Shadow Boxing

A blog that probes the mind's dark secrets

Macabre Murder Spree

A delusional killer thinks a few must die to save many.

I recently participated in an episode of “Twisted” for Investigation Discovery that features one of the most bizarre motives for multiple murder I’ve ever heard. I’ve included this person in several books. Some call him a spree killer, others a serial killer. It doesn’t really matter. He was on a deadly mission, albeit for (in his mind) the greater good.

In late 1972 and early ‘73, across a terrifying period of four months, a series of murders occurred around Santa Cruz. The police finally stopped the killer, who turned out to be Herbert Mullin, 25. Although he had been institutionalized and evaluated as a danger to others, he’d nevertheless become an outpatient, which allowed him to roam freely. (Hey, it was the seventies.)

He’d stopped taking his antipsychotic medication and claimed that he'd “heard” a voice that urged him to kill. In addition, he linked his birthday—April 18—to the date of the 1908 San Francisco earthquake and the 1955 death of Albert Einstein. He’d studied earthquakes vs. births and deaths from around the world and believed that throughout history human beings had protected themselves from these cataclysms by means of sacrifice, i.e., murder: “A minor natural disaster avoids a major natural disaster….Therefore we will always murder.”

His theory grew deadly after he heard a psychic predict a massive earthquake for January 4, 1973. Mullin absorbed this imminent forecast into his worsening delusions. It was his mission, he believed, to save the people of California from a super earthquake that would send the entire state into the ocean.

Thus, Mullin decided he must “sing the die song,” which he believed would persuade thirteen people to either kill themselves or allow themselves to become human sacrifices (a willingness they would convey to him telepathically).

After Mullin's arrest, psychiatrist Donald Lunde dug up Mullin’s records and devoted a chapter to him in his groundbreaking book, Murder and Madness. Lunde wrote that Mullin had been a fairly normal child, raised Catholic. There was no lack of love in the two-parent home. They had little money, but they lived in a good neighborhood. Mullin did well in school and was fairly social. By his junior year in high school, the family had moved to Santa Cruz, where Mullin found a girlfriend and developed a strong friendship with a boy named Dean.

During the summer of 1965, just after high school graduation, Mullin’s best friend was killed in a car accident. Afterward, Mullin withdrew. At some point he developed delusions that his parents were retarding his sexual development and were telepathically communicating to others to stay away from him.

He also began dabbling with drugs, starting with marijuana. In college, he changed his interests and career goals every few months. He became engaged, but his moodiness and strange statements disturbed his fiancée. She broke up with him.

In 1969, Mullin was admitted to a mental hospital, but was released after six weeks. He then began to wander, hearing command hallucinations. Calling himself a “human sacrifice,” he began an excessive letter-writing campaign, endured several more brief hospitalizations, and became increasingly more aggressive. He was consistently diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and given medication, but he took it sporadically. No one was supervising him.

Mullin heard a command hallucination in his father’s voice, “Herb, I want you to kill me somebody,” and became obsessed with charts about birth and death rates. The earthquake prediction made things worse, because it focused his delusions and gave him a specific goal. 

On October 13, 1972, he began his murder spree by clubbing a man with a baseball bat. He mutilated the next victim, a female hitchhiker, and then entered a confessional on All Soul’s Day and stabbed a priest.

Each person who died, he convinced himself, protected millions of others. He purchased a handgun and tried to enlist in the military, as a way to kill "legitimately." Failing this, he went in search of the man who’d first given him marijuana, to kill him. On that day, he murdered five people, including a mother and her two children, and not long after, he massacred four teenagers camping illegally in a state park. He shot one more man, who was just working in his yard, before the police caught up to him on February 13, 1973.

Strangely enough, he’d managed to kill exactly thirteen people, his goal. He started on the 13th (a Friday) and ended on the 13th. 

All mental health personnel involved in Mullin’s trial agreed that he was seriously mentally ill. Yet, because he was aware that murder was illegal, he was considered sane. He was therefore convicted.

I'm glad that a production company has finally made a documentary about Mullin, because his story is truly unique.

 

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., an expert on murder and other shadow themes, teaches forensic psychology and has published 46 books.

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