Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Herb Mullin

A Danger to Others

 "If I was allowed to go into the Coast Guard or the Marine Corps, I would not have taken all those peoples' lives." — Herb Mullin

Schizophrenia is a hideous mental illness, which can devastate the life of a promising young adult. Typically, symptoms flare up in the late teens to early twenties, including hearing voices, an intense paranoia of others, and delusional thinking.

After his release from the Mendocino State Hospital in 1969, Herb took a dishwashing job in South Lake Tahoe, but soon quit. He returned to Santa Cruz, where a ranger found him sitting cross-legged in a trance-like state, as if meditating. When the ranger asked him to leave, Mullin continued to stare straight ahead, but slowly reached for a hunting knife by his side. The ranger caught him before he grabbed the knife, and took him to jail, but he was soon released.

Mugshot of Herbert Mullin (POLICE)
Mugshot of Herbert
Mullin (POLICE)

Mullin drifted down to San Luis Obispo, and told his roommate that he had been "receiving messages" which were telling him to do things. After meditating, he "ritualistically" burned the end of his penis with a lit cigarette, and later made an aggressive pass at his male friend, whose uncle was a psychiatric doctor. Mullin was promptly committed to a psychiatric hospital: "As a result of mental disorder, said person is a danger to others, a danger to himself, and gravely disabled."

In 1970 he met an older woman, and flew to Hawaii with her, but within days he was back in the psychiatric ward. He preached yoga, non-violence, and left the premises to look for a job while wearing his hospital gown. When his parents paid for his flight home, he scared them so much with his psychotic rantings that they pulled off the road to call the police.

Herb was released, and returned to Santa Cruz. His sanity continued to deteriorate, and his behavior grew increasingly erratic. He blazed through fads as if trying to secure an identity and peace of mind. He shaved his head, went on a macrobiotic diet, and rapidly lost weight. Later he wore a big black sombrero and faked a Mexican accent, then became a boxer. Although he preached anti-violence, he smashed a hatchet against a fireplace when an Asian woman ignored his suggestion that they have a biracial child together. Mullin swung from counter-culture to ultra conservative — while in court for bizarre behavior on the streets, he demanded that the judge legalize LSD and marijuana, yet he later despised hippies and flower children. After being a conscientious objector, he tried to join the Marines. Herb wasn't just bisexual, as he insisted in court, or biracial, as he pretended to be. He was bi-everything — bipolitical, bispiritual, bicultural.

Herb knew there was something wrong. He obsessed over his life, trying to figure out what went wrong, and who sabotaged his mind. He blamed his father for being too sexually uptight, and later accused him of being a mass murderer who commanded him to kill by telepathy. He blamed the drugs he took for messing up his brain, and targeted the drug dealers. He blamed the hippies for brainwashing him into being a conscientious objector. He tried drug treatment centers, he tried outpatient clinics for the mentally ill, but didn't stick with anything. He later even tried Bible study meetings, but made everyone uneasy when he declared, "Satan gets into people and makes them do things they don't want to."

Critical time

In May 1971, when Herb was 24, he moved to San Francisco, away from the watchful eye of his family. Donald Lunde, a psychiatrist who examined Mullin and later wrote The Die Song, believes that this was a critical period in Herb's psychosis. He lived in decrepit apartments among alcoholics and drug addicts, sinking further into his bizarre belief systems. Mullin walked into the YMCA with a Bible, and soon became a fierce boxer. In his first Golden Gloves tournament, he wouldn't stop assailing his opponent — trainers had to pull him away. He punched a speedbag until his knuckles were covered with blood. If left unattended, he stood still and loudly chattered with himself.

After losing his first match in the ring, Mullin left the boxing ring with the plans to become a priest. He dabbled in art. After punching the floors of his apartment, and getting into screaming matches with God, the apartment manager evicted him. "He left the human race that day," said an artist friend.

In September 1972, Mullin moved in with his parents, determined to make something of himself. But he stopped taking his medication, and he festered in his anger at his father while living under his roof. And to top it all off, a major earthquake was predicted to devastate California in the next few months. Although the eccentric, self-taught scientist who grimly announced the tremblor wasn't taken seriously by most, there was one person who took it as a call to action. Where most people saw a crackpot, Mullin saw a prophet.


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