Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Herb Mullin

Normal Childhood, Abnormal Adult

 "I believe that my father has been unequally blamed for my failures. But surely, if he had given me the six-year old homosexual "blow job" oral stimulation that I was entitled to, like most other people get, I would never had taken LSD without his permission." — Herbert Mullin after his arrest

Herbert Mullin was born April 18th, 1947, a date which held great significance for him later. April 18th was the anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. It was also the anniversary of Albert Einstein's death. Both of these events would, in Herb's twisted mind, give him a cosmic duty to kill.

As a child, Herbert Mullin was described as bright and gentle-natured. When Herb was five, the Mullins moved from a small farming community to San Francisco, where his father, Martin William Mullin, worked as a furniture salesman. Herb and his older sister attended parochial school. By all accounts, the Mullins were a well-adjusted, educated family. Bill Mullin had been a military hero in WWII, and he was considered stern, but never abusive. He was proud of his service, and relayed war stories to his son, and even taught him how to use a gun. Sometimes the elder Mullin would playfully box with his young son in the kitchen before dinner — Herb would later interpret these matches as a deadly challenge by his sadistic father.

According to the adult Herb, his entire childhood was destroyed by a conspiracy led by his parents. He saw his parents as "killjoy reincarnationalists," who "believe that by spoiling the enjoyment of others they improve their birth-position in the next life." Herb later testified that he believed his father threatened to kill anyone who would play with Herb, and even went door to door asking that everyone ignore his son. Even the Communion services were diabolical: "When I was in the second grade they told me that Jesus Christ, the person, actually lives in the Holy Eucharist. . . . It is a lie, designed to induce naiveté and gullibility in young children. Thereby making them susceptible to receive and carry out telepathic subconscious suicide orders."

But this is schizophrenic hindsight. At the time, Herb seemed happy. When he was halfway through high school, the Mullins moved to Felton, a small town among the majestic Redwoods in Santa Cruz county. Despite being uprooted at a vulnerable age, Herb made many friends in high school and was envied as one of the "popular" crowd. He played varsity football, had a steady girlfriend, and was voted "most likely to succeed." (A macabre prophecy, considering that Herb would become Santa Cruz county's most prolific serial killer.) After graduating in 1965, Herb went to Cabrillo College and studied engineering. He considered joining the army. Everything was going great. But then paranoid schizophrenia changed all that.

The incident that stands out as the "trigger" to Herb's deteriorating sanity was the tragic death of his best friend, Dean Richardson, who was killed in a car accident the summer after high school graduation. Herb was devastated, and fell into a state of macabre despair, building "shrines" in his room to Dean, where he spent hours alone. He wondered if Dean's death was some sort of cosmic sacrifice, and became obsessed with the idea of reincarnation. Although raised as a Catholic, Herb began to fervently study Eastern religions, looking for answers — answers to the tragedy of a lost friend, and answers to the voices that were suddenly haunting his thoughts. He changed his major from Engineering to Philosophy at the state college he attended, but dropped out after a few weeks.

In the spring of 1966 he ran into a friend of Dean's at the beach named Jim Gianera. Gianera gave him some pot, and told him about the anti-war movement. Mullin later said that "Gianera spearheaded a movement to befuddle and confuse me," and that the pot Gianera gave him damaged his brain. "If Gianera had given me some Benzedrine instead, I would have become an artist."

He alienated his longtime girlfriend with his sudden involvement in hallucinogenic drugs. He talked about an impending California earthquake, and moving to Canada to avoid it. His weird glares and bizarre ramblings gave her the creeps. And he was becoming violent. When he told her in 1968 that he might be gay, the relationship was over.

On the surface, Herb's rebellious activities were typical of the times. He experimented with drugs and horrified his military-bred father by declaring himself a Consciousness Objector to the Vietnam war. He announced that he was going to India to study yoga. But his behavior escalated from weird to alarming. One night in 1969, while visiting his sister, he mimicked his brother-in-law's every gesture and word. (This is called echolalia and echopraxia, symptomatic of schizophrenia.) His sister later described it: "When my husband would eat, Herb would eat. Whatever my husband would do, Herb would do. And that went on for four hours. Then he just sat and stared at us." The next day his family took him to a mental hospital, where he voluntarily committed himself, but he was soon out on his own. Herb later asked his sister to have sex with him, and when she declined, he asked if his brother-in-law would sleep with him.

The whole family grimly worried for his safety, as well as their own.

Because he had been so normal as a child, the Mullins thought Herb's suddenly scary behavior was drug-induced. After all, it was Santa Cruz in the late 1960's — marijuana farms and acid labs flourished in the nooks of the Loma Prieta mountains. Counter-culture blossomed in the laid-back beach town, where hippies lived off the land, women hitchhiked, and drugs were easily accessible. Even fifth graders were selling pills at school, according to the local papers.

It wasn't a stretch to think Herb was on drugs — "Legalize Acid" was tattooed on his belly. Although he dabbled in acid and pot use, he did not indulge more than his peers — but mixing recreational drugs with mental illness is a concoction for psychosis.


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