Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Herb Mullin

Blaming Reagan

 "I hold the state executive and the state legislative officers as responsible for these ten lives as I do the defendant himself." — K. Springer, jury foreman

After the trial, the jury foreman wrote that California Governor Ronald Reagan was "as responsible" as Mullin for the deaths of thirteen people. Reagan's administration had been systematically closing down California's mental hospitals, with the plan to "deactivate" all of them in a few years.

"None of these deaths need ever have happened," he declared in an open letter to Reagan. Although the jury had believed that Mullin could tell the difference between right and wrong (and therefore sane, according to legal standards,) they were also convinced that Mullin should have been institutionalized after being repeatedly diagnosed as dangerous. "Five times prior to young Mr. Mullin's arrest, he was entered into mental hospitals. And five times his illness was diagnosed. At least twice, it was determined his illness could cause danger to lives of human beings. Yet, in January and February of this year he was free to take the lives of Santa Cruz residents." Reagan responded that it was a "psychiatric mistake" and that the state was not "dumping out on the street" the previously hospitalized mentally ill.

Mullin had been committed to five different mental hospitals, but always released despite the lack of his prognosis. Alarmed by his deteriorating sanity, his parents desperately tried to find a hospital for long term care, but mental hospitals were rapidly closing. It would have cost over $100 a day to keep Mullin in a private hospital, which was far beyond a postal worker's wages in the late sixties. Outpatient clinics were ineffective for someone like Herb Mullin. Although he received prescriptions and sporadically attended group therapy, without supervision he was incapable of taking his medication regularly. Even in a hospital setting, when he was closely monitored, he was still aggressive and violent. He was dangerous and should have been kept off the streets.

Within a year after the Mullin trial, California legislators passed a bill to prohibit the closure of any other mental hospitals.

Herb Mullin did not kill because he was schizophrenic. But for him, his bizarre paranoia and twisted self-importance justified his murders. After all, he was saving California from earthquakes. His life mission was to be his generation's scapegoat. But it was the others who would have to sacrifice their lives.

According to Dr. Donald Lunde, the mentally ill are actually less likely to murder than the general population. Those who argue that anti-social personality disorder, a common characteristic among killers, is a form of mental illness, will also concede that these people are not hospitalized for their condition, and are able to function in the world. The disorder is not diagnosed until the person is incarcerated for violent activities. Even after the diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder, there is little that can be done to treat the person. Incarceration is the only means of protecting others from sociopaths who have killed.

Paranoid schizophrenia, however, is a treatable disease, but in severe cases the patient must be closely monitored in a hospital-like setting. Medication helps, but paranoid schizophrenics can easily stray from treatment if left on their own. Unlike anti-social personality disorder, paranoid schizophrenia is usually diagnosed before violence occurs. Dr. Lunde, who examined John Linley Frazier, Herb Mullin, and Edmund Kemper, has said that "among the small proportion of murderers who are mentally ill, the single most common disorder is paranoid schizophrenia." (He did not find Kemper to be schizophrenic.)

Mullin's propensity toward violence was grimly evident to many, but there was nothing that could be done to keep him institutionalized. If his parents had the funds, they would have kept him in a hospital. If the hospitals who had held Mullin had the authority, they would have kept him in treatment.


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