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.

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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.

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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.