Former Clay County, KY High Sheriff Col. T.C. Sizemore recalls his experiences with--America's Number One Mass Murderer
It was a story that shook the nation, a holocaust in miniature, a human tragedy of horrific proportions that burst upon an unsuspecting public, leaving all of us uncomprehending and chilled to the cores of our beings!--Photos provided by Col. T.C. Sizemore
Even as our senses recoiled from the initial revelations, we would ultimately become convinced by the rapidly expanding versions of events that Donald Harvey, a native Kentuckian, had killed as many as 65 patients in hospitals in Kentucky and Ohio. Dubbed "The Angel of Death," Harvey would become recognized as America's No. 1 serial killer.
A PLAGUE OF HUNGRY LOCUST
At the epicenter of these cataclysmic events was Booneville, a small town of some 500 souls, in Owsley County, Kentucky, where Donald Harvey was reared. Almost immediately, Booneville became transformed into a media circus. Newsmen desended on the town like a plague of locusts, scouring the region for every scrap of idle gossip,desperate to put new spins on a story that was spinning out of control. In unrelenting hordes they came--obessed, insensitive, disrupting the cadence of life in that tiny, rural comminity.
Looking back on those dark days, I remain susceptible to aftershocks of apprehension and disbelief. I had come to know the Harvey family very well during the 12 years that I owned and operated a weekly newspaper in Booneville. Donald, in fact had worked for me. At 14 years of age, Donald had begun writing the Island Creek News, Donald was a model youth. He often came down and helped us unload tons of clothing coming from the North, assisting in the distribution of the clothing to needy persons and familys in Owsley and Lee Counties. From time to time, Donald had taken care of my son, Tim, age 4, while we were away getting the paper printed.
Indeed, both Donald and his parents were often in our home. Ray and Goldie Harvey, Donald's parents, were fine decent people--both of them well-liked and well-respected throughout Owsley County. A hard worker, Ray worked for Beattyville Wholesale until his death, and was an officer in our local VFW post. Generous and personable, the Harveys often provided us with vegetables raised in their garden. At age 16, Donald Harvey expressed an interest in nursing, and asked me to drive him over to the Pineville Community Hospital, so that he could apply for a job as a nurse's aide. I prevailed upon my good friend, the late Dr. Charles B. Stacy, MD, then head of the Pineville Community Hospital, to intercede on Donald's behalf. Dr. Stacy however, encountered an insurmountable roadblock--Donald lacked a high school education. I learned from school authorities that Donald had made good grades, but that he had never graduated. Although Donald had completed a correspondence course from the American School of Correspondence, this apparently failed to meet the hospital's requirements, and Donald was turned away. But, Donald would not be disuaded from his dream of getting into nursing...
A STRANGER BY THE SAME NAME
Upon reading about the horrid crimes attributed to Donald Harvey, I couldn't bring myself to accept the allegations. Vainly, I reasoned that there had been a mistake, that some stranger by the same name had committed those heinous crimes. But rumor, shock and disbelief became distilled into certainty--when Donald Harvey confessed. Still, I continued to be haunted by this case; I needed to make some sense of those senseless slayings. I wanted to understand how a bright, sensitive, well-reared youth like Donald, could make such a wreck of his life and the lives of so many others. I gained Donald's address at the state penitentiary in Lebanon, Ohio.
MOST PROFICIENT, COLD-HEARTED KILLER
Donald and I exchanged a number of letters, and the contents of Donald's letters were sometimes quite disturbing. He suggested that I obtain a copy of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, a paper that branded him one of the most proficient, cold-hearted killers in American history. Often, too, Donald would boast about those killings, telling me about how he had smothered certain patients, or injected them with lethal doses of medication. "They wanted me to put them out of their pain. I did it," Donald wrote. After an extended correspondence, Donald's letters halted abruptly. However in his last letter, Donald related to me that his lawyer was writing a book on Donald's life, and that eventually a movie is to be made. In an attempt to obtain an update on the Donald Harvey case, I contacted Hon. Tom V. Handy, Laurel County Commonwealth Attorney, and one of the most brilliant and able prosecutors in this state.
KILLS THIRTEEN AT MARYMOUNT HOSPITAL
Commomwealth Attorney Handy, taking time from his very busy schedule, responded to my inquiries in a letter as follows:
"Donald Harvey claimed 13 deaths at Marymount Hospital, London Kentucky, and in a period of approximately nine months we were able to confirm that he had responsibility for nine deaths, eight of which were homicides and one of which was manslaughter. He received a sentenceof life in prison on each of the murders and 20 years on manslaughter, and the were to run concurrent with the sentences he received in Ohio"
Mr. Handy's letter went on to explain that Harvey had once been believed to be responsible for 52 deaths at Drake Hospital, before closer investigation required that figure to be revised. According to Mr. Handy, "The Veterans Hospital never conducted an investigation that dealt with Harvey's claims, therefore, that number is unknown." Mr. Handy pointed out that there was no death penalty appllicable to Harvey's acts in this state, in 1970 and 1971; and, while Ohio did have an applicable death penalty provision, Ohio couldn't effectively prosecute without cooperation from Harvey--cooperation that Harvey would certainly have withheld, had he been faced with the death penalty. However Harvey is apparently stuck with the life that he negotiated, Mr. Handy noted that Harvey cannot withdraw his pleas without being confronted by the evidence of his confessions, and subjecting himself to capital prosecution...
DOES EVIL LURK WITHIN HIM?
Life imprisonment! At 40 years of age, Donald Harvey finds himself entombed in a state institution--a fact affording little consolation to the survivors of his nightmare, the families of Harvey's victims. These griefstricken families cloistered in their bereavements are serving life imprisonments of their own. The Harvey family, too, blameless and powerless against the sway of these events, has been unjustly scarred and stigmatized for life. In a larger sense, we have all been victimized.
Questions abound, defying easy answers:
- Was Donald--as has been suggested--the victim of childhood abuses by an uncle?
- Was Donald victimized by some genetic aberration?
- Was he a ticking time bomb from the moment he was conceived?
- Was he a predator overcome by the instinct for predation, who chanced upon aged and sickly human beings in the flickering twilight of their lives?
- Or, was Donald genuinely sensitive to the suffering that surrounded him?
- Did his sensitivity succumb to the cries for euthanasia?
- Does evil lurk within him?
- Was Donald Harvey, in fact, an Angel of Death or Mercy?
Or was he really the "Angel of Death"?
AN INTERVIEW WITH HIS MOTHER
In an exclusive interview with Donald Harvey's mother, Goldie Harvey McKinney, she said: "He is of fine spirit and doing well. I go to visit Donald at the Lebanon, Ohio prison as often as I can." Mrs. McKinney added, "T.C., you remember well, I always took Donald and my children to church, saw they went to school and did the best I knew a mother could do for them." She emphasized, "Donald led a good and decent life as a young man. He had lots of friends and was well thought of by everyone in the neighborhood. I shall always remember you and what have done for my family in the past. You will always be a special friend of mine. I appreciate you writing Donald." About Donald, she said, "I love my son. We are making the best of a bad situation." Mrs. McKinney had kind words to say about the newspaper people who came to see her. "I treated them as nicely as I could. They were only doing their jobs."
A few years ago, Donald Harvey was featured on a two-hour special on CNN Television. Millions of viewers around the world saw this documentry with intense interest.... The title was:Murder By The Number.
AUTHORS NOTE: When convicted killer Donald Harvey learned of this story, Harvey stated in a letter to me, "T.C., you said I claimed to have killed 65 patients in your story.