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Harvey Glatman

Notable Fact
When his mother inquired as to what caused the welts on his neck, he said that he had tied a rope around his neck and was hanging from it—that torturing himself like this gave him pleasure.

Harvey Glatman was reminiscent of a character often seen in B movies: He looked like a harmless nerd, a baggy faced, bespectacled, slow-witted young man. But beneath this benign exterior he was sharp - his IQ, measured while he was in San Quentin, was 130 - he was a genius even.

Despite this intelligence, something was clearly wrong with Harvey Glatman even at an early age. When he was twelve, for example, his mother noticed red welts on his neck. When she inquired as to what caused them, he said that he had tied a rope around his neck and was hanging from it - that torturing himself in that way gave him pleasure. In 1945, at age seventeen, Glatman started grabbing women’s purses, running away, then tossing the purses back - he was more interested in scaring women than he was in robbing them. This predilection escalated further that same year when he was in Boulder, Colorado. He pulled a toy gun on a young girl and ordered her to disrobe. She screamed and he ran, but the girl was later able to pick him out of a lineup and he was arrested.

Glatman didn’t hang around for the trial; he fled to the East Coast. There he was caught in a robbery, and the authorities learned that he was a fugitive wanted in Boulder. He was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

In 1951, Glatman was released from the prison, and he headed for the West Coast, settling in Los Angeles. He became a repairman in the burgeoning television-repair business, and he had a hobby: photography.

By all appearances, Glatman appeared to have assumed his place in the community. He had a job with responsibilities, a place to stay, and a hobby. Nothing, of course, was further from the truth. Glatman was getting ready to kill.

Pretty Women
Glatman developed some methods for capturing women that seem like scenes from the movies, not real life—it doesn’t seem like they could actually happen, but they did, with horrifying results. For instance, in 1957, under the alias of Johnny Glynn, Glatman made a television-repair service call to the home of Judy Dull. Dull was a very pretty, recently married nineteen-year-old. When Glatman learned that she was a model, he told her he was a part-time photographer and asked whether she would be interested in a job. He explained that a New York City detective magazine had hired him to take one of those woman-in-jeopardy photos - a girl, bound and gagged. If she accepted, Glatman said he would pay her $50. The girl agreed, and on August 1, 1957, Glatman picked her up, ostensibly to go to the photography studio.

Once in the car, Glatman pulled a gun on Dull and said that she was to obey him or he would kill her. He took her to his apartment, where he forced her to strip and took photos of her. Then he raped her and told her to get dressed. He tied her up, put a gag in her mouth, and took more photos of her. The photos Glatman took are not overtly obscene: Dull’s dress is pulled up above her knees - and, of course, she’s bound and gagged.

Then he forced her into his car and drove about 125 miles out into the desert, near the town of Indio. He took some flash photos and then used a rope to strangle her. He buried her in a shallow grave, but the wind ultimately blew the sand off her, and her skeleton was eventually discovered. Glatman enlarged the photos of the terrified woman and mounted them on his wall.

The Lonely Hearts Club Killer
The second ploy involved Glatman becoming a member of a lonely hearts club - the potential predator that women were always warned about when they joined one of these clubs (it’s like the equivalent of online dating today). There, using the alias George Williams, Glatman met a woman named Shirley Bridgford. He told her he was a plumber. They hit it off and made a date, and he told her to be sure to dress for the occasion: He was going to take her to an exclusive dance club. Once he had her in his car, he sped out toward the Borrego (now Anza-Borrego) Desert State Park near San Diego, fifty-five miles away.

Out there in the darkness, with only the stars above, he raped her repeatedly. Afterward, he tied her up and shoved a gag in her mouth and took photos of the crying woman. Like the photos of Dull, the photos of Bridgford were more suggestive than obscene. Then Glatman raped her again and strangled her to death. He left her body out in the open to decompose and be eaten by animals.

Glatman picked his next victim from the personal ads of the Los Angeles Times. It was an ad placed by the model Ruth Rita Mercado, who was looking for work. Glatman went over to her apartment, raped her a number of times, and then forced her to get into his car. He drove out to the desert and photographed her bound body, dressed only in a slip.

But Glatman had a problem with Mercado. He liked her so much that he didn’t want to kill her. He debated with himself all day, and then, as reported in Jay Robert Nash’s Bloodletters and Badmen, he decided that to protect himself he had to kill her. “She was the one I really liked,” he said later. “I didn’t want to kill her. I used the same rope, the same way.”

At least one potential victim saw right through Glatman, a French model named Joanne Arena. She agreed to pose for Glatman, but only if there was a male chaperone with them. Glatman backed out. Said Arena, as reported in Bloodletters and Badmen, “I’m not so dumb . . . You know, I think he wanted to kill me . . . I knew it even then.” Arena was part of a string of bad luck for Glatman—while his next potential victim, Lorraine Vigil, did not sense his homicidal intent, she was plucky, and it was his undoing.

Glatman told Vigil, as he had told other victims, that he was going to photograph her in his studio. Instead, once she was in his car he swung onto the Santa Ana Freeway. When Vigil became alarmed, Glatman pulled his gun. He stopped the car on the shoulder of the road and started to tie Vigil’s hands. “I knew he was going to kill me,” she told police later. “I tried to plead but I knew pleading wouldn’t do any good.” So she took matters into her own hands: She lunged for and grabbed the gun. A shot went off, hitting her in the thigh, but she got the gun, leveled it at him, and told him not to move. Glatman’s response was to lurch for her and the gun, and they went tumbling out the door on to the shoulder, wrestling furiously.

Vigil got the better of the match and came away with the gun again. Sitting up, she trained the gun on him, and he stood transfixed, rope in hand, not knowing what to do. And just then, Harvey Glatman’s luck ran out. A state police officer had spotted the fight and stopped his car. He came running across the highway, firing a shot as he did. Glatman gave up meekly, though he claimed later he could have easily killed the cop.

At the station, he gave up the details on the killings. His trial was short and, apparently for him, sweet. As Nash says in Bloodletters and Badmen, Glatman’s lawyers tried to arrange for appeals, but Glatman refused to cooperate. He wanted to die, saying, “It’s better this way. I knew this was the way it would be.”

On August 18, 1959, Glatman got his way, dying in the gas chamber and perhaps leaving behind a horde of grateful movie writers for whom he had provided seeds that would grow into their fictional murderous scenarios.

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