Some of the most common motives for murder are the urge to protect, revenge, jealousy, money, hate, sex, to keep a secret, personal vendettas, drugs and substance abuse, political reasons, and even property disputes. In the case of Herbert William Mullin, a serial killer that murdered 13 people in California in the early 1970s, the motive was a little stranger,during his confession to the murders he admitted his motivation for the murders was the voices in his head that told him killing would prevent earthquakes in California.
Mullin was born on 18th April 1947 in Salinas,California, but grew up in Santa Cruz. He grew up in a strict, but not abusive home with his father who was a WWII veteran. While in high school it seems that Mullin was quite popular, it’s reported that he had numerous friends, and was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by his classmates. Mullin’s mental health began to deteriorate when one of his best friends died shortly after they graduated from San Lorenzo Valley High School. Mullin’s was devastated by his friend’s death, he built a shrine in his bedroom and expressed fears that he may be homosexual, despite being in a long-time relationship with a woman at the time.
Mullin was committed to a mental hospital by his family in 1969 at 21 years old, he was in and out of various institutions over the next few years but would often discharge himself after a short stay. Some behaviours reported during his stays included burning himself with cigarettes, he attempted to enter the priesthood, and while he was released, he was evicted from one residence for repeatedly pounding the floor and shouting at people who weren’t there. One of the profilers that investigated Mullin’s case said he had paranoid schizophrenia, he said that it was probably manifesting since his senior year in high school and could have been accelerated by Mullin’s abuse of LSD or amphetamines.
Mullin moved back to his parent’s home in Felton, California at age 25, he was hearing voices in his head regularly at this point, they were telling him that an earthquake was imminent, and that he could save California through human sacrifice. Mullin’s also believed the coincidental fact that his birthday was on the anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was of a great significance, he probably thought that this was a reason the voices were telling these things about the earthquakes. Mullin also believed that the Vietnam war had produced enough death to stall the earthquakes, as if the deaths in war were a sacrifice to nature, the war was starting to wind down by 1972, so he started to believe that he would need to start killing people to have enough deaths to keep the earthquakes away.
On 13th October 1972, Mullin beat a 55-year-old homeless man named Lawrence “Whitey” White to death with a baseball bat, he had been hitchhiking on highway 9 and Mullin tricked him into looking into the car engine before striking him. Mullin claimed that White was Jonah from the Bible and that he had sent Mullin a telepathic message saying “Pick me and throw me over the boat. Kill me so that others will be saved”. White’s body was found on Highway 9 the following day.
The next victim was taken on 24th October 1972 was 24-year-old Mary Guilfoyle, she was a student at Cabrillo College, she was running late for and interview when she decided to hitchhike, Mullin picked her up and stabbed her through the chest and back, he then dissected her body and scattered her remains along a hillside road.
On 2nd November 1972, Mullin decided to confess to the murders, he went to the St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Los Gatos. Mullin was delusional when he arrived at the church to speak to the priest Father Henri Tomei. Tomei was a French Resistance veteran from Marseilles, who came to America after the war, he was in his eighth year as an assistant pastor at the church. Mullin believed that Tomei had volunteered to be his next sacrifice. Mullin beat, kick and stabbed Tomei who then bled to death in the confessional while a parishioner watched Mullin run away. The witness gave a description of at all young man inn dark clothing and black boots, this description was unhelpful to investigators, who believed that Tomei may have been lured into the church or startled a burglar.
After the murder of Father Tomei Mullin joined the U.S.Marines and passed both the physical and psychiatric tests, he was denied entry because his record of minor arrests for his bizarre and disruptive behaviours previously. This rejection made Mullin’s paranoid delusions of conspiracies more intense, he believed these conspiracies were the work of a group of powerful hippies.
In January 1973, Mullin stopped using drugs and blamed them for his mental health problems. He then purchased several guns to kill one of his old high school friends who used to sell him marijuana. Mullin went to the home of Jim Gianera on 25th January 1973 and found that his pot dealer had moved away. In the cabin near Mystery Spot Road that Gianera owned was his friend Kathy Francis. Francis gave Mullin Gianera’s new address and Mullin made his way to Western Drive in Santa Cruz. Once in Santa Cruz Mullin killed Gianera and his wife with shots to the head, then he repeatedly stabbed the bodies.
After Gianera’s murder Mullin went back to Kathy Francis, he shot and killer her and her two sons aged 9 and 4. Francis’ husband who was away at the time the murder was a drug dealer, so the police thought the murders were motivated by drug trafficking. These murders brought forward the argument that Mullin couldn’t have pled insanity as he went and eliminated a witness that could have linked him to Gianera, showing that he was aware that what he was doing was wrong and that he was aware of what was going on around him. In one published account of the murders an FBI profiler does claim that the Francis family were killed before Gianera and his wife, this does make more sense given Mullin’s mental state, with the delusions he was having about religion, fate,and conspiracies he would have seen Francis where Gianera was supposed to be and killed her because it was fate that she was there in his place, or when she gave him Gianera’s address, he could have taken it as her volunteering to be apart of his delusion like he believed Father Tomei had volunteered to be his sacrifice.
A month later 10th February 1973, Mullin was wandering around Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Mullin encountered four teenage boys camping illegally in the park, he approached them and conversed with them claiming to be a park ranger. Mullin ordered them to leave as they were “polluting” the forest, but they refused. Mullin then shot them and abandoned their bodies, they were found in the woods a week later.
On February 13th, 1973 Mullin took his final victim while driving alone the Santa Cruz westside when he encountered Fred Perez. Perez was a retired fisherman who was weeding his lawn at home on Gharkey Street. Mullin made a U-turn and stopped his station wagon, he laid his rifle across the hood tot aim and killed Perez instantly, he got back into his car after this and calmly drove off. This murder was committed in broad daylight with several witnesses, who gave the police his licence plate number. Mullin was caught a few minutes after Perez’s murder at the intersection of Highway 9 and Coral Street, he was described as “docile” at the time of arrest.
Mullin confessed to his crimes without much pressing, he said the voices in his head told him to kill people to prevent earthquakes, he still believed during his confession that California hadn’t had an earthquake because of his crimes.
Mullin was charged with ten murders by The Santa Cruz CountyDistrict Attorney’s office and the trial opened on 30th July 1973. Due to the fact Mullin had confessed to his crimes his trial was held to determine whether he was sane and culpable for his actions, Mullin had covered his tracks and shown premeditation in some of the murders this was highlighted by prosecutor Christopher Cottle. The defence argued that Mullin’s history of mental illness and his paranoid schizophrenia diagnosis made him the perfect candidate for the insanity plea. On 19th August 1973 Mullin was found guilty of first-degree murder in the cases of Jim Gianera and Kathy Francis as these murders were premeditated, and guilty of second-degree murder because they were more impulsive. The trial for the murder of Henri Tomei started on 11thDecember 1973, Mullin pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after originally pleading not guilty by reason of insanity to first degree murder.
Mullin was sentenced to life imprisonment and has been denied parole ten times since 1980, he is currently still residing at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione California.
There is a big religious element to Mullin’s delusions, he obviously has the belief that the bloodshed would prevent earthquakes, but there seems to be a belief that he is pleasing someone by committing the murders and a belief that this someone is behind the earthquakes. These delusions were obviously caused by a mental illness that went untreated, because Mullin refused the help of the hospitals that his parents sent him to, it seems he was displaying signs of paranoid schizophrenia as he believed so intensely in this delusion. The schizophrenia probably was manifesting since his friend’s death, from the reported behaviours from his time in institutions with the self-harm from burning cigarettes on himself or trying to join the priesthood seem like ways for him to punish himself, either from physical pain or the deprivation that can be hard about the priesthood, from this it seems like the loss of his friend hit him hard and because he had an underlying mental illness it made him paranoid that it was his fault and that he must be punished in some way.
Over the years without treatment and Mullins drug abuse, his mental health continued to deteriorate to the point he was capable of killing people. The more impulsive murders show the chaos in his head, most serial killers have organisation in their crimes, they plan a murder and perfect their way of doing it with each victim, but in Mullin’s case he didn’t even have a victim type, he killed men and women of various ages and he killed children with no problem, something that is difficult for serial killers that don’t kill children, this shows how deep into the delusion he’d gone. This is also shown in the Gianera murders when he stabbed the bodies repeatedly after shooting them, this would be seen as “over kill” suggesting a personal connection, but in Mullin’s case the anger came from the fact Gianera used to sell him drugs, he committed this murder when he quit drugs and while he was consumed with conspiracies about hippies, so in his head he may have seen Gianera as someone who was helping these fictitious hippies hinder Mullin in his mission to stop earthquakes.