In January 1984, Hoeweler broke off the relationship with Harvey and asked him to move out. Harvey was angry at the rejection and spent the next two years trying to kill Hoeweler with his poisonous concoctions. At one point he even tried to kill a female friend of Hoeweler as a way to get his revenge. While neither attempt worked, he did manage to land Hoeweler in the hospital at one point, as a result of the poisons he had unknowingly ingested.

Donald Harvey Falls Under Suspicion

While leaving work on July 18, 1985, security guards noticed Donald Harvey acting suspiciously and decided to search a gym bag he was carrying with him. Inside the satchel, the guards discovered a .38-caliber pistol, hypodermic needles, surgical scissors and gloves, a cocaine spoon, various medical texts, two occult books, and a biography of serial killer Charles Sobhraj. Fined $50.00 for carrying a firearm on federal property, Harvey was then given the option to quietly resign from his job rather than being fired. Nothing about the incident was ever noted in his work record and hospital authorities did not open an investigation to determine if Donald Harvey had committed any other crimes while working at the hospital.

Seven months later, in February 1986, Harvey once again got work at a local hospital. This time he was hired as a part-time nurses’ aide at Cincinnati’s Drake Memorial Hospital. His new employers were unaware of the incident at his previous job, and his work folder said nothing but good things about him. Harvey soon earned a full time position at the hospital and settled back into his old routine. Over the next 13 months, Donald Harvey murdered another 23 patients, by disconnecting life support machines, injecting air into veins, suffocation and injections of arsenic, cyanide and petroleum-based cleansers.

Donald Harvey Became A Person of Interest

Authorities became suspicious of Harvey in April 1987, after the death of John Powell, a patient who was comatose for several months, but had since started to recover. During the autopsy, an assistant coroner noticed the faint scent of almonds, the tell tale sign of cyanide. Authorities were unable to find any evidence or motive pointing toward any of Powell’s friends or family members, so they soon began to focus on hospital employees, whom had access to Powell’s room. The list was short, and upon learning Donald Harvey’s hospital nickname, “Angel of Death,” given to him because he always seemed to be around when someone died, authorities began to focus their entire investigation on him.

Capture, Trial and Sentencing of Donald Harvey

In April 1987, after securing a search warrant for Harvey’s apartment, investigators found a mountain of evidence against him: jars of cyanide and arsenic, books on the occult and poisons, and a detailed account of the murder, which he had written in a diary. Following this new discovery of evidence, Donald Harvey was arrested on one count of aggravated murder and, after filing a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, was held under a $200,000 bond.

The evidence against Donald Harvey was growing rapidly, and investigators were beginning to look into several other mysterious deaths at the hospital. Harvey realized that it was only a matter of time before they discovered the full extent of his crimes, and decided he should try to make a plea bargain to avoid Ohio’s death penalty.

On August 11, 1987, 35-year-old Donald Harvey sat down with investigators and confessed to committing 33 murders over the past 17 years. As the days went by, that number eventually grew to 70 in all. Investigators were skeptical of the numbers Harvey was giving them, and wanted to have his mental state assessed prior to taking his claims as fact.

Donald Harvey Is Sane

Following several psychiatric tests by numerous experts, a spokesman for the Cincinnati prosecutor’s office explained the dilemma to the Cincinnati Post:

“This man is sane and competent, but is a compulsive killer,” he said. “He builds up tension in his body, so he kills people.”

Donald Harvey entered the courtroom on August 18, 1987, and pled guilty to 24 counts of aggravated murder, four counts of attempted murder, and one count of felonious assault. Just four days later, a 25th guilty plea earned him a total of four consecutive 20-years-to-life sentences. In addition to his life terms, Donald Harvey was fined $270,000.

Harvey was indicted in Kentucky on September 7, 1987, where he confessed to committing 12 murders while employed at Marymount Hospital. In November, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight life terms plus 20 years. In February 1988, he entered guilty pleas on three additional Cincinnati homicides and three attempted murders, drawing three life sentences plus three terms of seven to 25 years. Two years later, the investigation into the remaining deaths was closed after investigators determined that there was not enough evidence to pursue them.

Donald HarveyLooking Inside The Mind of Donald Harvey – The Angel of Death

In a 1991 interview with a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch, Harvey gave a rare glimpse into his mindset:

“Why did you kill?”

“Well, people controlled me for 18 years, and then I controlled my own destiny. I controlled other people’s lives, whether they lived or died. I had that power to control.”

“What right did you have to decide that?”

“After I didn’t get caught for the first 15 (murders), I thought it was my right. I appointed myself judge, prosecutor and jury. So I played God.”

Donald Harvey Rated Among Serial Killers

On July 23, 2001, the Associated Press printed an article listing the worst serial killers in the United States. Donald Harvey was rated number one, followed by John Wayne Gacy, Patrick Kearney, Bruce Davis and Dean Corll.

Donald Harvey’s first scheduled parole hearing is set for 2047. He will be 95 years old.

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