On the evening of October 27, 1958, at the Escondido Police Department, a meeting was held between Los Angeles Police Homicide Detective Sergeants Pierce Brooks and Elmer Jackson of Los Angeles and key San Diego County Sheriff’s personnel—Lieutenant Tom Isbell, Sergeant Robert Majors from Crimes of Violence, Deputy Roy Nilson, George Penniman of the Sheriff’s Crime Lab, and Deputies Roy Newby and Neil Poole. The subject of this meeting was one Harvey M. Glatman–a Los Angeles TV repairman, amateur photographer, and confessed murderer.
Harvey Glatman arrived in Los Angeles in January 1957, with a history of burglary and assaulting woman. After almost three years of prison time and another four and a half years of probation, Glatman left his hometown of Denver with the fascination of rope he had discovered as a child still intact. His crimes to that point were small time as he honed his skill, but the streets of Los Angeles proved to be too much temptation for Glatman. Working as a TV repairman by day, Glatman was able to afford rent for a small studio apartment on Melrose Avenue and a used 1951 black Dodge Cornet. He also purchased an expensive Rolleicord camera, complete with a Schneider Xenar zoom lens and a tripod—his alias Johnny Glenn, photographer was born.
Having received his number from her agency, Judy Glatman, 19, agreed to let Glatman photograph her for a crime magazine in her own apartment the afternoon of August 1, 19 57 . He asked to wear a tight sweater and skirt.
Shirley Ann Bridgeford, 24, met Glatman (posing as George Williams) at the Patty Sullivan Lonely Hearts Club. On March 7, 19 58 , Glatman picked Shirley up at her home, meeting her family.
On July 13, 19 58 , Ruth Mercado, 24, opened her door to photographer Frank Miller. He was not carrying a camera.
Two of these women were later found in the desert east of San Diego. The first was found near Riverside . All three had been tied up, raped, and killed by Harvey Glatman while his camera clicked away.
Using bondage to subdue the models and a handgun if they resisted, Glatman coiled hemp rope around the women’s wrists and ankles and had them pose in several positions. When finished, Glatman placed his knee on their back, while a section of rope placed around their ankles and necks was drawn taut resulting in strangulation. Before leaving the body, he would pose the body in several more positions and take additional photos of the deceased for his later sexual enjoyment.
Some twenty years later, this type of murderer would become known as a Serial Killer. In 1958, LAPD Sergeant Pierce Brooks was already formulating the theory behind multiple murderers. In the early 1980s, Brooks and the Department of Justice hosted a conference at Sam Houston State University , where VICAP, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, was conceived. In 1985, Brooks became the first director of VICAP.
But in 1958, Brooks was at a loss. While he felt that these disappearances and likely murders were linked and more cases possibly existed, the computer needed to compare nationwide cases was beyond the LAPD budget and would take up most of a city block. He could only continue his investigation. His handling of this case initiated a process for investigations into Serial Killings, which later led to the profiling techniques still used today.
Glatman was arrested in Orange County on October 27, after he attempted to rape and kill a fourth victim. When Glatman pulled off the highway and tried to wrap rope around her wrists, Lorraine Vigil, wrestled the gun from Glatman’s hands and managed to open the door. Just as Glatman was pulling her back into the car, she was rescued by a passing California Highway Patrolman and Glatman was taken into custody.
Similarities of this assault matched others in the Los Angeles and Southern California areas. Officers from these jurisdictions were notified.
Interviews led to Glatman’s confessing to these crimes. He wrongly assumed detectives had found a toolbox at his residence, which held the photos he had taken of his victims. Some photos clearly displayed the fear on the faces of the women when they knew they were about to die. These photos were his souvenir, his signature, which would become common elements of serial killers in future years.
On the same evening of the confession, Pierce and Jackson decided to bring Glatman down to San Diego County to locate the spot in the desert where he had killed and abandoned two of his victims. A nighttime caravan of 5 vehicles departed Escondido eastbound on State Highway 78. When finally approaching “Scissors Crossing” in the Anza-Borrego desert, Glatman directed the procession to turn south on Vallecito Road, Hwy S2.
After going only a few miles, he advised all to stop.
At 2 a.m. , contrary to recommended police procedures of waiting for daylight before conducting an evidentiary search, the group began their hunt. With a few minutes of Glatman’s direction, the skeletal remains of Shirley Bridgeford, his second victim, were found. While much of the skeleton had been carried away by animals, a tan coat and scattered bones were more than enough to identify Shirley.
Senior members of this law enforcement group were amazed Glatman could recall the exact spot where he had been months before, with such accuracy, especially during the dark of night.
Two Deputies were stationed with these remains, while the group continued south on Vallecito Road several more miles. They halted at a spot Glatman said he had left the body of victim number three, Ruth Mercado. Her remains, found almost immediately, were more intact as she was his latest victim.
The next day, in the Riverside County desert east of Palm Springs , Glatman took officers to the body of Judy Dull, his first victim. While there were a few shards of clothing, no other remains were found. With Glatman’s accuracy in leading the police to the other two spots, investigators were not surprised to learn that hikers had discovered an unidentified skeleton in the area months earlier.
Since San Diego County had been the location of two homicides, initial prosecution was held there. On November 3, 1958 Harvey Glatman was officially arraigned.
San Diego County District Attorney Don Keller advised he would like a taped interview of the accused for trial—how he killed the girls and why. Harvey had already confessed, but for purpose of the prosecuting team’s full understanding of what occurred—and most certainly for the purpose of studying Glatman—the recording was mandatory.
San Diego Sheriff’s Lt. Isbell and Sgt. Majors conducted the interview. Glatman gave a comprehensive four hour cold and chilling statement. Our veteran homicide investigators described his confession as the most gruesome ever heard.
Glatman expressed the desire to be “put to death” as soon as possible. A Grand Jury Indictment followed. On December 15, 1958, in Department 4, San Diego Superior Court Judge William T. Low presided over the sentencing of the defendant who had previously plead Guilty to two counts of 187 PC Murder.
Judge Lowe required that facts of this case be put in the court record, including the demeanor of the defendant along with his testimony describing the criminal acts he committed. Upon hearing the four-hour confession, Judge Lowe was astonished with Glatman’s uncaring feelings toward his victims. Court witnesses present were aghast after hearing the cold, unemotional attitude he displayed.
Judge Lowe pronounced the sentence of Death for Harvey M. Glatman.
Glatman was transferred to Death Row at San Quentin Prison as Prisoner Number A-50239. Less than one year later, on September 18, 19 9 , Glatman’s request was honored. He was executed in San Quentin Prison.
This Homicide case was the cover story in Front Page Detective Magazine for February 1959. Also, Glatman was the subject of the full-length movie, Dragnet starring Jack Webb and Harry Morgan.
Collaboration/Ghostwriting with Neil Poole, Retired SDSO