Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Herb Mullin

The Die Song Explained

 "We human beings, through the history of the world, have protected our continent from cataclysms by murder. In other words, a minor natural disaster avoids a major natural disaster." — Herb Mullin

Herb Mullin's trial began July 30, 1973, with the now predictable disruptions and objections by the defendant. The formal plea had been entered as "not guilty, and not guilty by reason of insanity." On the second day, the shackled Mullin interrupted the proceedings by hobbling over to the judge and handing him a "spacey" note, entitled "Observations of an Observer from a Point on the San Francisco Peninsula," a two-page rant claiming that someone had been going through his personal notebook.

"Stark raving mad"

"Make no mistake. Mr. Mullin hears voices, and the voices told him to kill," said defense attorney James. "These were not acts of murder, but acts of sacrifice." Jackson focused on Mullin's bizarre behavior before the murder spree. Mullin thought he was a Mexican laborer, columnist Herb Caen, and an eastern philosopher. Jackson then dramatically introduced his client's "Kill-joy sadism" conspiracy theory. Everyone in Mullin's life was out to destroy his chances for happiness, both in this life and the next. He had to kill them.

Herbert Mullin takes the stand. Courtroom sketch by Don Juhlin
Herbert Mullin takes the
stand. Courtroom sketch by
Don Juhlin

The courtroom fixated their attention on the scowling, dark-haired Mullin, as he rocked back and forth slowly in his chair. He showed little emotion through the course of the trial, staring straight ahead at the wall when witnesses testified. Mullin was annoyed that his defense was intent on proving insanity — he couldn't wait to get on the stand himself, and tell them the truth of why he killed.

The prosecution was brief. Bob Francis testified on Mullin's voracious consumption of LSD. Weirdly, Mullin nodded his head in agreement as Francis talked, as if it proved the necessity to kill Gianera. Joan Gianera's mother recalled finding the young married couple shot to death in the bathroom. Ballistics experts and medical examiners portrayed for the jury the extent of Mullin's violent overkill, while Mullin hunched over, taking extensive notes.

The "Die Song"

On August 4, psychiatrist Donald Lunde testified on behalf of the defense to Mullin's clinical diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, and played a cassette where Mullin described his philosophy:

You see, the thing is, people get together, say, in the White House. People like to sing the die song, you know, people like to sing the die song. If I am president of my class when I graduate from high school, I can tell two, possibly three young male Homo sapiens to die. I can sing that song to them and they'll have to kill themselves or be killed — an automobile accident, a knifing, a gunshot wound. You ask me why this is? And I say, well, they have to do that in order to protect the ground from an earthquake, because all of the other people in the community had been dying all year long, and my class, we have to chip in so to speak to the darkness, we have to die also. And people would rather sing the die song than murder.

I believe man has believed in reincarnation for maybe, consciously, verbally, for ten thousand years. And so they instituted this law . . . they used to do it back then, ten thousand years ago. . . . Well, they let a guy go kill crazy, you know, he'd go kill crazy maybe twenty or thirty people. Then they'd lynch him, you know, or they'd have another kill crazy person kill him. Because they don't want him to get too powerful in the next life, you know. . .

"He told me," Lunde later wrote in his book The Die Song, "that if I would prepare a chronology of the world's wars and famines and compare it with a list of major earthquakes throughout history, I would see that when the death rate goes up, the number of earthquakes goes down."

The Jonah theory

Mullin believed that the duty of sacrificing yourself or others (by murder) for the sake of the community was best demonstrated by his interpretation of Jonah. The thirteenth man must be a scapegoat and sacrifice himself for the others:

I mean . . . you read in the Bible about Jonah — there was twelve men in the boat — Jonah was in the boat, you know, it was just like Jesus you know, and Jonah stood up and said, 'God darn! If somebody doesn't die, you know all thirteen of us are going to die. And he jumped overboard, you know, and he was drowned, you know. And the sea . . . about in a half hour or so, it calmed down.

When Dr. Lunde said that Jonah was pushed, and didn't die after all because he was spit up by the whale, Mullin responded defensively, "I'm asking you to swallow this Jonah story and believe that a minor natural disaster will prevent a major natural disaster."


Did Mullin come up with the "killing to stop earthquakes" theory before or after he was caught? Dr. Donald Lunde said that Mullin devised this theory years earlier, citing Mullin's letters written to the UN and other organizations, requesting statistics on yearly death tolls and natural disasters. Among his personal notes were disjointed theories on the phenomenon. Because Mullin was born on April 18th, the anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, he believed he had a privileged position among his generation to save it from future earthquakes. Einstein died on April 18th, which proved (to Mullin) that Einstein sacrificed himself so that Mullin would not have to be killed in Vietnam, but could save the coast from earthquakes instead. "It's grandiose," said Dr. Lunde.

Repressed sexuality

Another conspiracy, Mullin argued, was his family's attempt to hide "the healthiness of bisexuality" from him. He said that for most, homosexual behavior begins around the age of eight. But his parents maliciously hid this from him. Mullin speculated that everyone in his family practiced homosexuality. He wrote that his entire family, including his aunt and uncle, Bernice and Enos, were in on the plot to retard his sexuality:

When I was five years old I feel intuitively that Bernice and Enos Fouratt talked my parents into ignoring me. My parents actually did not tell me the necessary facts of life, sex and death rate, social conversation techniques, etc. Bernice and Enos did not have any children.

Why did Bernice and Enos convince my parents that I should be shunned? My guess is that my cousins and sister were having orgasms at age six. When I was five Bernice and Enos wanted to stop my mental and physical growth. They did not want me to mature.


. . . I think they were jealous and envious of the fun I and my parents were going to have when I started to grow up normal. I think they believe in reincarnation and that by confusing and retarding me they might improve themselves in the next life.

Lunde testified about details of Mullin's homosexuality, which at one point Mullin interrupted, in attorney-like fashion, and said, "I'll stipulate that I'm bisexual."


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