Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Herb Mullin

Unnatural Disasters

 "The line between inner and outer landscapes is breaking down. Earthquakes can result in seismic upheavals within the human mind." — William S. Burroughs

Why did Herbert Mullin brutally slaughter thirteen innocent victims, including children, campers, and a Catholic priest, who was stabbed in his confessional booth on "All Souls Day"?

Herbert Mullin (POLICE)
Herbert Mullin

If you asked the police, Mullin was a whacked-out druggie with "Legalize Acid" tattooed on his belly. Mullin's lawyers argued that he was a deluded, paranoid schizophrenic. And if you ask serial killer Edmund Kemper, who terrorized Santa Cruz in the same time frame, "Herbie was just a cold-blooded killer . . . killing everyone he saw for no good reason," he said. "I guess that's kind of hilarious, my sitting here so self-righteously talking like that, after what I've done."

To hear Herb Mullin tell it, he is a hero, a sacrificial scapegoat, who killed his "consenting" victims to save California from a cataclysmic earthquake. His father, war veteran Martin William Mullin, had telepathically commanded his son to murder: "Why won't you give me anything? Go kill somebody — move!"

Even Governor Ronald Reagan's name got tossed in the "who's responsible" roster. As the governor of California, his administration rapidly shut down the mental health hospitals in the early 1970's. After Mullin's trial, the jury foreman wrote an open letter to Reagan, accusing him and the legislators of being "as responsible" for the murders as Mullin. Reagan called Mullin's release a "psychiatric mistake."

In the end, a natural disaster might have been preferable to the unnatural disaster called Herbert Mullin. His rampage began on October 13th 1972 and ended January 13th, 1973. He killed thirteen people. Mullin bashed the skull of an alcoholic drifter with a baseball bat, eviscerated a female hitchhiker, stabbed a priest to death in his confessional, shot and stabbed a drug dealer's wife and children and a young married couple, murdered four teenage campers executioner style, and shot a retired boxer with a rifle in his front yard.

There was no evident pattern to his mayhem. Mullin himself was articulate and polite, sitting in on Bible study groups and working for Goodwill Industries. He had even been voted "Most Likely To Succeed" by his high school peers. The community, which had been horrified by senseless murders, clamored for some sort of rhyme or reason. Yet, at the trial, as he spouted his bizarre philosophies, Mullin created more questions than he answered. Santa Cruz was shocked that a madman such as this could be roaming the streets.

Clearly, Mullin was mentally ill with paranoid schizophrenia. He said his victims telepathically gave him permission to kill them. But schizophrenics can choose to "disobey" their voices. And although many serial killers use mental illness to excuse their heinous behavior, schizophrenics are not more likely to kill than the sane population. So what pushed Mullin over the edge? And would the jury, who saw for themselves that Mullin was genuinely disturbed, find him legally insane?


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