Donald Harvey: Insider Killer Stays Hidden for Years

Last week, we saw how Shirley Allen used antifreeze to poison her husband. If you’ve watched her daughter on Evil Lives Here, you get an idea just how twisted this woman was. This week’s case involves another monster in human form, Donald Harvey. For nearly two decades, Harvey quietly killed patients in hospitals in northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Donald Harvey, an Indiscriminate Killer

Born in 1952 in Butler County, Ohio near Cincinnati, Donald Harvey quit school in the ninth grade and got a job as an orderly at Marymount Hospital in London, Kentucky. He started killing soon after. He later confessed to killing at least a dozen patients in the ten months he worked there. One killing, his second, took place with a 12-year-old boy in the room.

Donald Harvey
Donald Harvey

After leaving Marymount, Harvey went to work at the Cincinnati V.A. Medical Hospital as an orderly and autopsy assistant. He continued his murders there. But he was forced to leave when he was caught stealing body parts for occult rituals.

Marymount Hospital
Marymount Hospital

The killings continued at Harvey’s next stop, Cincinnati’s Drake Memorial Hospital. Misdeeds at hospitals often escape full scrutiny. We saw that in the cases of Kristen Gilbert and Charles Cullen, the killer nurses I’ve profiled in past blogs. In Donald Harvey’s case, he was able to kill repeatedly for 17 years before authorities finally unmasked him.

Donald Harvey’s Murders Finally Come to Light

Donald Harvey may have continued killing for many more years except for a slip-up in March 1987. A man named John Powell had spent several months on life support at Drake after a motorcycle accident. When he died suddenly, the medical examiner conducted an autopsy. The autopsy showed Powell died from cyanide poisoning.

Donald Harvey in court
Donald Harvey in court

Harvey became a ‘person of interest’ after his forced resignation from the V.A. hospital came to light. When brought in for questioning, he confessed to “euthanizing” Powell with cyanide.

Television reporter Pat Minarcin from Cincinnati television station WCPO decided to investigate further. He quite reasonably assumed that Harvey hadn’t suddenly started killing at age 35. He was right. His investigative report found several nurses at Drake who had raised concerns with administrators over the increased number of deaths after Harvey joined the hospital. The hospital ordered them to keep quiet.

Pat Minarcin broke the Donald Harvey story wide open (WCPO-TV)
Pat Minarcin broke the Donald Harvey story wide open (WCPO-TV)

Minarcin soon had enough material for a half-hour on-air report. In it, he identified at least 24 deaths linked to Harvey over a four-year period.

Donald Harvey Takes a Plea Deal

Based on the evidence in the Minarcin report, Harvey’s attorney negotiated a plea deal. He offered to plead Harvey guilty to all 24 murders if prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty. In August 1987, he pleaded guilty to 24 counts of first-degree murder and received three concurrent life sentences.

But the justice system wasn’t done with Donald Harvey. He later pleaded guilty to nine murders at Marymount in the 1970s. He received a sentence of life plus twenty years to run concurrently with his Ohio sentences.

Donald Harvey prison mugshot (Ohio Department of Corrections)
Donald Harvey prison mugshot (Ohio Department of Corrections)

Ultimately, Donald Harvey pled guilty to 37 murders. But he confessed to killing as many as 50 people. The total number of murders is probably even higher. In his confessions, Harvey tried to claim he killed only to ease the suffering of the terminally ill. But he also admitted he killed some patients because he was angry with them.

Epilogue

On March 28, 2017, guards found Donald Harvey severely beaten in his cell at the Toledo Correctional Institution. He died on March 30. Fellow inmate James Elliot was convicted of Harvey’s murder.

You can read more about the case in Angel of Death: The Life of Serial Killer Donald Harvey. Another perspective on the case comes from Harvey’s court-appointed attorney, Bill Whalen, in Defending Donald Harvey.

Don’t Miss Out! Subscribe to the Newsletter

Subscribe to True Crime in the News, a monthly email newsletter that looks at recent news stories that will interest any true crime fan. There is also a summary of the previous month’s blog posts. You won’t want to miss this, sign up for the newsletter today.

Shirley Allen: Her Obsession with Murder for Money

Last week, I presented the sad case of Tera Smith. Tera was only sixteen when she vanished from Redlands, California. More than twenty years later, her disappearance remains unsolved. This week’s case is that of the many-married Shirley Allen. In 1982, Shirley poisoned her sixth husband with ethylene glycol. She probably poisoned at least two of her previous husbands as well, one fatally.

Shirley Allen

Shirley Allen entered the world as Shirley Elizabeth Goude in 1941 in St. Louis, Missouri. Little information exists about her early life, but she was obviously unlucky in love. She married a total of six times to five different men. Several of her husbands developed health problems shortly after the wedding.

In October 1968, Shirley married her first husband, Joe Sinclair. Eight months later, Shirley tried to get rid of him with rat poison. Sinclair informed authorities, but they did not file any charges. Instead, Sinclair wisely divorced Shirley and got away from her.

Shirley Elizabeth Goude Allen
Shirley Elizabeth Goude Allen

Shirley married for the fifth time in 1977, when she wed John Gregg. The following year, after being married to Shirley for less than twelve months, Gregg collapsed and died. Initially, authorities ruled it a natural death. Shirley had hoped to collect on Gregg’s life insurance. She was furious when she learned he’d recently changed the beneficiary of the policy, leaving her nothing.

Shirley Allen Poisons Husband Number Six

Lloyd Allen married Shirley in 1981, her final spin of the matrimonial wheel. Lloyd’s health soon began a precipitous decline. When he complained that his drinks tasted “off,” Shirley explained she’d added iron supplements “for his health.” Unfortunately for him, he took her at her word. Lloyd Allen died on November 1, 1982, leaving behind a $25,000 life insurance policy.

Lloyd Allen
Lloyd Allen

Whispers about the unnatural nature of Lloyd’s death began to circulate. An autopsy determined Lloyd’s body contained a lethal amount of ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is a sweet-tasting, odorless substance. It is the main ingredient in automotive antifreeze and is a deadly poison if ingested. With an autopsy confirming foul play, police arrested Shirly on November 6.

The old Phelps County Courthouse in Rolla, Missouri where Shirley Allen stood trial for poisoning her husband, Lloyd
The old Phelps County Courthouse in Rolla, Missouri where Shirley Allen stood trial for poisoning her husband, Lloyd

Shirley Allen went on trial two years later in Rolla, Missouri. Her two daughters from a previous marriage, Norma Hawkins, 18, and Paula Hawkins, 17, agreed to testify for the prosecution if they didn’t seek the death penalty. On the stand, the girls testified they’d seen Shirley put antifreeze in Lloyd’s drinks. They also said Shirley sent them to buy antifreeze so she could “finish him [Lloyd] off.” And they further testified that their mother sent them to look for tainted Tylenol capsules in the wake of the infamous Chicago Tylenol poisonings.

Epilogue

It took the jury less than three hours and only three votes to convict Shirley Allen of first-degree murder. With the death penalty off the table, the judge sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole for at least 50 years. Shirly died in prison on April 2, 1998. She was 56 or 57 years old (her exact birthdate is uncertain).

Some sources report that another husband, Daniel Null, died mysteriously. Authorities exhumed the body, but an autopsy failed to reveal proof of ethylene glycol poisoning.

The Discovery Channel series Evil Lives Here featured the Shirley Allen case in Episode 11 of Season 5, Poisoned by Love.

Don’t Miss Out! Subscribe to the Newsletter

Subscribe to True Crime in the News, a monthly email newsletter that looks at recent news stories that will interest any true crime fan. There is also a summary of the previous month’s blog posts. You won’t want to miss this, sign up for the newsletter today.

Tera Smith: Strange Case of a Lost Teen Girl

From last week’s case of a bizarre murder-for-hire, we turn our attention this week to a missing persons case. As heartbreaking as homicide is, an unsolved disappearance, with its lack of closure, can sometimes be worse. Such was the case of Tera Smith, a California teen who vanished over two decades ago.

Tera Smith

In 1998, Tera Lynn Smith was a 16-year-old high school student from Redding, California. She made good grades and had a lot of friends. She worked at the Oasis Fun Center, the business near their home that her parents owned and ran. In all respects, she was a typical teenager. But, like many teens, Tera also had a rebellious streak.

Tera Lynn Smith (Shasta County Sheriff's Office)
Tera Lynn Smith (Shasta County Sheriff’s Office)

August 22, 1998 was the last Saturday before the school year started. Tera was due to work at the Oasis Fun Center at 7:00 p.m. Sometime that evening, but before she was due at work, Tera decided to go for a jog. Her sister, Sierra, admonished her, since the girls weren’t supposed to leave the house alone. Tera replied that she’d be back before her parents got home. Sierra watched as Tera jogged out of sight.

Tera Smith, Missing Person

The normally reliable Tera failed to show up for her scheduled shift at the fun center. Her parents were initially unconcerned but, when she hadn’t shown up by 9:00 p.m., they called police. What investigators found was disturbing.

Tera was due at the Smith's Oasis Fun Center when she disappeared (Google Maps)
Tera was due at the Smith’s Oasis Fun Center when she disappeared (Google Maps)

The last person known to see Tera alive was 29-year-old Charles “Troy” Zink. Zink was Tera’s Tae Kwon Do instructor. But her family found letters and journal entries that strongly suggested she and Zink had a sexual relationship. Zink denied this, although he admitted seeing Tera that August day. He said Tera called and they met near her home at 6:30 p.m. According to his story, she wanted to borrow $2,000 and he refused. At her request, he dropped her off at the intersection of Old Oregon Trail and Old Alturas Road. He then drove to Hang Glider Hill, where he claims he “prayed” until 11:30.

When police dug into Zink’s background, they found he pleaded guilty to rape seven years before Tera disappeared. Searching his home, they found several guns and arrested him for violating his parole. However, they didn’t find any evidence to connect him to Tera’s disappearance.

Charles "Troy" Zink at the time of the disappearance (Hard Copy)
Charles “Troy” Zink at the time of the disappearance (Hard Copy)

Epilogue

It’s been more than twenty years since Tera Smith disappeared. If she’s alive, she would be 40 years old. Her family, however, believes she is dead. There has been no trace of Tera since that early autumn day in 1998.

The family suspects Troy Zink is more involved in the case than he admitted, which Zink denies. Police have found no evidence linking him to the disappearance. Nor have they found anything to indicate that a crime was committed. Probably, though, Tera Lynn Smith died the day she disappeared.

Don’t Miss Out! Subscribe to the Newsletter

The Old Crime is New Again newsletter is a monthly email that takes a look at true crime in the news. In it, I cover topics that do not appeared in the blog, plus occasionally something extra. You won’t want to miss this. Sign up for the newsletter today.

Frank Howard: Strange and Sensational Murder for Hire

Our past two cases have been about killer nurses Kristen Gilbert and Charles Cullen. This week we go to Texas. Everything is big in Texas and even the murder cases seem larger than life. Our case involves successful businessman Frank Howard (not to be confused with the former baseball player). Howard concocted a scheme to hire East Texas gangsters to murder his wife. One of them eventually shot Nancy Howard but she survived.

Frank Howard and Nancy Shore Howard

Born John Franklin Howard, Frank married Nancy Shore in 1983. They settled in Carrollton, Texas, north and slightly west of Dallas and near Lewisville Lake. Together they raised three children.

Frank and Nancy Howard in happier times
Frank and Nancy Howard in happier times

From the outside, the Howards seemed like a normal suburban couple. Frank coached his kids’ soccer teams and went to their musical theater performances. The couple sang in the church choir and hosted Bible study for youth groups in their home. Frank was a successful businessman with his own accounting firm and Nancy was a stay-at-home mom.

The Howards’ apparently idyllic life began to dissipate as their children grew up and left home. Frank started devoting more time to his work. He took on a new client, Colleyville businessman Richard Raley, who’d made millions as a defense contractor. He told his wife that this new business would require more travel. Nancy found herself at home with little to do. In most cases, this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but trouble was brewing.

Frank Howard Meets Suzanne Leontieff

It was the weekend of July 25, 2009. Frank was in Lake Tahoe on business and Nancy was on a mission trip to Africa with her youngest daughter, Brianna. At a casino named Harvey’s, Frank met a woman at one of the tables. She was Suzanne Leontieff, a dental hygienist. Suzanne was in her early fifties but had blonde hair, a youthful face, and a perky demeanor. She was in Lake Tahoe to watch her daughters compete in a softball tournament.

Suzanne and Frank met for dinner. Suzanne was married, too, but had separated from her husband and working toward a divorce. The next weekend, Frank invited Suzanne to meet him in Reno. She did.

Suzanne Leontieff (MSNBC/Dateline)
Suzanne Leontieff (MSNBC/Dateline)

Over the next three years, Frank and Suzanne saw each other often. Sometimes he met her in California, while others he flew her to Dallas. Then there were expensive trips to the Bahamas and prime sporting events. Frank also bought a condo in Lake Tahoe and Suzanne a house in Santa Cruz. When Suzanne’s divorce came through, she lost her health insurance. So, Frank put her on the payroll of Raley’s company (by now he was Chief Financial Officer).

An Attempted Murder

On Saturday, August 18, 2012, Nancy went to the First Baptist Church in Carrollton for a women’s tea. She didn’t know it, but someone followed her into the parking lot. That evening, she went back to the church for the baptism of a family friend. When she left the parking lot at about 7:30, it was raining. A silver Nissan trailed her out of the lot.

On her way home, Nancy stopped at a Taco Bueno and picked up a steak fajita dinner at the drive-through. From there, she drove home, a two-story brick house on Bluebonnet Way. In the garage, she got out of the car with her purse and the Taco Bueno bag in her hands. Someone grabbed her from behind, put a gun to her head, and demanded her purse.

The Howards' house on Bluebonnet Way in Carrollton, TX
The Howards’ house on Bluebonnet Way in Carrollton, TX

Startled, Nancy turned around. The intruder, a man in his twenties demanded her purse again. Confused, she handed him the Taco Bueno bag instead. Seeing the man becoming angry, she shoved the purse at him with both hands. He backed up a step, pointed the gun at her face, and fired. He then fled, leaving the bag of food on the rain-soaked driveway and Nancy bleeding in the garage.

A Bizarre Plot

Frank was in Reno with Suzanne when he got the news that Nancy had been shot. He broke down crying and Suzanne had to help him walk. Since there were no more flights to Dallas from Reno that day, Suzanne drove Frank four hours to San Jose where he caught a flight home.

But while he may have shed tears, investigators soon learned that Frank was not exactly the grieving husband. Far from it. Frank, it turns out, had been paying money to East Texas gangsters for years to kill his wife. Somehow, Frank managed to connect with a shady character named Billie Earl Johnson. Calling himself “John,” Frank gave Johnson an envelope with $60,000 cash and a picture of Nancy, telling him to “make it look like an accident.”

Billie Earl Johnson (L) and his nephew, Dustin Hiroms (R). Hiroms shot Nancy Howard in her own garage on August 18, 2012.
Billie Earl Johnson (L) and his nephew, Dustin Hiroms (R). Hiroms shot Nancy Howard in her own garage on August 18, 2012.

Johnson and his cadre of relatives and associates strung “John” along for months on end, extracting more and more money from him. But there were always excuses. Either something slowed them down, they were too wasted, or they were in jail. Nancy lived on. Johnson estimated they squeezed over $2 million out of “John.”

All this would have been funny if Johnson’s stepson, Dustin Taylor Hiroms hadn’t tried to carry out the plot. He’s the one that accosted and shot Nancy.

Frank Howard Goes on Trial

Nancy Howard survived the attack, although she lost her left eye. She divorced Frank and went back to using her birth name, Shore.

John Francis "Frank" Howard
John Francis “Frank” Howard

Frank Howard went on trial in August 2012. All three Howard children testified for their father and sat behind him when they were in court. Nancy testified for the prosecution. The defense claimed Frank had been blackmailed and attacked the credibility of the prosecution witnesses. They did have a point: the East Texas crew had an astonishing number of arrests and convictions. However, the jury took only two hours to return a guilty verdict.

At the sentencing hearing, Frank’s former boss, Richard Raley, testified. He told the jury that Frank had embezzled over $30 million from him over a three-year period. He used the money to finance his affair with Suzanne Leontieff and to pay his meth-addled hitmen. And apparently, according to a later lawsuit, he donated over $200,000 of it to the First Baptist Church! He received a life sentence with no possibility for parole until after 30 years.

Epilogue

Today (April 2022) Frank Howard is 62 years old. He spends his time at the James V. Allred Unit of the Texas prison system near Wichita Falls, Texas.

You can read more about this case in Allice Matthews’ book, The Shooting of Nancy Howard: A Journey Back to Shore.

Don’t Miss Out! Subscribe to the Newsletter

The Old Crime is New Again newsletter is a monthly email that takes a look at true crime in the news. In it, I cover topics that do not appeared in the blog, plus occasionally something extra. You won’t want to miss this. Sign up for the newsletter today.