Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angel of Death: The Donald Harvey Story

Book Review: No Mercy Killer

by Katherine Ramsland

Harvey continues to insist that he was a mercy-killer, but the facts indicate otherwise.  Over the course of eighteen years in several different institutions, he killed for petty reasons as well as mercy.  One man he just didn't like; another he killed out of revenge.  And then there were the acquaintances he poisoned with arsenic who just happened to have annoyed him.  There seems little doubt that he was engaged in occult practices when he chose some of his victims, and the opening scene of this book has him lighting candles that stand for specific people and deciding from a candle's flicker that the person symbolized by that candle should die.  He supposedly believed he was receiving commands from some spirit named Duncan.  Even so, Whalen wants to accept the idea that Harvey's acts were somehow the result of projecting his own depression onto his patients (although he also sometimes rejects this explanation).

While Whalen attempts to set Harvey apart by comparing him against a description from a book that stereotypes serial killers, he fails to make comparisons against studies of healthcare serial killers, aside from a passing glance at Charles Cullen (whom Harvey believes may have actually corresponded with him for a short time).  Despite himself, Whalen makes it clear that like many serial killers, Harvey was cold-blooded about this business but was a complete coward when it came to his own death.  He also loves attention, inflating his victim count to 87 when he was not getting enough, and he appears to be a callous narcissist.  In other words, among serial killers, he's not that unique.

Donald Harvey
Donald Harvey
But there's a more important issue at stake.  It's clear that Harvey should never have gotten the jobs he did, and since Cullen's story is sadly similar, we can see from this account that not much has changed since 1987 when Harvey was caught.  Indeed, hospital administrations still protect their institutions and letters of warning to others still fail to get sent.  In addition, the idea of an "internal investigation" by administrators who ignore whistleblowers is as much an empty gesture today as it was back then.

Yet Harvey offers a solution. He likes to "help" by describing his methods and telling hospitals what they did wrong in creating situations that allowed him to kill unhampered.  In other words, he revels in his acts, blames others, and deflects responsibility from himself.  So what else is new?  There will always be ways for determined predators to kill, no matter what safeguards are put into place.  The bottom line is, short of psychosis, they choose to exploit the trust engendered in healthcare communities and to take the lives of vulnerable people.  There's not much here about Harvey to feel sympathy for.


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