CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Donald Harvey believed he was acting as an angel when he killed terminally ill patients at Drake Hospital in the 1980s. Harvey was a nurse’s aide, and had unlimited access, according to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters. He was ultimately convicted of 37 murders, although his lawyer claimed Harvey confessed to 57.
“My one grandmother used to tell me every hair on your head’s counted, and when it’s time to fall out it’ll fall out. You’re gone. It’s over with,” Harvey once said.
His weapons of choice? Cyanide, arsenic and rat poison, according to a book written by Harvey’s attorney, William Whalen.
“Bottom line was, Donald Harvey liked to kill," Whalen said before he died.
Whalen says Harvey was molested as a child, shunned by children at school, and gay during a time it was not accepted, going through life feeling powerless. Deters, who was an assistant prosecutor during the Harvey case, says Harvey quietly filled up feeding tubes with the deadly chemicals.
“We thought he was just lying,” Deters said.
According to his lawyer's book, Harvey would place a skull beside a burning candle, read a list of names, and look into the flame's flicker, to determine who would die.
“I had to have help from somewhere," Harvey once said.
Before Harvey confessed, the deaths were ruled accidental. Then in 1987, the body of John Powell came to the Hamilton County Coroner’s office. Powell was at Drake Hospital after being in a motorcycle accident. Dr. Lee Lehman did his autopsy.
“What was unusual," Dr. Lehman said, “was then we opened the stomach, and I could smell cyanide.”
Dr. Lehman says he had about 500 autopsies under his belt when Powell came in. He says he had worked with cyanide and its burnt almond-like smell that many could not detect. Dr. Lehman ruled the death a homicide, and the coroner’s office contacted the Cincinnati Police Department.
Harvey would confess to Powell’s murder. But former local TV anchor and reporter Pat Minarcin wondered if Harvey killed others.
“According to the police, Harvey had been in healthcare since the age of 18. He was now 36. That meant he’d spent half his life working in healthcare taking care of patients in hospital settings," Minarcin said. “And for him to have killed one person in 18 years, suddenly, after caring for others for all that time, just didn’t compute with me.”
Minarcin said a short time after Harvey was arrested for Powell’s murder, a call came into the newsroom. Minarcin picked up the phone, and on the other end of the line was a nurse from Drake Hospital.
Minarcin said the nurse told him, “We think there were others, and we need you to do something.”
Minarcin said she went on to say that a lot of patients had died on the ward that she worked on with Harvey. She would not give her name, but gave the names of 7 or 8 patients, according to Minarcin. He said he told her to call him at home if she wanted to talk further.
A short time later, Minarcin said he was at home framing his basement when the phone rang. On the line this time was that nurse and a second nurse. He said they now provided a list of 13 names.
Then one day, Minarcin said he was at work about to go on the air, when one of the nurses called.
“We’re all at my house. There are eight or nine of us here who all work on the ward, who all feel the same way.”
Minarcin said he dropped what he was doing and drove to the house. They and others would soon become members of what was known as “Minarcin’s Army”.
“They were patients and employees who helped me find records and how things might have happened and I began to assemble a profile of Harvey," Minarcin said.
One of those patients was a paraplegic who Minarcin said met him in the frozen foods section of a Kroger not far from Drake.
“There in front of the frozen vegetables, I reach under this guy’s legs and pull out a thick folder that was full of publicly available documents," Minarcin said.
Once Minarcin was able to confirm Harvey’s connection to the patients who died on Harvey’s ward at Drake, he says he went to Harvey’s attorney.
Minarcin recalled William Whalen say, “I don’t believe it. He hasn’t said anything about it. I’ve met with him only a few times. Let me get back to you.”
Minarcin said Whalen asked Harvey about the allegations.
“I need to ask you flat out”, Whalen said. “Have you killed anyone else?”
Harvey said “Yes”.
In an amazing turn of events, Whalen, a defense attorney, called Minarcin back and told Minarcin to keep digging.
Eventually Deters says he spent 15 hours in a room with Harvey and says Harvey confessed to dozens of murders at Drake Hospital, Cincinnati’s VA Medical Hospital, and the old Marymount Hospital in Kentucky.
“I mean he damn near killed his entire apartment building," Deters said. “He killed the neighbor’s dog. He killed, I mean he just liked killing.”
Deters remembers what a forensic psychiatrist who worked on the Ted Bundy case told him during that time.
“This guy’s gotta be crazy," Deters said. “And he goes, ‘He ain’t crazy. Ok. He is not. He likes to kill people.'"
Minarcin interviewed Harvey after he was in prison.
“Oh I was gonna kill you," Minarcin recalled Harvey saying to him.
Minarcin responded, “What were you going to do? Poison me?”
“Oh no. I had a special plan for you," Harvey said. “I was going to take you out in the desert, and drive stakes into the ground. And tie you to the stakes on top of an ant hill. And pour honey on you. And watch as the ants ate you alive.”
Donald Harvey was killed by a fellow inmate in a Toledo prison in March of 2017. The inmate said he figured it would give some closure and peace of mind to the families of Harvey’s victims.
In 2001, the Associated Press wrote an article listing the worst serial killers in the United States. Donald Harvey was ranked number one.