The attorney who represented Donald Harvey, one of the deadliest serial killers in U.S. history, was often asked why Harvey killed so many people.
“Because he could,” attorney Bill Whalen said, according to Enquirer archives. “He knew how to do it. He developed a way of doing it.”
In 1987, Harvey granted Enquirer reporter David Wells a jailhouse interview, in which he expressed no remorse for the patients he killed at Cincinnati and Kentucky hospitals where he worked. He ultimately was convicted of killing 37 people, most were patients at the hospitals. He estimated he'd killed dozens more.
“Some of those (patients) might have lasted a few more hours or a few more days, but they were all going to die,” he told Wells. “I know you think I played God, and I did.”
Whalen, who died in 2012, was appointed in 1987 to represent Harvey after he was charged in one of the killings – a patient at Daniel Drake Memorial Hospital who was poisoned with cyanide. The case was deemed a homicide only after a pathologist smelled cyanide during an autopsy. Investigators hadn’t yet linked Harvey to any other deaths.
That year, when a local television news reporter told Whalen that the station was going to broadcast a story saying Harvey was responsible for other deaths, Whalen went to the Hamilton County jail to talk to Harvey.
“I asked him straight out, ‘Donald, did you kill anybody else?’” Whalen told The Enquirer in 2003. Harvey said he had, and when Whalen asked how many, Harvey told him he could only estimate, but said it could be as many as 70.
“When I heard him say the word ‘estimate,’ I knew I was in trouble,” Whalen said.
The WCPO-TV report aired in June 1987, and the investigation proceeded quickly after that. Harvey gave a 12-hour confession, telling detectives he kept a list of his victims behind the mirror in his Middletown home.
Also according to Enquirer archives: During Harvey’s October 1987 sentencing, Hamilton County Prosecutor Art Ney said Harvey was unrepentant and described details of the killings “like he would tell you that he had gone out to get a sandwich for lunch.”
He pleaded guilty to 36 murder counts and one count of manslaughter.
According to a 1987 Enquirer story, Harvey’s fist victims were nine people he killed in the early 1970s at a London, Kentucky hospital, where as a teenager he worked as an orderly. He claimed the killing spree “began by accident,” after he hooked up a patient to a nearly empty oxygen tank.
The killings quickly became deliberate and methodical.
From 1975 to 1985, Harvey worked at Cincinnati’s Veterans Administration Medical Center. He was investigated for 17 killings he claimed to have committed there.
Harvey then was a nurse’s aide at Drake Hospital from 1986 to 1987. He admitted killing two dozen patients during his time there.
“It was so horrendous, we simply didn’t believe him, at first,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters told the Enquirer in 2003. Deters worked as an assistant prosecutor on the case. “None of us had ever heard of anything like this.”