Donald Harvey


Donald Harvey

A.K.A.: "Angel of Death"

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Self-professed "Angel of Death"
Number of victims: 37 - 87
Date of murders: 1970 - 1987
Date of arrest: April 1987
Date of birth: April 15, 1952
Victims profile: Men and women (patients)
Method of murder: Smothering with plastic and pillow / Poisoning (arsenic, cyanide, demerol, morphine, codeine) / Deprivation of oxygen using a faulty oxigen tank
Location: Kentucky/Ohio, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison in Ohio in August 1987. Sentenced to life in prison in Kentucky in November 1987

Donald Harvey

When John Powell died at the Drake Memorial Hospital in Cincinatti, Ohio, of cyanide poisining, police targeted orderly Donald Harvey, who had been present at the March, 1987 poisoning of Powell and when many other patients had mysteriously passed away. Under questioning Harvey admitted to killing more than fifty people throughout his life.

Digging further police found that the hospitals Harvey had worked at all had very high fatality rates and that some of his aquaintances and homosexual lovers had also perished suddenly. For his part, Harvey claimed that he had been simply putting ill patients out of their misery. He could not offer an explanation for the other deaths.

Harvey eventually pled guilty to 24 hospital slayings, recieving 20 years-to-life in prison for each count, and collected a life sentence for the deadly poisoning of a neighbor. Tried in Kentucky, Harvey again pled guilty, this time to eight counts of murder and one count of manslaughter, and was sentenced to eight life terms and one twenty year term.

Donald Harvey (born in Butler County, Ohio in 1952) is an American serial killer who claims to have murdered 87 people. The official estimates of the number of people he murdered range anywhere from 36 to 57 deaths. He is a self-professed "Angel of Death". Harvey is currently serving four consecutive life sentences at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Ohio. His inmate number is A-199449.


Dating as far back as the age of eighteen, Harvey had worked in and around the medical profession, beginning his career as an orderly at the Marymount Hospital in London, Kentucky. He later confessed that during the ten month period he worked at this hospital, he killed at least a dozen patients. Harvey is insistent that he killed purely out of a sense of empathy for the sufferings of those who were terminally ill. However, he has also admitted that many of the killings he committed were due to anger at the victim.

Harvey is notable for having kept his crimes from coming to light for over 17 years. The true extent of his crimes may never be known, since so many were undetected for so long. Harvey is also notable for having used numerous methods to kill, such as arsenic; cyanide; insulin; suffocation; miscellaneous poisons; morphine; turning off ventilators; administration of fluid tainted with hepatitis B and/or HIV (which resulted in a hepatitis infection, but no HIV infection, and illness rather than death); insertion of a coat hanger into a catheter, causing an abdominal puncture and subsequent peritonitis. Cyanide and arsenic were his favorite methods, with Harvey administering them via food, injection, or IV.

The majority of Harvey's crimes took place at the Marymount Hospital in London, Kentucky, the Cincinnati V.A. Medical Hospital, and Cincinnati's Drake Memorial Hospital. While working there, Harvey acquired the nickname "The Angel of Death," as it was noted that he was present around a number of patients who later died.

Donald Harvey

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.

With 37 confirmed murder victims (and confessions nearly tripling that body count), Harvey holds the official record as America's most prolific serial killer.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans

Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey (born in Butler County, Ohio in 1952) is known as one of the most prolific serial killers of all time, claiming to have murdered 87 people, while the official death toll has ranged anywhere from 36 to 57 deaths. He is a self-professed "Angel of Death". Harvey is currently serving four consecutive life sentences at the Warren Correctional Institution in Ohio.
Early life

Shortly after his birth, Harvey's parents relocated to Booneville, Kentucky, a small community nestled away on the eastern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains. In an August 14, 1987, interview with Cincinnati Post reporter Nadine Louthan, Harvey's mother, Goldie Harvey, recalled that her son was brought up in a loving family environment.

"My son has always been a good boy," she said.

Martha D. Turner, who was principal of the elementary school Harvey attended for eight years, backed up McKinney's comments in her own interview with the Cincinnati Post:

"Donnie was a very special child to me," she said. He was always clean and well dressed with his hair trimmed. He was a happy child, very sociable and well-liked by the other children. He was a handsome boy with big brown eyes and dark curly hair he always had a smile for me. There was never any indication of any abnormality."

Former classmates of Harvey described him as a loner and teacher's pet. He rarely participated in extracurricular activities, opting instead to read books and dream about the future. Following his graduation from Sturgeon Elementary School, Harvey entered Booneville High School in 1968. Earning A's and B's in most classes with little effort, he became bored with the daily routine and dropped out. Having no real goals, Harvey was not sure what he wanted to do with his newfound freedom. For unknown reasons, he eventually decided to relocate to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he secured a job at a local factory.

In 1970 work began to slow at the plant and Harvey was eventually laid off. His mother called him a few days later and asked him to travel to Kentucky and visit his ailing grandfather, who was recently placed in a hospital there. Harvey agreed and within days set off for Marymount Hospital in London, Kentucky. Although no one knew it at the time, this trip would later prove to be the beginning of a long journey into madness and murder.
The killer emerges

While in Kentucky, Harvey spent much of his time at Marymount Hospital, and was soon well known and liked by the nuns who worked there. During one particular conversation, one of the nuns asked Harvey if he would be interested in working there as an orderly. Since he was currently unemployed and didn't want another factory job, Harvey agreed and started work the next day. Although he was not a trained nurse or doctor, Harvey's duties required him to spend hours alone with patients. Some of his duties included changing bedpans, inserting catheters and passing out medications.

Harvey's first few weeks at the hospital were uneventful, but something snapped within him along the way. To this day, criminal psychologists are unable to explain what brought out his murderous tendencies. Whether he was unable to cope with the pain and suffering around him or simply enjoyed watching his victims die may never be known. According to Harvey's later confessions, he considered himself an "angel of death," or mercy killer. But the details he eventually revealed about his first murder negate that self-serving description.

During an evening shift, just months after starting at the hospital, Donald Harvey committed his first murder. Years later, in a 1997 interview with Cincinnati Post reporter Dan Horn, Harvey described it: When he walked into a private room to check on a stroke victim, the patient rubbed feces in his face. Harvey became angry and lost all control.

"The next thing I knew, I'd smothered him," he said. "It was like it was the last straw. I just lost it. I went in to help the man and he wants to rub that in my face."

Following the murder, Harvey cleaned up the patient and hopped into the shower before notifying the nurses.

"No one ever questioned it," he said.

Just three weeks after committing his first murder, he killed again when he disconnected an oxygen tank at an elderly woman's bedside. As the weeks went by and no one detected foul play in his first two murders, Harvey became more brazen. Whether out of boredom, opportunity or experimentation, his methods varied with each murder. He used various items, such as plastic bags, morphine and a variety of drugs, to kill more than a dozen patients in a year. In one case, he chose an exceptionally brutal method. The patient had an argument with Harvey because he thought Harvey was trying to kill him, and during the course of that argument, he reportedly knocked Harvey out with a bedpan. Upon recovering from the blow, Harvey waited till later that night, snuck into the patient's room, and stuck a coat hanger through his catheter. As a result of the puncture, infection set in and the man died a few days later.

On March 31, 1971, a drunk and disorderly Harvey was arrested for burglary. While being questioned about the crime, Harvey began babbling incoherently about the murders he had committed. The arresting officers looked into his claims and questioned him extensively about them, but in the end they were unable to find any substantial evidence to back them up, or charge him with any crime relating to them. A few weeks later he went to trial for the burglary charges and pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of petty theft. After paying a small fine for his indiscretion, Harvey decided it was time for another change of scenery and enlisted in the United States Air Force.
Modus operandi

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.

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.

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.
Overcoming the boundaries

The early 1980's brought about variations in Harvey's methods. He moved in with a gay lover, Carl Hoeweler, and soon began poisoning him out of fear that his mate was cheating on him. Harvey would slip small doses of arsenic into Hoeweler's food so that he would be too ill to leave their apartment. Harvey's confidence was hitting peak levels and he began feeling as though he was unstoppable. On one occasion, following an argument with a female neighbor, Harvey laced one of her beverages with hepatitis serum, nearly killing her before the infection was diagnosed and treated. Another neighbor, Helen Metzger, was not so lucky. Harvey put arsenic in one of her pies, and she died later that week at a local hospital.

In April 1983, Harvey had a squabble with Hoeweler's parents and began to poison their food with arsenic. On May 1, 1983, Hoeweler's father, Henry, suffered a stroke and was remitted to Providence Hospital. Harvey visited Henry Hoeweler there and placed arsenic in his pudding before leaving. Hoeweler died later that night. Harvey continued to poison Carl's mother, Margaret, off and on for the next year, but was unsuccessful in his attempts to kill her. In January 1984, Hoeweler broke off the relationship with Harvey and asked him to move out. Harvey was angry at the rejection and spent the next two years trying to kill Hoeweler with his poisonous concoctions. At one point he even tried to kill a female friend of Hoeweler as a way to get his revenge. While neither attempt worked, he did manage to land Hoeweler in the hospital at one point, as a result of the poisons he had unknowingly ingested.

While leaving work on July 18, 1985, security guards noticed Harvey acting suspiciously and decided to search a gym bag he was carrying with him. Inside the satchel, the guards discovered a .38-caliber pistol, hypodermic needles, surgical scissors and gloves, a cocaine spoon, various medical texts, two occult books, and a biography of serial killer Charles Sobhraj. Fined $50.00 for carrying a firearm on federal property, Harvey was then given the option to quietly resign from his job rather than being fired. Nothing about the incident was ever noted in his work record and hospital authorities did not open an investigation to determine if Harvey had committed any other crimes while working at the hospital.

Seven months later, in February 1986, Harvey once again got work at a local hospital. This time he was hired as a part-time nurses' aide at Cincinnati's Drake Memorial Hospital. His new employers were unaware of the incident at his previous job, and his work folder said nothing but good things about him. Harvey soon earned a full time position at the hospital and settled back into his old routine. Over the next 13 months, Harvey murdered another 23 patients, by disconnecting life support machines, injecting air into veins, suffocation and injections of arsenic, cyanide and petroleum-based cleansers.

Authorities became suspicious of Harvey in April 1987, after the death of John Powell, a patient who was comatose for several months, but had since started to recover. During the autopsy, an assistant coroner noticed the faint scent of almonds, the tell tale sign of cyanide. Authorities were unable to find any evidence or motive pointing toward any of Powell's friends or family members, so they soon began to focus on hospital employees, whom had access to Powell's room. The list was short, and upon learning Donald Harvey's hospital nickname, "Angel of Death," given to him because he always seemed to be around when someone died, authorities began to focus their entire investigation on him.
Capture, trial and sentencing

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.

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 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.

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. His inmate number is A-199449.

Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey walks into a Hamilton County courtroom during proceedings in 1987.
(Enquirer file photo)

Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey

January 16, 2004 - Convicted serial killer Donald Harvey talks about the patients he killed
during an interview at Warren Correctional Institution in Lebanon, Ohio.

January 16, 2004 - Donald Harvey looks over a list of his victims during an interview
at Warren Correctional Institution in Lebanon, Ohio.