Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angel of Death: The Donald Harvey Story

Deadly Techniques

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, 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.

Kentucky D.A. Tom Handy
Kentucky D.A. Tom Handy

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. 

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.  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. 

Cincinnati VA Medical Hospital
Cincinnati VA Medical Hospital

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.  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. 

Over the next 10 years, 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, 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.


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