Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Harvey Murray Glatman: First of the Signature Killers

No Time For Mourning

There was only one person who felt sorry for the man whom the newspapers were calling "The Lonely Hearts Killer". That was his mother, Ophelia. At 69 years old, the aged lady ventured to California to visit her son. Allowed to see him on November 12, she soon emerged from his cell dabbing her cheeks, saddened but acceptant, for she had seen a tragedy coming for decades. When surrounded by the press, she inadvertantly gave the papers probably the most accurate observation of Harvey Glatman to date: "He is not a vicious man he is sick." Journalists devoured that new adaptation and spat out the anecdote in full human interest drama, the sacrificing mother stage front.

That brought hope for attorney Willard Whittinghill, who had been charged to represent Harvey. His strategy became the only viable one open to him to save his client from the gas chamber" to present Harvey as insane. This would mean that the defendant would have to undergo psychiatric examination by the county psychiatrist C. E. Lengyel. Harvey's attitude was careless he wanted to die but Whittinghill convinced him to endure the test. A mistake. What doubt there had been about the soundness of the culprit's mind collapsed under Lengyel's diagnosis.

In summary to the report that the doctor filed on Friday, December 12, it read:

"This individual shows no evidence of a psychosis. He knows right from wrong, the nature and quality of his acts, and he can keep from doing wrong if he so desires."


In the meantime, Don Keller had been preparing for the upcoming San Diego grand jury hearing by accruing a host of witnesses to testify against Harvey in his alleged murders of the two victims slain in San Diego County, Ruth Mercado and Shirley Bridgeford. Lending the most credibility were those relatives of Miss Bridgeford who had gathered at her house the evening Harvey came to pick up his date. They had fingered him and they had testified how she had left that night with him, a healthy young girl and loving mother of two never to be seen alive again.

The grand jury returned two counts of murder in the first degree.

Sgt. Pierce Brooks leads the accused into court
Sgt. Pierce Brooks leads the accused into court

"Harvey Glatman's final day in court began bright and early on Monday, December 15, 1985, in Department 4 of Superior Court," reports Rope author Michael Newton. "The proceeding was not a trial, per se. He had already filed a guilty plea...but California law requires a separate penalty phase in such cases before sentence is passed. The options, simply stated, were death or life imprisonment..."

Presiding was William T. Low, a stickler for the judicial word.

Witnesses for the prosecution were some repeats from the earlier grand jury hearing, but also many new ones, officials and laypersons alike, including Lorraine Vigil, the only survivor of Harvey's designs. Lawmen spoke about their finding of the bones, remnants of the women left abandoned in the desert; they explained how they caught Harvey in the act of trying to drag Vigil into the car to make her victim number four, and they described the nature of the photographs found in Harvey's toolbox.

As a climax, the prosecution then played Harvey Glatman's taped confession, which in the silence of the courtroom sent chills through the assemblage. Several women crossed themselves and wept. Men stared into the void, but their mind's eyes trying to form some of the hell that Harvey painted.

As the session ended, Judge Low asked defense counsel Whittinghill if he had anything to add. Whittinghill answered with a simple, nearly inaudible "No, Your Honor."

Nodding, expecting that reply, the presider sat back in his chair. With the look of disbelief, he turned to the defendant. Said Lowe: "I sat here and listened to those recordings, the manner in which these women were killed...I never heard anything like it and I hope I never hear anything like it again. The torment, the suffering these women must have endured during the night and in the must have been horrible."

He cleared his throat, fought back a lump that had formed there, and resumed.

"At this time I, having found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder, I will impose the death penalty on him. I think that is the only proper judgment that should be pronounced in this particular case...Mr. Glatman...may God have mercy on your soul."