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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