A homosexual and self-styled occultist, Don Harvey attached
himself to the medical profession at age eighteen, working as an orderly at
Marymount Hospital, in London, Kentucky, from May 1970 through March 1971. In
1987, Harvey would confess to killing off at least a dozen patients in his ten
months on the job, smothering two with pillows and hooking ten others up to
near-empty oxygen tanks, all in an effort to "ease their suffering." Arrested
for burglary on March 31, he pled guilty to a reduced charge of petty theft the
next day, escaping with a $50 fine. The judge recommended psychiatric treatment
for "his troubled condition," but Harvey chose the air force instead, serving
for ten months before he was prematurely discharged, in March 1972, on
unspecified grounds. Back home in Kentucky, Harvey was twice committed to the
Veteran's Administration Medical Center in Lexington, from July 16 to August 25,
and again from September 17 to October 17. His mother ascribed the committals to
mental disorders, with Donald kept in restraints, and his lawyers would later
refer to a bungled suicide attempt. The recipient of 21 electroshock therapy
treatments, Harvey emerged from the VA hospital with no visible improvement in
his morbid condition.
Concealing his record, Harvey found work as a part-time nurse's aide at Cardinal Hill Hospital, in Lexington, between February and August 1973. In June, he added a second nursing job, at Lexington's Good Samaritan Hospital, remaining in that position through January 1974. Between August 1974 and September 1975, he worked first as a telephone operator in Lexington, moving on to a job as a clerk at St. Luke's Hospital in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. He kept his killing urge in check, somehow, but it became increasingly more difficult to manage, finally driving him away from home, across the border into Cincinnati.
From September 1975 through July 1985, Harvey held a variety of positions at the Cincinnati V.A. Medical Center, working as a nursing assistant, a housekeeping aide, a cardiac-catheterization technician, and an autopsy assistant. In the latter position, he sometimes stole tissue samples from the morgue, taking them home "for study." On the side, he murdered at least fifteen patients, supplementing his previous methods with an occasional dose of poison, once joking with ward nurses after a patient's death that "I got rid of that one for you." Nor were Harvey's victims limited to suffering patients. Fuming at neighbor Diane Alexander after a quarrel, he laced her beverage with hepatitis serum, nearly killing her before the infection was diagnosed and treated by physicians. On July 18, 1985, Harvey was caught leaving work with a suspicious satchel: inside, security guards found a .38-caliber pistol, hypodermic needles, surgical scissors and gloves, a cocaine spoon, two books of occult lore, and a biography of serial killer Charles Sobhraj. Cited by federal officers for bringing a weapon into the V.A. facility, Donald was fined $50 and forced to resign from his job. Seven months later, in February 1986, Harvey was hired as a part-time nurse's aide at Cincinnati's Drake Memorial Hospital, later working his way up to a full-time position. In thirteen months, before his ultimate arrest, he murdered 23 more patients, disconnecting life support equipment or injecting them with mixtures of arsenic, cyanide, and a petroleum-based cleanser. Outside of work, he sometimes practiced on his live-in lover, one Carl Hoeweler, poisoning Hoeweler after an argument, then nursing him back to health. Carl's parents were also poisoned, the father surviving, while Hoeweler's mother was killed. On March 7, 1987, patient John Powell's death was ruled a murder, autopsy results placing lethal doses of cyanide in his system. Donald Harvey was arrested in April, charged with one count of aggravated murder, and held under $200,000 bond when he filed a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. By August 11, he had confessed to a total of 33 slayings and bond was revoked two days later, with new charges filed.
As Harvey played the numbers game with prosecutors, adding victims to the tune of 52 in all, his mental state was questioned, psychiatric tests employed and scrutinized by experts. A spokesman for the Cincinnati prosecutor's office said, "This man is sane, competent, but is a compulsive killer. He builds up tension in his body, so he kills people." Harvey, for his part, insisted that most of the murders were "mercy" killings, admitting that some -- including attacks on friends and acquaintances off the job -- had been done "out of spite." In televised interviews, Donald discussed his fascination with black magic, pointedly refusing to discuss his views on Satanism.
On August 18, 1987, Harvey pled guilty in Cincinnati on 24 counts of aggravated murder, four counts of attempted murder, and one count of felonious assault. A twenty-fifth guilty plea, four days later, earned him a total of four consecutive life sentences, barring parole for the first 80 years of his term. (For good measure, the court also levied $270,000 in fines against Harvey, with no realistic hope of collecting a penny.) Moving on to Kentucky, Harvey confessed to a dozen Marymount slayings on September 7, 1987, entering a formal guilty plea on nine counts of murder in November. In breaking John Wayne Gacy's record for accumulated victims, Harvey earned another eight life terms plus twenty years, but he was still not finished. Back in Cincinnati during February 1988, he entered guilty pleas on three more homicides and three attempted murders, drawing three life sentences plus three terms of seven to 25 years on the latter charges.