Harvey Glatman: A Weird Boy Turns Ruthless Serial Killer

Last week we covered the bombing of the Los Angeles Times office building. This week, we stay in the City of Angels to meet serial killer Harvey Glatman.

Harvey Glatman

Harvey Glatman was a weird kid. Born in the Bronx in 1927, young Harvey showed an interest in deviant sexuality even as a child. When he was a teenager, he began breaking into women’s apartments and stealing small items, including lingerie. This escalated to assault as he grew older. Finally, in 1945, he was arrested and convicted of first-degree robbery but only served one month in jail.

Undated booking photograph of Harvey Murray Glatman (AP Photo/The Longmont Times-Call courtesy of the Boulder County, Colo.  Sheriffís Office)
Undated booking photograph of Harvey Murray Glatman (AP Photo/The Longmont Times-Call courtesy of the Boulder County, Colo. Sheriffís Office)

The following year, Glatman kidnapped and sexually assaulted a woman in New York. For this he received a sentence of 5-10 years. Initially incarcerated in the Elmira Reformatory, he was later sent to Sing Sing prison. He was paroled in 1948.

Harvey Glatman, Serial Killer

Harvey Glatman moved to Los Angeles in 1957. There he began trolling modeling agencies. He would contact potential victims and offer them work posing for illustrations for pulp fiction magazines. If an unfortunate girl agreed, he took her back to his apartment, tied her up, and sexually assaulted her before killing her. He took pictures of the women throughout their ordeal.

Judith "Judy" Dull, Glatman's first L.A. victim
Judith “Judy” Dull, Glatman’s first L.A. victim

The two women Glatman is known to have snared with the model scam were Judith Dull and Ruth Mercado. “Judy” Dull went with Glatman (who used the alias “Johnny Glenn”) to do a photo shoot on August 1, 1957. Her roommates at the El Mirador in Los Angeles never saw her again. A side note: actress Jean Harlow lived at El Mirador when she died in June 1937.

El Mirador, at the corner of North Sweetzer and Fountain Avenues in West Hollywood
El Mirador, at the corner of North Sweetzer and Fountain Avenues in West Hollywood

For his second know victim, Glatman changed is M.O. Instead of using a modeling agency, he contacted Shirley Ann Bridgeford through a lonely-hearts ad in a newspaper. He murdered her on March 9, 1958.

Shirly Ann Bridgeford. Glatman located her through a newspaper ad.
Shirly Ann Bridgeford. Glatman located her through a newspaper ad.

Ruth Mercado became Glatman’s third know victim on July 24, 1958. This time using the name Frank Johnson, he found her through a modeling agency just as he had Judy Dull.

Ruth Mercado also went by the name of Angela Rojas
Ruth Mercado also went by the name of Angela Rojas

Harvey Glatman Captured

In October 1958, Glatman hired twenty-eight-year-old Lorraine Vigil from a modeling agency. Supposedly traveling to his studio, Lorraine became alarmed when he hit the Santa Ana Freeway and started driving at high speed. Then, he stopped the car and pulled a gun. A terrified Lorraine grabbed it.

Lorraine Vigil managed to escape from Harvey Glatman
Lorraine Vigil managed to escape from Harvey Glatman

As the pair struggled for the gun, they fell out of the car and the gun went off. Lorraine ended up with it. She later said if she’d known how to shoot it, she could have killed him. Instead, she held it on him until a patrolman who’d seen the struggle stopped and arrested Glatman.

Glatman quickly confessed to three murders. He later led police to a toolbox that contained photos he’d taken of his victims.

Epilogue

On December 17, 1958, Judge John A. Hewicker found Harvey Glatman guilty in the murders of Shirley Bridgeford and Ruth Mercado and sentenced him to death. Glatman died in California’s gas chamber at San Quentin Prison on September 18, 1959.

San Quentin's death row gas chamber before being dismantled on March 13, 2019 (Photo by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)
San Quentin’s death row gas chamber before being dismantled on March 13, 2019 (Photo by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

Decades after Glatman’s execution, researchers identified a woman previously known as “Boulder Jane Doe” as an 18-year-old woman from Phoenix, Arizona named Dorothy Gay Howard. Hikers found her body in Boulder Canyon in the spring of 1954. Police had long suspected Glatman in the murder (he lived in Colorado as a youth), although he never confessed to that crime.

Dorothy Gay Howard and her soon-to-be-ex-husband David G. Powell. Police suspet Harvey Glatman killed Howard but he was not convicted of that crime.
Dorothy Gay Howard and her soon-to-be-ex-husband David G. Powell. Police suspect Harvey Glatman killed Howard but he was not convicted of that crime.

A book about Glatman and his murders, Rope: The Twisted Life and Crimes of Harvey Glatman by Michael Newton appeared in December 2014.

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Danny Rolling: A Strange Serial Killer, Terror on Campus

Our case last week was the story of the racially motivated lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. This week, we meet Danny Rolling. Over four days in 1990, Rolling struck terror into the hearts of students in the college town of Gainesville, Florida.

Danny Rolling

You could hardly call Danny Rolling’s childhood idyllic. His father was a Shreveport, Louisiana policeman who regularly abused his family. He told Danny from a young age that he was an unwanted child. During Danny’s teen and young adult years, he was arrested several times for robberies and once as a peeping Tom.

Danny Rolling in 1991
Danny Rolling in 1991

In May 1990, a family fight led Rolling to try to kill his father. The senior Rolling lived but lost an eye and an ear. August 1990 found Rolling in the college town of Gainesville, Florida, home of the University of Florida. It was there he committed the series of crimes that earned him the sobriquet of “The Gainesville Ripper.”

Danny Rolling Goes on a Killing Spree

It was Friday, August 24, 1990. In the early morning hours, Rolling broke into the apartment shared by Sonja Larson and Christina “Christi” Powell. Both were 17-year-old freshmen at the University of Florida. Leaving Christi asleep on the downstairs couch, he went upstairs where he taped Sonja’s mouth shut and stabbed her to death. She died trying to fight him off.

Sonja Larson, Danny Rolling's first Gainesville victim (Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Sonja Larson, Danny Rolling’s first Gainesville victim (Daytona Beach News-Journal)

Back downstairs, he woke Christi and taped her mouth shut as well. He then cut her clothes off, raped her, and stabbed her in the back five times. He posed both women’s bodies in sexually provocative positions, took a shower, then left.

Christi Powell (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
Christi Powell (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

One day later, on August 25, Rolling pried open a sliding glass door to break into the apartment of Christa Hoyt. Christ, an 18-year-old honors student at Santa Fe Community College, was not home. However, Rolling waited for her in the living room. When she returned, he subdued her with a chokehold. Then he taped her mouth shut, cut off her clothes, raped her, and stabbed her in the back. Rolling left, but discovering his wallet missing, returned to make sure he hadn’t left it in the Hoyt apartment. While he was there, he decapitated her body and placed the head on a shelf facing the corpse. He wanted to add to the shock of whoever discovered the dead woman.

Christa Hoyt’s high school graduation portrait (findagrave.com)

The Final Gainesville Murders

The final murders in Gainesville occurred on Monday, August 27. By then, the story of three murdered coeds had sparked terror in Gainesville. Since it was early in the academic year, some students withdrew while others transferred to different schools. Those that stayed took extra precautions.

The University of Florida campus in Gainesville, Florida (Tampa Bay Times)
The University of Florida campus in Gainesville, Florida (Tampa Bay Times)

Precautions weren’t enough for 23-year-old Tracy Paules. That Monday, Rolling pried open the glass door to the apartment she shared with Manny Taboada, also 23. He found Manny asleep in one of the bedrooms and, after a struggle, killed him. Investigating the commotion, Tracey encountered Rolling. She tried to barricade herself in her bedroom but Rolling broke down the door.

Manny Taboada (Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Manny Taboada (Daytona Beach News-Journal)

Once inside Tracy’s bedroom, Rolling repeated his previous pattern. He taped her mouth shut, cut off her clothes, and raped her. Then he turned her face down and stabbed her in the back. Although he posed Tracy’s body suggestively, he left Manny’s body alone.

Tracy Paules (Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Tracy Paules (Daytona Beach News-Journal)

Danny Rolling Faces the Music

Rolling ended up in jail after robbing a supermarket in Ocala, Florida. While there, investigators received a tip that he might be involved not only in the Gainesville murders but three in Louisiana as well.

From the evidence locker, they retrieved a cassette tape player. Police found the tape player at the makeshift campsite where he had been living. Police also found audio diaries that alluded to the Gainesville murders.

Danny Rolling on trial for murder (Jacksonville.com)
Danny Rolling on trial for murder (Jacksonville.com)

Rolling was to go to trial in 1994, nearly four years after the murders. He claimed his motive was to become a “superstar” like Ted Bundy (who also operated in the Gainesville area). But before the trial started, Rolling unexpectedly pled guilty to all charges. Pleading guilty didn’t buy him anything; he received the death penalty.

Epilogue

The State of Florida executed Danny Rolling with a lethal injection on October 25, 2006. Shortly beforehand, he confessed to three additional murders in Louisiana.

Rolling is said to be the inspiration for the 1996 slasher film, Scream.

Like many notorious cases, this one spawned several true crime books. One of the earliest is Mary Ryzuk’s The Gainesville Ripper. Shortly after Rolling’s execution, Sondra London released The Making of a Serial Killer, a book she wrote with his participation. A second edition appeared in 2020. A more recent treatment of the case is J.T. Hunter’s A Monster of All Time.

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David Berkowitz: The Daring Son of Sam Killer

Last week’s blog discussed English serial killer John Christie. This week, we’re back in the U.S. for the case of another serial killer, David Berkowitz. You may know him as the “Son of Sam.”

David Berkowitz

David Berkowitz was born Richard David Falco in Brooklyn in 1953. His mother gave him up for adoption a few days after his birth. Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz, a Jewish couple who owned a hardware store in the Bronx adopted the infant. They reversed his first two names and gave him their last name. He became David Richard Berkowitz.

Young David was intelligent but not much interested in learning. Instead, he gravitated toward petty larceny and fire-starting. After graduating from high school, he served in the U.S. Army at Forth Knox, Kentucky and in South Korea.

David Berkowitz
David Berkowitz

Berkowitz Begins His Crime Spree

On Christmas Eve, 1975, David Berkowitz attacked two women with a hunting knife. Police never identified one victim but the other, 15-year-old Michelle Forman, spent a week in the hospital. Authorities never suspected Berkowitz in these attacks.

The killings began in July 1976. In the early hours of July 29, Emergency medical technician Donna Lauria, 18, and nurse Jody Valenti, 19, sat talking in a double-parked car. When Lauria opened the door to leave, a man approached and she said, “Now what is this?” The man pulled a pistol from a paper bag, crouched, and began firing. A bullet hit Lauria, killing her instantly. Another bullet hit Valenti in the thigh and a third shot missed entirely.

Victim Donna Lauria (New York Daily News)
Victim Donna Lauria (New York Daily News)

The shootings continued. A gunman shot at Carl Denaro and Rosemary Keenan in Queens on October 23 hitting Denaro, but both survived. On 27, high school students Donna DeMasi and Joanne Lomino were shot as they stood on Lomino’s front porch. Both women survived, but her injuries rendered Lomino a paraplegic. Christine Freund and John Diel were sitting in Diel’s car on January 30, 1977, when three shots hit the car. Diel drove off looking for help. His wounds were superficial, but Freund died several hours later.

After the attacker fatally shot Columbus University student Virginia Voskerichian on Mach 8, 1976, authorities began to link the shootings. New York Mayor Abraham Beame declared that the same .44 caliber Bulldog revolver was the weapon used in both the Lauria and Voskerichian killings. However, he didn’t say that conclusive evidence was lacking.

Victim  Virginia Voskerichian (New York Daily News)
Victim Virginia Voskerichian (New York Daily News)

Son of Sam

At about 3:00 a.m. on April 17, 1977, Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani became the latest victims. Attacked while they sat in a car on a service road, Suriani suffered one gunshot wound and Esau two. Suriani died at the scene and Esau died in the hospital several hours later. A handwritten note left at the scene taunted police and identified the killer as “Son of Sam.” Although police tried to keep the letter under wraps, some details emerged. “Son of Sam” soon replaced “the .44 Caliber Killer” as press’s name for the shooter.

Two more shooting incidents occurred during the summer of 1977. Sal Lupo and Judy Placido were shot on June 26 but both survived. On July 31, the victims were Robert Violante and Stacy Moskowitz. Moskowitz died and Violante lost his left eye.

Arrest of David Berkowitz

Walking her dog near the scene of the Moskowitz and Violante shootings, Cacilia Davis noticed a police officer ticketing a car parked near a fire hydrant. A man with a “dark object” in his hand walked past her, studying her intently. Davis ran home only to hear the four shots fired at Moskowitz and Violante. She hesitated for four days, but then called police.

David Berkowitz's mugshot
David Berkowitz’s mugshot

One of the cars ticketed in the area was the yellow 1970 Ford Galaxie belonging to David Berkowitz. On August 10, police investigated Berkowitz’s car, finding a gun, ammunition, crime scene maps, and a threatening letter to police. Officers decided to wait for Berkowitz to leave his apartment rather than risk a violent encounter inside. Berkowitz left the apartment and got in his car at about 10:00 p.m. Detective John Falotico pointed his gun at Berkowitz and made the arrest.

The Yonkers apartment occupied by David Berkowitz (New York Daily News)
The Yonkers apartment occupied by David Berkowitz (New York Daily News)

Epilogue

David Berkowitz quickly confessed the next day, August 11, 1977. He claimed that his former neighbor, Sam Carr was the “Sam” in “Son of Sam.” According to Berkowitz, Carr’s black Labrador Retriever, Harvey, ordered him to kill. He later admitted this was a hoax.

Three separate mental evaluations determined that Berkowitz was competent to stand trial. Despite this, his lawyers advised him to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Berkowitz refused. Instead, he pled guilty to all the shootings. At sentencing, he caused an uproar by trying to jump out of a seventh-floor window, triggering yet another psychiatric evaluation. Ultimately, he received a 25-years-to-life sentence for each murder, to be served consecutively.

David Berkowitz in 2019 (Christopher Capozziello/Genesis)
David Berkowitz in 2019 (Christopher Capozziello/Genesis)

In prison, Berkowitz claimed to have become a born-again Christian. Although now eligible for parole, he has consistently refused to ask for his release and remains in prison.

Lawrence D. Klausner produced a detailed account of the case, Son of Sam, to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of Berkowitz’s killing spree.

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John Christie: Hidden Secrets of a Serial Killer

Last week we covered the case of Timothy Evans. Evans, you may recall, was hanged in 1950 for killing is infant daughter. But the real murderer was the man we discuss today, John Christie.

John Christie

John Reginald Halliday Christie (“Reg” to friends and family) was born in 1899 in Yorkshire, in northern England. The sixth of seven children, he had a troubled relationship with his father. Also, his mother and older sisters alternately coddled or bullied young Reg, so his childhood couldn’t have been very happy.

John Reginald Halliday Christie
John Reginald Halliday Christie

Christie served as a signalman in the British Army during World War I. During June 1918, he was wounded in a mustard gas attack and convalesced in a hospital in Calais. He later claimed that the attack left him blind and mute for three years but there is no historical evidence for this. His inability to speak much above a whisper was likely a psychological reaction to the gassing, not a physical one.

John Reginald Christie and his wife Ethel
John Reginald Christie and his wife Ethel

Christie married Ethel Simpson on May 10, 1920. The separated after four years, likely because of his habit of visiting prostitutes and his criminal activities.

Christie’s Criminal Career

Beginning shortly after his marriage, John Christie had run-ins with the law that sent him to prison several times. His first conviction was in 1921 for stealing postal orders (he worked as a postman). Other convictions were for obtaining money under false pretenses, larceny, and assaulting a woman with a cricket bat.

Police outside the flat at10 Rillington Place
Police outside 10 the flat at Rillington Place

After his release from H.M. Prison Wandsworth in 1934. Christie abandoned his career of petty crimes. He and Ethel reunited and moved to the top floor flat at 10 Rillington Place in the Notting Hill section of London. At the time, Rillington Place consisted of houses cheaply built in the 1870s that had deteriorated from poor upkeep. By the 1940s, they had become multi-tenant rentals. There was no indoor toilet and the street was close to an above-ground section of the Metropolitan rail line. The squalor is evident from photographs taken in 1953 after Christie’s murders came to light.

Christie and Ethel moved to 10 Rillington Place’s ground floor flat in 1938.

The Murders Begin

John Christie committed his first murder (at least the first he admitted) on August 24, 1943. He lured Ruth Fuerst, an Austrian munitions worker and sometimes prostitute back to his home for sex and strangled her afterwards with a rope. He initially hid her body under the floorboards of his living room, later burying her in the back garden.

The back garden at 10 Rillington Place where Christie buried his first two victims
The back garden at 10 Rillington Place where Christie buried his first two victims

Christie’s next victim was Muriel Amelia Eady, a coworker at the Acton radio factory where he was a clerk. Promising to cure her bronchitis with a “special mixture,” he instead had her breathe domestic gas, which soon rendered her unconscious. He then raped and strangled her. (Note that domestic gas in the 1940s was coal gas, which is 15 percent carbon monoxide). He buried Eady beside Fuerst.

John Christie Murders Beryl Evans

In 1948, Timothy Evans and his wife, Beryl moved into the top-floor flat at 10 Rillington Place. When Evans went to the police in late 1949 and told them his wife was dead, he blamed Christie, saying it was a botched abortion.

When police found Beryl’s and daughter Geraldine’s bodies in a detached washhouse, they extracted a confession from Evans. Charged with murdering his daughter, Evans recanted his confession, but a jury convicted him anyway. He was hanged at H.M. Prison Pentonville on March 9, 1950.

After the discovery that John Christie was a serial killer, he confessed to murdering Beryl Evans. Although he didn’t confess to strangling Geraldine, authorities assumed he killed them both and most historians agree.

John Christie is a Serial Killer

On December 14, 1952, Ethel Christie became John’s next victim when he strangled her in bed. He placed her body under the floorboards of the front room of the flat. Since he had quit his job, he sold Ethel’s wedding ring and clothes as well as some furniture to support himself.

Between January 19 and March 6, 1953, Christie lured three more women to 10 Rillington Place. There he gassed them with carbon monoxide-laden domestic gas before raping and strangling them. He then placed the bodies in a small alcove behind the back kitchen wall. He later papered over the entrance to the alcove.

The kitchen alcove where the last three bodies were discovered
The kitchen alcove where the last three bodies were discovered

Discovery

John Christie fraudulently sublet his flat to a couple on March 20, 1953 and moved out. That same evening, the landlord popped in and, discovering the couple and not Christie, demanded that they leave the next day. He also gave the tenant of the kitchen-less top floor flat, Beresford Brown, permission to use Christie’s kitchen. Brown found the alcove when he went to hang brackets for a radio. Peeling back the wallpaper, he saw the bodies. He informed police and a manhunt for Christie began.

Meanwhile, Christie had booked in at an inexpensive hotel. He’d booked seven nights but left after staying only four when news of the Rillington Place murders broke. He wandered London until March 31, when police arrested him near Putney Bridge. He was virtually penniless.

John Christie under arrest
John Christie under arrest

Trial and Conviction

John Christie went on trial for the murder of his wife on June 22, 1953. He sat in the same courtroom where, three years earlier, he had testified against Timothy Evans. Christy pled insanity and claimed to have a poor memory of events. A Dr. Matheson from H.M. Prison Brixton testified that Christie had a “hysterical personality” but wasn’t insane. The jury rejected the insanity plea, taking only 85 minutes to return a guilty verdict.

A police van delivers John Christie to court for trial
A police van delivers John Christie to court for trial

Home Secretary David Maxwell Fyfe said that he couldn’t find any grounds to reprieve Christie. He went to the gallows at H.M. Prison Pentonville—as did Evans—on July 15, 1953. Evans’ executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, also did the honors for Christie.

A crowd outside H.M. Prison Pentonville awaits news of Christie's execution
A crowd outside H.M. Prison Pentonville awaits news of Christie’s execution

Epilogue

There has been speculation that Christie may have had more victims than the seven women and one child attributed to him. No attempt was made at the time to link him to other missing women. However, historian Jonathan Oates considers it unlikely Christie would have deviated from his standard method of killing in his residence.

As mentioned last week, several books discuss the crimes at 10 Rillington Place. The classic work on the case is Ludovic Kennedy’s Ten Rillington Place, but it appears to be out of print.

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