Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Harvey Murray Glatman: First of the Signature Killers

Weird, Weird Kid

It wasn't long after Ophelia gave birth to her son Harvey Murray Glatman in 1927 that she began to notice that his popcorn bag might contain a few too many unpopped kernels. Her husband Albert, a milliner who spent most of his time running his shop in the heart of the Bronx's garment district, was a little slower to catch on, but he too began to notice something strange as the infant became a toddler and the toddler lengthened into a skinny sulking, indefinable boy. Mother Ophelia was sensitive to the child's mood swings and odd ways, but Albert, a believer in discipline as a fundamental to anything, took to spankings and assorted mild punishments as a means to calm his son's queer deportment.

At first, Ophelia couldn't put her finger on what bothered her about baby Harvey he just [acted] strangely; there was nothing definite except that he giggled when there was nothing to giggle about and cry over nothing. He showed little interest in anything, his attention span was zero, and he often wandered away in reverie. As he grew, he avoided company including would-be friends.

The parents' first indication that their kid definitely wasn't right came when he was four years old. Ophelia chanced upon Harvey in his room committing a crude form of sado-masochism. According to Ophelia at his court trial in 1958, Harvey had "tied a string around his penis, placed the loose end in a drawer, and then leaned back against the string." The parents decided to overlook the act as a quirk of an inquisitive, exploring child. If they reacted at all, it was with mild disapproval and moralizing, like the time his father caught him masturbating and warned him that masturbation caused acne. They had no idea that the string represented a neurosis of both punishment and self-chastisement that would grow to dangerous proportions.

A rope would replace the string and the rope would be his fixation. Says biographer Newton, "The rope fetish would dog Glatman throughout his life and ultimately land him on Death Row."

Little Harvey's problems were kept indoors for years. To the outside world, neighbors thought him merely shy and studious. To schoolteachers (he began his schooling in 1933), he was a well-behaved, quiet, very good student. In fact, he excelled in many subjects.

Of friends, there were few, and these consisted of a small group of lunchtime playground buddies who knew him by name and shared a few moments of toss-the-ball. He was frightened of girls and when in their company grew wobbly-kneed and embarrassed. It didn't help that a few of them, and some boys too, ridiculed his overdeveloped ears and his buckteeth. Behind his back, and often to his face, they called him Chipmunk or Weasel.

He never joined the others for after-school games. He ran home and played his own. And it was sexual. And it involved a rope. Harvey's favorite pastime was tying a rope around his neck, looping the free end over a pipe or rafter, and yanking the rope with one hand while masturbating with the other; the strange feeling gave him a rush unlike anything else.

As Michael Newton explains in his book, Rope: "Harvey's sex game variously known as autoerotic asphyxia, asphyxiaphilia, or hypoxyphilipa is not the same thing as masochism (and involves) self-induced strangulation or suffocation during masturbation...'Gasping' appears to be an ancient practice...Asphyxiation itself creates excitement and eventually euphoria, even without genital stimulation, due to the adrenaline produced when the human body perceives a life-threatening situation."

How long Harvey had played the game isn't known; his parents discovered the bad habit around 1938 when their son was eleven. The family had recently left New York and moved to Denver, Colorado, to escape the teeming, dirty urbania of the Bronx. They had been happy with Harvey's school grades there and the fact that he seemed to adjust well to his new school, Sherman Elementary, and neighborhood. But, then they came home one night after an evening's shopping to find the boy's neck swollen and rope-burned; Harvey confessed what he had been doing. Naked girlie pictures hidden under his bed and masturbation were one thing, but this alarmed them. When they sought consultation with a doctor, however, even the professional wrote off the erratic playtime as growing pains.

Still, life teetered back to normal in the Glatman household, which really meant Harvey took more caution from that point on not to get caught by Ophelia and Albert. He continued to attend school regularly in school, he was an achiever and entered junior high in 1939. As a teen, his adolescent fear of the female sex hadn't dissipated; a bad case of acne didn't help his confidence. He stammered in the presence of anything with pigtails and a higher voice, turned red, felt inadequate. Yet, they were magnetic, girls were. He longed to touch them. And the rope, his beloved tool, helped him achieve this fantasy.

While being promoted at school, he also raised the level of his peculiar thrills after hours. Leaving the now-tiresome solitude of a locked bathroom and bedroom at home, he bought a new excitement of breaking and entering private residences. From most of these, he would steal something, anything, just for kicks. One of his prized plunders was a .26 caliber handgun uncovered from someone's dining room bureau.

Not all his break-ins were random. Sometimes he was more particular.

He would spot a pretty woman on Denver's streets and follow her home. Once assured of her address, he would climb through a window or up a set of back stairs into her abode. Once inside, he forced her to her bedroom where he secured her hands with a length of cord he carried in his jacket everywhere he went. He also muzzled her mouth with a gag cloth. The gun brought the advantage, the cloth silenced her yelps, but the rope, he discovered, was the key to a new sensation. It pinned back the woman's flailing arms, allowing him the liberty to run his fingers across a soft, curving body without interruption. To explore new mysteries and reach new peaks. The lady was at his mercy as he had been at the mercy of all those girls who had called him laughable names on the playground.

Tying victims to a bed or a chair, he unbuttoned their blouses, loosened their skirts, and fondled their flesh and, simultaneously, his own. Sometimes he made them lie down beside him and pretended that they enjoyed it as much as he did. He would not fully undress them, nor rape them for the libido was fully satisfied just to crack the moral bell jar. But, best of all for the inadequate Harvey Glatman, the more he touched them the more comfortable he became in their presence. After each molestation, he felt himself more like the man he wanted to be and not like the loser in those newspaper ads promoting vitamins, the guy who gets sand kicked in his face by some muscleman.

He practiced this ritual in spurts throughout high school. Noticing that he drifted home from school late on occasion, his parents believed him when he explained he had taken up some scholastic extracurricular activities.

On May 18, 1945, he grew careless. Police caught him in the act of breaking into the Vrain Street apartment window of Elma Hamum. In his pockets they found a length of rope and a .25 caliber pistol. Under interrogation that evening he confessed to a number of burglaries, but conveniently left out those that had involved forced sex.

He hadn't learned his lesson. Less than a month later, while awaiting trial for the burglary offense, he abducted well-built Norene Laurel from her neighborhood and, after binding her, drove her out of town to Sunshine Canyon. There, he repeated his routine performance of show and touch no rape before returning her to Denver well before dawn.

She went straight to the police station where, from a book of mug shots, she identified him. He was re-arrested and this time, no bail pending. Held behind bars until his trial in November, he was at that time sentenced to a year in Colorado State Prison.

He was 17 years old.


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