To save California from an impending earthquake, voices told 25-year-old Herbert Mullin he must take human sacrifices. That was his story when police charged him with 12 murders.

He was a drop-out and drug addict with a history of mental trouble, and his slaying spree was believed to have begun on OCTOBER 13th, 1972, with the murder of a tramp whose body was found on an isolated mountain road. A month later Mullin shot Father Tomei, a priest, found dead in the confessional booth of his church at Los Gatos. Then on January 23rd, 1973, he shot five people within six hours: Kathy Francis and her two children whose bodies were found in their mountain cabin near Santa Cruz, and a young married couple found dead at their Santa Cruz home.

On February 13th, 1973, a 72-year-old man was repairing his rutted driveway in Santa Cruz when his niece saw a car pull up at the end of the drive. She then saw the driver level a rifle at her uncle and shoot him dead. As the car moved off, she noted its number and phoned the police, and within minutes Mullin was stopped and arrested.

Ballistics tests linked him not only to seven of the eight known murders, but also to the slaying of four young men who had been camping in a state park near Santa Cruz and were found shot dead three days after Mullin was captured. They had been murdered about six days earlier.

When Mullin pleaded insanity at his trial, the court heard he had been discharged from hospital three years earlier following treatment for paranoid schizophrenia. The jury nevertheless decided he had been responsible for his actions, and he was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder and nine of second-degree murder.

In all he had confessed to 13 murders. The two life sentences and other prison stretches he was given meant that he would not be eligible for release until 2025.

The son of a retired Marine colonel, he had disappointed his family by refusing to be drafted, instead doing community work as a conscientious objector. He had “Legalise Marijuana” and “Legalise Acid” tattooed on his stomach, and his application to become a monk had been rejected because he was deemed ill-suited to the contemplative regime of a monastery. Now he had all the time in the world to do his contemplating in prison.