Donald Harvey: The Angel of Death

Donald Harvey: The Angel of Death

Donald Harvey is a serial killer responsible for killing 36 to 57 people, many of whom were patients at hospitals where he was employed. His killing spree lasted from May 1970 until March 1987, only ending after a police investigation into the death of a patient resulted in Harvey's confession. Labeled the "Angel of Death," Harvey said he first began to kill to help ease the pain of dying patients, but a detailed diary he kept paints the picture of a sadistic, cold-hearted killer.

Childhood Years

Donald Harvey was born in 1952 in Butler County, Ohio. He was well liked by his teachers, but fellow students remembered him as being unapproachable and a loner who seemed to prefer being in the company of adults than playing in the school yard.

What wasn't known at the time is that from age four and for several years after, Harvey was allegedly being sexually abused by his uncle and an older male neighbor.

High School Years

Harvey was a smart kid, but he found school to be boring so he dropped out. At the age of 16 he received a diploma from a correspondence school out of Chicago and earned his GED the following year.

Harvey's First Kill

In 1970, unemployed and living in Cincinnati, he decided to go to Marymount Hospital in London, Kentucky, to help care for his sick grandfather. In time he became a familiar face at the hospital and was asked if he would work as an orderly. Harvey accepted and immediately was placed into a position where he spent time alone with patients.

His duties included dispensing medications to patients, inserting catheters, and taking care of other personal and medical needs. To most in the medical field, a feeling that they are helping the sick is the reward of their job. But Harvey saw it as having the ultimate control and power over a person's life. Almost overnight he became judge and executioner.

On May 30, 1970, just two weeks into his employment, stroke victim Logan Evans angered Harvey by rubbing feces on his face. In return, Harvey smothered Evans with plastic and a pillow. No one at the hospital became suspicious. For Harvey the incident seemed to unleash an inner monster. From there on, no patient or friend would be safe from Harvey's revenge.

He continued to kill 15 patients over the next 10 months that he worked at the hospital. He often smothered or hooked up faulty oxygen tanks to the patients, but when angered his methods became more brutal and included impaling a patient with a wire hanger inserted into his catheter.

Harvey's Personal Life

Harvey spent much of his personal time away from work being depressed and contemplating suicide. During this time he was involved in two relationships.

James Peluso and Harvey were an on and off lovers for 15 years. He later killed Peluso when he became too ill to care for himself.

He was also allegedly involved with Vernon Midden who was a married man with children and worked as an undertaker. In their conversations, Midden would sometimes talk about how the body reacts to different trauma. The information became invaluable to Harvey as he plotted new, undetectable ways to kill.

When their relationship began to fall apart, Harvey entertained fantasies of embalming Midden while he was still alive. Now, as his mind began to branch out from the confinement of the hospital walls, Harvey considered murdering lovers, friends, and neighbors who crossed him.

Harvey's First Arrest

March 31, 1971, was the last day Harvey worked at Marymount Hospital. That evening he was arrested for burglary, and Harvey, who was very drunk, confessed to being a murderer. An extensive investigation failed to turn up evidence and ultimately Harvey just faced the burglary charges.

Things weren't going well for Harvey and he decided it was time to get out of town. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, but his military career was cut short after two failed suicide attempts. He was sent home with an honorable discharge for medical reasons.

Depression and Suicide Attempts

Returning home fueled his depression and he again tried to kill himself. With few options left, Harvey checked himself into the V.A. hospital for treatment. While there he received 21 electroshock treatments, but was released after 90 days.

Cardinal Hill Convalescent Hospital

Harvey got a part-time clerical job at the Cardinal Hill Convalescent Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. It is not known if he killed any patients during the two and a half years there, but the opportunity to kill them had been decreased. He later told police that he was able to control the compulsion to kill during this time.

Morgue Job at the V.A. Hospital

In September 1975, Harvey moved back to Cincinnati, Ohio and landed a night position in the V.A. hospital. It is believed while employed there that Harvey killed at least 15 patients. Now his killing methods included injections of cyanide and adding rat poison and arsenic to his victims foods.

The Occult

During his relationship with Midden, he was briefly introduced to the occult. In June 1977 he looked into it further and decided to join. This is where he met his spiritual guide, "Duncan," who was at one time a doctor. Harvey attributes Duncan to helping him decide on who would be his next victim.

Friends and Lovers Become Targets

Throughout the years Harvey was in and out of several relationships, seemingly without harming any of his lovers. But in 1980 this all stopped, first with ex-lover Doug Hill, who Harvey tried to kill by putting arsenic into his food.

Carl Hoeweler was his second victim. In August 1980, Hoeweler and Harvey began living together, but problems surfaced when Harvey found out that Hoeweler was having sex outside of the relationship. Harvey began poisoning his food with arsenic as a way to control Hoeweler's wandering ways.

His next victim was a female friend of Carl's who he thought interfered too much in their relationship. He infected her with hepatitis B and also tried to infect her with the AIDS virus, which failed.

Neighbor Helen Metzger was his next victim. Also feeling that she was a threat to his relationship with Carl, he laced food and a jar of mayonnaise she had with arsenic. He then put a lethal dose of arsenic in a pie that he gave to her, which quickly led to her death.

On April 25, 1983, following an argument with Carl's parents, Harvey started poisoning their food with arsenic. Four days after the initial poisoning, Carl's father, Henry Hoeweler, was dead after suffering a stroke. On the night that he died, Harvey visited him at the hospital and gave him arsenic tainted pudding.

His attempts to kill Carl's mother continued, but were unsuccessful.

In January 1984, Carl asked Harvey to move out of his apartment. Rejected and angry, Harvey tried several times to poison Carl to death, but failed. Although not living together, their relationship continued until May 1986.

In 1984 and early 1985, Harvey was responsible for the deaths of at least four more people outside of the hospital.

A Promotion

All of his effort trying to poison people did not seem to hurt Harvey's job performance and in March 1985 he was promoted to Morgue Supervisor. But by July he was once again out of work after security guards found a gun in his gym bag. He was fined and given the option to resign. The incident was never documented in his employment records.

Final Stop: Cincinnati Drake Memorial Hospital

With a clean work record, Harvey was able to land another job in February 1986, as a nurse's aide at the Cincinnati Drake Memorial Hospital. Harvey was thrilled to be out of the morgue and back with the living with whom he could "play God," and he wasted little time doing just that. From April 1986 until March 1987, Harvey killed 26 patients and tried to kill several more.

John Powell is his last known victim. After his death an autopsy was performed and the smell of cyanide was detected. Three separate tests confirmed that Powell had died of cyanide poisoning.

The Investigation

The Cincinnati police investigation included interviewing family, friends, and hospital staff. Employees were given the option to take voluntary lie detectors tests. Harvey was on the list to be tested, but called in sick on the day he was scheduled.

Harvey soon became the lead suspect in Powell's murder, especially after investigators learned that co-workers called him the "Angel of Death" because he was often present when patients died. It was also noted that patient deaths had more than doubled since Harvey began working at the hospital.

A search of Harvey's apartment turned up enough incriminating evidence to arrest Harvey for aggravated first degree murder of John Powell.

He pled not guilty by reason of insanity and was held on a $200,000 bond.

Plea Bargain

With the investigators now having his diary, Harvey knew it wouldn't take long before the full depths of his crimes were exposed. Also, hospital employees who had always suspected Harvey of killing patients began to talk confidentially to a news reporter investigating the murder. This information was turned over to the police and the investigation widened.

Harvey knew his only chance to avoid the death penalty was to accept a plea arrangement. He agreed to a full confession in exchange for a life sentence.


Beginning on August 11, 1987 and throughout several more days, Harvey confessed to killing over 70 people. After investigating each of his claims he was charged with 25 counts of aggravated murder, to which Harvey pled guilty. He was given four consecutive 20-year sentences. Later, in February, 1988, he confessed to committing three more murders in Cincinnati. In Kentucky Harvey confessed to 12 murders and was sentenced to eight life terms plus 20 years.

Why Did He Do It?

In an interview with CBS, Harvey said he liked the control that comes with playing God, in that you can decide who will live and who will die. As to how he got away with it for so many years, Harvey said that doctors are overworked and often do not see patients after they have been pronounced dead. He also seemed to cast blame on the hospitals for allowing him to continue to treat patients who angered him and to friends who tried to mess up his life. He showed no remorse for his actions.

Donald Harvey is currently incarcerated in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. He is eligible for parole in 2043.