Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Herb Mullin

Murder Prevents Earthquakes

 "Make no mistake, Mr. Mullin hears voices, and the voices told him to kill. The acts were not acts of murder — but acts of sacrifice." — James Jackson, Mullin's attorney

The male transient

On a wet October morning, Friday the thirteenth, Herbert Mullin found a baseball bat in the garage, and went for a drive. Earlier in the week, he claimed that his father had been sending him telepathic messages to kill: "If I didn't kill, it would bring shame to the family by showing cowardice," he said. "It was kill or get out."

As he drove along the windy road that followed the river through the redwoods, Mullin spotted a transient walking alone. After he passed him, he pulled over, popped the hood of his '58 Chevy station wagon, and pretended to have car trouble. When the homeless man, Lawrence White, stopped to take a look at the engine, Mullin bashed his head with the baseball bat. He then pushed the lifeless body of the would-be good Samaritan down the side of the road, and drove off. "Then," Mullin said, "the ball was rolling."

White was an easy target, and wasn't missed. Between stints in the drunk tank, the 55-year-old transient slept under bridges and in the woods where he wouldn't be hassled. He was a "blank," barely mentioned in the papers when his battered body was discovered days later. No family came to his funeral, and no one rushed out to find his killer.

Mullin later claimed that White looked like Jonah from the Bible, and sent him telepathic messages: "Hey, man, pick me up and throw me over the boat. Kill me so that others will be saved."

The female hitchhiker

As a means of understanding serial killers, renowned FBI investigator Jon Douglas used this figure of speech: "If you want to understand the artist, look at his work." Mullin took the notion a step further — if you want to understand the artist, recreate his work. After reading Irving Stone's biography on Michelangelo, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Mullin decided that, as a serious artist, he should do what the famous Renaissance sculptor did — dissect a body. "Michelangelo spent hours and hours secretly dissecting bodies so he could find out about the form of the human body for his painting and sculpture and stuff. That's why his works are so much better than anyone else's. It gave him insight others didn't have." His mom had given him the Michelangelo book, hoping that Herb would be inspired to use art as an emotional outlet. What it inspired was another murder, and the most grisly one in Mullin's career. (In a rare twist of maternal wrath, Herb blamed his mother for this killing, believing that she gave him the book as a "hint" to dissect someone. "I think she was trying to tell me what to do, so I could have this insight too.")

Mary Guilfoyle was running late for a job interview, so she did what many young women in Santa Cruz did, despite the warnings — she hitched a ride. Although she was fortunate that Edmund Kemper wasn't making the rounds that day on this main thoroughfare near Cabrillo Community College (just a few blocks from his duplex home), she underestimated the driver of the '58 Chevy station wagon that pulled up alongside her. No doubt that the twenty-four year old Guilfoyle had heard the cautionary tales about women, last seen hitchhiking, who were missing. Or raped. Or found decapitated. But the slight, doe-eyed young man behind the wheel didn't look like a lecherous brute. He was handsome, soft-spoken and not much bigger than her.

With Guilfoyle relaxed in the car, Mullin pulled off onto a quiet side street, yanked out a hunting knife, and stabbed her in the chest and back. Guilfoyle died instantly. But she would not be found for months.

After dragging her body into a deserted area off the hillside road, Mullin opened Guilfoyle up and unraveled her organs. Mullin thought he could see inside people's heads — but now he wanted to see inside their bodies. Whatever it was he saw, it was enough to dissuade him from recommitting this grotesque and morbid autopsy again. If voices were commanding him to kill, he was overextending into fetishistic savagery.

The Catholic Priest

On November 2, All Souls Day, one of the holiest of Catholic celebrations, Mullin stumbled into a church in Los Gatos, just over the hills from Santa Cruz. He had been drinking, and decided to go to St. Mary's Catholic Church "to give me strength to never attempt to kill again." Within moments he was brutally stabbing a priest to death in his confessional booth with his hunting knife. (He later claimed he carried the knife into the church to "protect" himself.)

Father Henri Tomei, victim
Father Henri Tomei,

Mullin thought the church was empty, but when he heard Father Henri Tomei in one of the booths, he decided, "Well, if you (the priest) are in here, I guess I should kill you." He tried to force the confessional door open. Tomei, hearing the commotion, opened the door to see what was going on. Mullin attacked Tomei with a hunting knife, stabbing him in the heart as he struggled, trapped in the confines of his narrow confessional. A parishioner walked in and, seeing the struggle, screamed and ran out. She got a glimpse of a young man dressed in black — struggling with the priest, it must have been a blur of black and blood.

The community was outraged by the senseless murder of 65-year-old Tomei, a hero in the French Resistance movement World War II. Some worried that it was the work of a Satanic cult. Civic leaders attended his funeral, and so did the police, hoping to catch a glimpse of the man dressed in black. But Mullin did not return. He did, however, leave fingerprints at the crime scene.

That Mullin's third victim would be a Catholic priest fits with his fleeting malice toward organized religion. Religion was fine with Mullin, as long as it was his own bizarre concoction. In 1970 he disrupted a Sunday morning service in a Catholic church, telling the startled congregation that "what you are doing is wrong." Mullin then offered his own philosophy as an alternative, but was physically tossed out before he could harvest any converts. He tried to persuade his fellow mental patients at a psychiatric ward in San Luis Obispo to help him change "the spiritual nature of the world." He got into yelling matches with God, terrifying his roommate in San Francisco. Yet Mullin's rebellion against religion often flipped into a full embrace of Catholicism. He carried a Bible around, and talked about becoming a priest. His mother was shocked by his murder of a Catholic priest. "He'd been a deeply religious child, you know, altar boy in the Catholic Religion," she said.

Sanctified Killing

By killing Father Tomei, Mullin seems to have struck close to the source of his anger — his own stern, Roman Catholic father. Father Tomei's murder agitated him more than any of his victims, according to psychiatrist Donald Lunde. In his typical pattern of "kill and make up," Mullin now wanted to appease his father, and tried to follow in his footsteps by joining the armed forces. The military seemed like the ideal solution — Mullin could indulge his violent urges with the blessings of the state.

In November, he applied to join the Coast Guard. When he was denied in December after failing the psychological exam, he lapsed into his paranoia that it was all a conspiracy against him. The hippies and war resistors were to blame — they brainwashed him by giving him drugs and talked him into being a Conscientious Objector. Now the voices were back, urging a sacrifice. And this time he was going after the people who ruined his life. "The peace advocates and flower children had played tricks on my mind, and I had to reap vengeance," he told Dr. Lunde.

He targeted a long time friend and fellow drug user, John Hooper, and brought a hunting knife to his house. But there were nine other people there. Mullin realized it was time to upgrade his killing method, and bought a gun. At the gun shop he gave his occupation as a "sketch artist," lying about his stints in the psychiatric wards.

But for some reason, Mullin decide to hold off on killing the flower children. Instead, he applied to the Marine Corps. The recruiting sergeant was reluctant, but after Mullin's badgering he recommended him for service. He wrote in his official report: "Herbert William Mullin is an intelligent and highly motivated young man, with an ultrazealous eagerness to enlist in the USMC . . . Because of Herb's earnest desire to improve his lot and climb above his peers, as it were, I submit that Herbert William Mullin can, and most likely will, be a benefit to whatever unit he is assigned and a credit to his corps." Mullin was tremendously excited that his application had been accepted — he now had a purposeful mission.

On January 15, 1973, Mullin passed both the physical and psychiatric exams for the Marines, but when he stubbornly refused to sign a document acknowledging his arrest record, he was dismissed. He was devastated, bitterly denouncing his parents for their failures in raising him. But they had enough of Herb's rantings, and told him it was time to move out. On January 19, Mullin found a shabby apartment near the beach, where he sat alone, his resentments festering, and the kill-voices filling his brain.

He decided to kill the "most important peace advocate," Jim Gianera, his high school buddy.


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