Herbert William Mullin (born April 18, 1947) is an American serial killer who killed thirteen people in California in the early 1970s. He confessed to the killings, which he claimed prevented earthquakes. In 1973, after a trial to determine whether he was insane or culpable, he was convicted of two murders in the first degree and nine in the second, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Childhood and youth
Mullin was born in Salinas, California but grew up in Santa Cruz. His father, a World War II veteran, was strict but not abusive. He frequently discussed his heroic war activities and showed his son how to use a gun at an early age. Mullin had numerous friends at school and was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by his classmates. Shortly after graduating from San Lorenzo Valley High School, however, one of his best friends was killed in a car accident, and Mullin was devastated. He built a shrine to his deceased friend in his bedroom. Later he expressed fears that he was homosexual, even though he had a longtime girlfriend at the time.
In 1969, at the age of 21, Mullin allowed his family to commit him to a mental hospital. Over the next few years, he entered various institutions, but discharged himself after only a short stay. He extinguished cigarettes on his own skin, attempted to enter the priesthood, and got evicted from an apartment after he repeatedly pounded on the floor, shouting at people who were not there.
Many years later, FBI profiler Robert K. Ressler said Mullin had paranoid schizophrenia, manifesting as early as his senior year of high school, and could have been accelerated by the use of LSD or amphetamines.
By 1972, Mullin was 25 and had moved back in with his parents in Santa Cruz. By now he was hearing voices in his head that told him an earthquake was imminent, and that only through human sacrifice could he save California. Mullin’s birthday, April 18, was the anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which he thought was very significant.
Mullin believed that the Vietnam War had produced enough American death to forestall earthquakes as a sort of blood sacrifice to nature, but that with the war winding down so much by late 1972, he would need to start killing people in order to have enough deaths to keep the earthquake away.
On October 13, 1972, Mullin beat Lawrence “Whitey” White, a homeless man, to death with a baseball bat. White, 55, had been hitchhiking and Mullin struck him down after tricking him into looking at the car engine. Mullin was to claim later that the victim was Jonah from the Bible, and that he had sent Mullin a telepathic message saying, “Pick me up and throw me over the boat. Kill me so that others will be saved.” White’s body was found the next day.
The next victim was Mary Guilfoyle, 24, a Cabrillo College student who was running late for an interview and decided to hitchhike. It was October 24, 1972. Mullin picked her up and stabbed her through the chest and the back. He then dissected her body and scattered her remains alongside a hillside road.
On November 2, Mullin went to confess his sins at St. Mary’s Church in Los Gatos. In a delusional state, he believed the priest, Father Henri Tomei (a French Resistance veteran from Marseilles who came to America after the war and was in his eighth year as assistant pastor), wanted to volunteer to be his next sacrifice to keep away the earthquakes. He beat, kicked and stabbed Tomei, who bled to death in the confessional while a parishioner watched Mullin run away. The witness description of a tall young man in dark clothing and black boots did not help the police, who initially speculated Tomei was lured into the church or startled a burglar.
After that, Mullin decided to join the U.S. Marines, and passed the physical and psychiatric tests. However, he was refused entry when it was found out that he had a number of minor arrests for his bizarre and disruptive behavior in the past. This rejection fueled Mullin’s paranoid delusions of conspiracies, behind which he believed was a powerful group of hippies.
By January 1973, Mullin had stopped using drugs, and blamed them for his problems. Mullin had purchased several guns and decided to kill Jim Gianera, a high school friend who had sold him marijuana. However, when Mullin went to Gianera’s house on January 25, 1973, he found that his old friend had moved away. The house was now occupied by Kathy Francis, and she gave him Gianera’s new address. There, Mullin killed both Gianera and his wife with shots to the head, then stabbed their bodies repeatedly. Mullin then went back to Francis’ house, where he shot and killed her and her two sons, aged 9 and 4. Because Francis’ husband — who was away at the time — was a drug dealer, the five murders were thought to be motivated by drug trafficking. Prosecutors later argued that the murder of Kathy Francis eliminated Mullin’s claims of not guilty by reason of insanity because he killed her to remove a witness who could link him to the Gianera murders. In one published account of these murders, however, an FBI profiler states that Mullin killed the Francis family first and then executed the Gianera couple.
About a month later, in early February 1973, Mullin was wandering around Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park where he saw four teenage boys out camping. He walked over to them, engaged in a brief conversation and claimed to be a park ranger. He ordered them to leave because they were “polluting” the forest, but they refused. He told them he would return the next day. The boys, who were armed with a .22 rifle, did not take this seriously. Mullin returned, shot them fatally, and abandoned their bodies, which were not found until the next week.
The final murder took place three days later, on February 13. Mullin was driving alone when he drove past Fred Perez who was weeding his lawn. For no apparent reason, Mullin made a U-turn, stopped his station wagon, and laid his rifle across the hood to aim, killing the man instantly. Then he got back into his car and “calmly” drove off. It was broad daylight and there were a number of witnesses, one of whom gave police the license plate number. A “docile” Mullin was captured a few minutes later.
- Lawrence White, 55. October 13, 1972.
- Mary Guilfoyle, 24. October 24, 1972.
- Fr Henri Tomei, 64. November 2, 1972.
- Jim Ralph Gianera, 25. January 25, 1973.
- Joan Gianera, 21. January 25, 1973.
- Kathy Francis, 29. January 25, 1973.
- Daemon Francis, 4. January 25, 1973.
- David Hughes, 9. January 25, 1973.
- David Allan Oliker, 18. February 6, 1973.
- Robert Michael Spector, 18. February 6, 1973.
- Brian Scott Card, 19. February 6, 1973.
- Mark John Dreibelbis, 15. February 6, 1973.
- Fred Perez, 72. February 13, 1973.
Trial and imprisonment
In custody, Mullin confessed to his crimes, and said that he had been told by voices in his head to kill people in order to prevent an earthquake. He claimed that the reason there had not been an earthquake recently was, in fact, due to his handiwork.
The Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s office charged Mullin with 10 murders (the first three took place in other counties), and his trial opened on July 30, 1973. Mullin had admitted to all the crimes and therefore the trial focused on whether he was sane and culpable for his actions. The fact that he had covered his tracks and shown premeditation in some of his crimes was highlighted by prosecutor Christopher Cottle, while the defense argued that Mullin had a history of mental illness, and that he had paranoid schizophrenia. On August 19, 1973, the verdict was delivered. Mullin was declared guilty of first-degree murder in the cases of Jim Gianera and Kathy Francis—because they were premeditated—while for the other eight murders Mullin was found guilty of second-degree murder because they were more impulsive.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office charged Mullin for the murder of Henri Tomei. On December 11, 1973, the day his trial was to begin, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after originally pleading not guilty by reason of insanity to first-degree murder.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Santa Cruz County trial and has been denied parole 10 times since 1980. He is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison, in Ione, California.