California is no stranger to earthquakes, and residents of the Golden State often talk about “The Big One“: An enormous future earthquake that will cause massive destruction, maybe even detaching parts of California from the mainland U.S. In the early 1970s, Dr. Reuben Greenspan, a geophysicist from Arizona, predicted that a major earthquake would strike California at a specific date and time: January 4, 1973 at 9 a.m. People took Greenspan’s prediction seriously because he had foretold future earthquakes correctly in the past.
Greenspan’s prediction became big news in California, and the San Francisco Chronicle ran a full-page article about the impending earthquake that included the tagline, “Reuben Greenspan has predicted the city’s doom.” Understandably, people in Northern California in particular were jittery about the news. But one disturbed 25-year-old man living in Felton, California (near Santa Cruz) believed he had the power to prevent the imminent destruction.
Herbert Mullin’s plan involved committing a string of murders in order to stop “The Big One” from hitting California. Mullin said, “We human beings, through the history of the world, have protected our continents from cataclysmic earthquakes by murder. In other words, a minor natural disaster avoids a major natural disaster.” Accepting his self-appointed role as savior, Mullin went on a killing spree that claimed the lives of 13 people over a 4-month period in late 1972 and early 1973.
Mullin was born in 1947 and lived a fairly normal life with a typical upbringing. He was even voted “Most Likely To Succeed” by his classmates at his high school in Felton. However, Mullin’s life abruptly changed after he graduated from high school. His best friend was killed in a car accident the summer after graduation, and Mullin started exhibiting odd behavior. He built a shrine to his dead friend in his bedroom. He also became obsessed with religion, reincarnation, and natural disasters. Mullin started hearing voices and he spent time in mental institutions in California and Hawaii, where doctors diagnosed him as a severe paranoid schizophrenic. Eventually, the voices in Mullin’s head began commanding him to kill in order to save California from a deadly earthquake.
Mullin began his murderous spree on October 13, 1972. That day, he beat a homeless man to death with a baseball bat after asking the man to look under the hood of his car. Later that same month, Mullin murdered 24-year-old Mary Guilfoyle, a young woman who happened to be running late for an interview and, so, decided to hitchhike. Mullin stabbed her to death and dismembered her body.
Mullin’s next victim was Father Henri Tomei, a 64-year-old Catholic priest. On November 2, Mullin murdered Tomei in the confessional booth at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Los Gatos, stabbing the priest until he died.
Mullin did not kill for nearly two months after murdering the priest, waiting for January 4. When the ominous date of Greenspan’s earthquake prediction came and went without incident, Mullin took it as a sign that his murders did in fact prevent the earthquake, so, soon after, he elevated his murder spree to a whole new level.