Donald Harvey, the so-called “Angel of Death,” died on Thursday, March 30, 2017 after a vicious attack in his Ohio state prison cell. He was 64-years-old. Harvey was found severely injured in his cell on March 28, 2017, after an unnamed inmate attacked him in his cell at the Toledo Correctional Institution. Donald Harvey was convicted of killing 37 terminally ill patients under his care during the 1970s and 1980s. The media dubbed Donald Harvey the Angel of Death after details of his arrest came out.
Who Was Donald Harvey?
Donald Harvey was currently serving four consecutive life sentences for the string of murders that took place at hospitals in Cincinnati, Ohio, and London, Kentucky. He also claimed responsibility for 18 other deaths while employed at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, also in Cincinnati. The exact number of his victims is unknown, but a study compiled by researchers at the Department of Psychology at Radford University place the number somewhere near 87 total victims.
His first victim was on May 30, 1970, when he smothered 88-year-old Logan Evans at the Marymount Hospital in London. He used a pillow and a sheet of blue plastic to avoid fibers from the pillow being inhaled by the victim. By the end of the year, Donald Harvey had amassed another nine victims, all without arousing any suspicion.
He quit Marymount Hospital on March 27, 1971 for undisclosed reasons, but in the 10 months that Donald Harvey worked there, he killed 15 people. Some were smothered, on others, he used a faulty oxygen tank to slowly suffocate them. His first “mercy” killing was also during this time frame when he murdered 42-year-old Elizabeth Wyatt. She allegedly told Harvey that she wished she could die, so he turned her oxygen supply very low.
In September of 1975, Harvey started working at the VA Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. He worked there for 10 years until he was fired for a policy violation when the staff found a gun in his gym bag. During his tenure at the VA, he is only on record as killing one patient; however, Harvey believes that he was involved in four other deaths in his care, but could not recall specifics. He did kill five other people that were neighbors and acquaintances. He primarily used arsenic to poison these victims.
In February of 1986, Donald started working at Daniel Drake Memorial hospital in Cincinnati. During that time, he is thought to have killed 26 people before he was caught.
Catching a Serial Killer
On March 7, 1987, Donald Harvey poisoned and killed John W. Powell, a 44-year-old male by putting cyanide in his gastric feeding tube. As a matter of policy, an autopsy was performed. The medical examiner who performed the autopsy was Dr. Lee Lehman, who was a forensic psychologist with a biochemistry background. When he began the examination of Mr. Powell, he smelled the typical bitter almond scent that indicates the presence of cyanide. He proceeded with the autopsy and sought confirmation of cyanide poisoning from three independent labs.
Once John Powell’s death was determined to be a murder, the Cincinnati Police Department started their investigation. They pursued numerous leads, including questioning Powell’s wife. Donald Harvey volunteered to take a polygraph test but failed to show up on the day of his appointment. Because of this, he was brought in for questioning. Detectives Ron Camden and Jim Lawson questioned Harvey, and after questioning, Harvey admitted to putting cyanide in Powell’s feeding tube. Harvey’s explanation for this was that he felt sorry for Powell and his family. Donald was indicted for aggravated first-degree murder as a result.
It wasn’t until WCPO news anchor Pat Minarcin started digging into the murder that Harvey’s other murders were discovered. After questioning whether Harvey could be responsible for other deaths, he received a string of anonymous tips about murders that Harvey was involved in. To prevent retribution against nurses that would talk to him, Minarcin couldn’t go public with the evidence he had compiled linking Donald Harvey to other murders.
Minarcin decided to contact Harvey’s attorney and gave him all of the information he had gathered. The court-appointed attorney, William Whalen, worked to get Harvey a plea agreement where if he confessed to all of his murders, the state of Ohio would take the death penalty off the table. Harvey agreed and was indicted for 12 counts of murder and attempted murder.
A round of investigations discovered his links to previous killings in Kentucky and brought more indictments. In total, he was indicted and convicted of 36 murders and one intentional manslaughter.
When asked about it, Larry Bellamy, the son-in-law of Harvey’s second victim said only this.
“I’m kind of sad to hear it. But he was involved in about 50 people’s deaths, and I gues maybe the good Lord gave him what he deserved.”
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, who was an assistant on the Harvey case, was much less forgiving in his response.
“It may sound harsh, but the reality is that I do not have any compassion for Donald Harvey.”
Donald Harvey is survived by two children, although his paternity has been questioned. One was adopted, and the other resided with the mother, Ruth Anne Hodges.
[Featured Image by Ed Reinke/AP Images]