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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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.

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Charles Cullen: The Truth About a Killer Nurse

Last week, we met Kristen Gilbert, a nurse at a Massachusetts V.A. hospital who killed four patients, perhaps more. This week, we examine the case of Charles Cullen, another nurse with a penchant for homicide. Cullen confessed to killing up to 40 patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but the number could be much, much higher. Authorities have confirmed 29 deaths he’s responsible for.

Charles Cullen

Charles Cullen was born February 22, 1960, the youngest of eight children, in West Orange, New Jersey. His father, a bus driver, died when Charles was only seven months old. His mother died in a car accident in December 1977 when Charles was a senior in high school. He was upset with the hospital for not immediately telling him of her death and not returning her body to him. This capped a childhood that Charles himself described as “miserable,” during which he made several suicide attempts.

Charles Edmund Cullen
Charles Edmund Cullen

Cullen dropped out of high school and joined the US Navy. He passed the rigorous psychological examinations required for submarine crews and served on the submarine USS Woodrow Wilson. Although he rose to the rank of petty officer, second class, Cullen never fit in well with the rest of the crew. The Navy reassigned him to the supply ship USS Canopus, a lower-stress job. After a suicide attempt, the Navy sent him to a naval psychiatric hospital. Ultimately, Cullen received a medical discharge.

A New Career for Charles Cullen

Now out of the navy, Cullen enrolled in the Mountainside Hospital School of Nursing in Montclair, New Jersey. Apparently, this was a better fit for his class elected him its president. He graduated in 1986 and went to work in the burn unit at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey.

St. Barnabas Medical Center, Livingston, New Jersey
St. Barnabas Medical Center, Livingston, New Jersey

During this time, Cullen met and married Adrianne Baum and they had a daughter, Shauna. All was not well, however, because Adrienne became increasingly concerned about his disturbed behavior and abuse of the family dogs.

Cullen’s time at St. Barnabas was not smooth sailing, either. He later confessed to committing his first murder there on June 11, 1988 by administering an overdose of intravenous medication. After the hospital began investigating contaminated IV bags, he left St. Barnabas. The investigation concluded that Cullen was most likely responsible for the contaminated bags.

One month after he left St. Barnabas, Cullen hired on as a nurse at Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. There he murdered three elderly women patients with an overdose of digoxin, a heart medication. Before she died, the last victim reported that a “sneaky male nurse” had injected her as she slept. Unfortunately, her family and the hospital dismissed her claims as unfounded. Nineteen-ninety-three was also the year Cullen and his wife split after a contentious divorce.

Cullen’s Bizarre Behavior

In March 1993, Cullen broke into a coworker’s home while she and her young boy were asleep. He didn’t wake them, but this was the beginning of him stalking women. Before long, some of the stalking victims reported Cullen to police. He pleaded guilty to trespassing and received a year of probation. The next day, he attempted suicide again. He took two months off and received treatment for depression, but he attempted suicide two more times that year.

Suicidal or not, the killing didn’t stop. A 91-year-old cancer patient reported that Cullen, who wasn’t her assigned nurse, came into her room and gave her an injection. She died the next day, and her son insisted her death was not natural. The hospital polygraphed Cullen and several other nurses but they all passed, and the investigation went nowhere.

St. Luke's Medical Center, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
St. Luke’s Medical Center, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Despite Cullen’s mental instability and the suspicious number of deaths that seemed to follow him, he was always able to find work. At the time, there was a critical shortage of nurses nationwide. Also, hospitals feared liability if they took action against him. So, Charles Cullen was able to keep on working—and killing. His resume included Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, New Jersey; Morristown Memorial Medical Center; Liberty Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania; Eason Hospital in Easton, Pennsylvania; Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown; St. Luke’s Medical Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, New Jersey.

Cullen’s Killing Spree Comes to an End

In October 2003, a patient at Somerset died of low blood sugar. The hospital alerted the New Jersey State Police. That patient was Cullen’s final victim. Somerset fired him on October 31, 2003, ostensibly for lying on his job application.

Somerset Medical Center, Somerville, New Jersey (Wikipedia/Ekem)
Somerset Medical Center, Somerville, New Jersey (Wikipedia/Ekem)

One of Cullen’s coworkers, nurse Amy Loughren, became concerned about the drugs he accessed and links to his patients’ deaths. She contacted police. Authorities convinced her to wear a wire and visit him after hours. Those conversations produced enough evidence for an arrest. On December 12, 2003, police arrested Cullen at a restaurant. Charged with one murder and one attempted murder, he soon confessed to killing as many as 40 patients over his 16-year career as a nurse.

Nurse Amy Loughren helped gather evidence against Cullen
Nurse Amy Loughren helped gather evidence against Cullen

In April 2006, Charles Cullen pleaded guilty before Judge Paul W. Armstrong to killing 13 patients while employed at Somerset. He also pleaded guilty to attempting to kill two others. As part of the plea deal, authorities would not seek the death penalty if Cullen cooperated in their investigations. In May, he pleaded guilty to killing three more patients in New Jersey. Then in November 2004, he pleaded guilty to six murders and three attempted murders in Pennsylvania. In the latter hearing, he kept heckling the judge, which resulted in the court ordering him gagged and restrained.

Charles Cullen in court
Charles Cullen in court

On March 2, 2006, Judge Armstrong sentenced Cullen to eleven consecutive life sentences. On March 10, Lehigh County President Judge William H. Platt sentenced handed down six additional life sentences.

Epilogue

As of April 2022, Charles Cullen spends his time at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. He will be theoretically eligible for parole on June 10, 2388. Practically speaking, he will die in prison.

The New Jersey State Prison at Second and Federal Streets, Trenton
The New Jersey State Prison at Second and Federal Streets, Trenton

You can read more about the twisted career of Charles Cullen in The Angel of Death by Roger Harrington.

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