Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angel of Death: The Donald Harvey Story

Final Factors

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, 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 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. 

Hamilton County Coroner's office
Hamilton County Coroner's office

On August 11, 1987, 35-year-old 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.  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, competent, but is a compulsive killer," he said.  "He builds up tension in his body, so he kills people."

Donald Harvey in court
Donald Harvey in court

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, Harvey was fined $270,000.

Hamilton County Courthouse
Hamilton County Courthouse

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. 

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, I thought it was my right.  I appointed myself judge, prosecutor and jury.  So I played God."

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.   


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