The Last Word on Humble Harve

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A couple of posts I wrote a few years back about Humble Harve Miller, the Los Angeles disc jockey most famous (sadly enough) for murdering his wife in 1971 are among the most popular posts in the history of this website. Harve passed away this week at the age of 85. For the outlines of his career, I encourage you to read the obituary at that link. What follows is a reboot of the material I wrote way back when, consolidating and correcting as needed. 

(Late addition: Miller’s Los Angeles Times obituary is here.)

Humble Harve Miller was one of the Boss Radio jocks at KHJ in Los Angeles starting in 1967, but his tenure there ended in 1971, when he was 36 years old. On May 7 of that year, he shot and killed his wife, who had been taunting him about her infidelities. I have heard a couple of stories about how it went down. One says she pulled a gun on him, he tried to take it from her, and she was hit. According to this story, Harve panicked and ran to Mexico. After nearly two weeks, and following negotiations with authorities through an attorney, he surrendered voluntarily. (There is a story that he holed up in Phil Spector’s mansion. I don’t believe this is true, although Spector was a friend, and he testified to Harve’s character at sentencing.)

Harve pleaded guilty (although he later fired his lawyer and attempted to change the plea), got five-to-life for second-degree murder, and went to prison in August 1971. In December, Billboard reported that Miller was going to program a new radio station set up at the Chino Institute for Men, where he was incarcerated. Radio stations and record labels would donate equipment and records. (Miller was supposedly furloughed from prison to make a trip to San Diego, driving his own car, to pick up donated records from radio station KGB.) The Columbia School of Broadcasting of Los Angeles planned to offer classes for inmates, although Billboard snarked that “Harve doesn’t need any lessons, of course.” In January 1972, a one-line item in Billboard reported, “Chino Men’s Prison has been hearing some good rock since disk jockey Humble Harve began serving his term.”

It’s unclear to me just how long Miller was in prison. One blogger mentions that he “received a 14-month sentence,” which I believe is a reference to how long he actually served. If that’s the case, he would have been out in October 1972, almost certainly benefiting from credits for good behavior. According to an acquaintance of Harve’s with whom I exchanged some e-mail, prison changed him a great deal. He apparently got religion and came out a far different man than when he went in. The parole board considered what he’d done a crime of passion that did not make him a danger to the general public, and given that prison seemed to have rehabilitated him, he was set free.

A May 1974 edition of Billboard noted Miller’s return to the Los Angeles airwaves on KKDJ. In July 1974, he sat in for Casey Kasem on American Top 40. When KKDJ was purchased by new owners in 1975, he was installed on an evening shift, the same daypart he worked on KHJ in the 60s. He produced and hosted The National Album Countdown for a few years beginning in 1976. He worked for practically every station in Los Angeles over the years, and also in Philadelphia and Seattle, in addition to doing some satellite radio in the early years of the new millennium.

And this week Humble Harve Miller’s story ended.

If we’re lucky, you and I are not going to find our whole lives characterized by the single worst moments we ever had. Humble Harve Miller was not so fortunate. It seems clear, however, that he was far more than just the DJ who murdered his wife. Harve had lots of friends in the radio industry. They did not abandon him when he went to jail, or afterward. 

19 responses

  1. JB: The story you tell in paragraph one, minus the parenthetical Phil Spector element, is the one borne out by the coverage of the trial in the Los Angeles Times archives.

    The story Harve told and the judge believed was that Mary pulled the gun he had given her for self-defense on him during an argument. She had come home near dawn and they argued.

    He tried to get the gun away from her and it went off. Had he called an ambulance, stuck around and told that story to the cops on the scene, it’s likely he wouldn’t have been charged at all. But he left the scene, didn’t call for medical aid for Mary, panicked and ran to Mexico for 13 days before surrendering to the D.A. They had to charge him with something.

    It took three months, but his attorney convinced him to accept the D.A.’s plea deal of second-degree murder. Harve did, then two weeks later, fired that lawyer, hired a new one and tried to change the plea to manslaughter. The judge rejected the motion, and sentenced him to five-to-life. Given that California’s liberal (in the literal, not political sense of the word) good-behavior credit system had people convicted of first-degree murder on the streets in seven years back then, 14 months plus the three he spent in custody awaiting trial is about right.

    It would pain Harve to know that, even in death, the tributes to his talent and career are laced with these references to the worst night of his life—but the bottom line needs to be re-iterated: The State of California believed he’d paid his debt to society 47 years ago—and he hadn’t been in trouble with the law a day since.

    Rest in peace, Harve.

  2. Harve, played by actor Rage Stewart, is a character in Quentin Tarantino’s new film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, which premiered at Cannes last month and opens in theaters next month. The film is set in 1969, and Tarantino’s people contacted myself and several other aircheck collectors about a year and a half ago, looking for high-quality, unscoped KHJ airchecks of that era to be used in the film.

  3. I am LAUGHING MY ASS OFF on howard sterns show on Sirius.. he’s never EVER heard of “Humble Harve” and he’s making mincemeat of the guy. Im almost crying.. on his show today 6/5/19 LOL!!! So good. lololol

    1. Somebody’s being classless here, although whether it’s Stern or Jon or both I can’t exactly tell.

      1. JB: Sure you can.

    2. If that’s true, how does Howard react on the day that Don Imus passes away?

  4. Julie S. Lantz | Reply

    May Humble Harve RIP. I remember the day of May 7th all too well – and unless you were there, who really knows the true circumstances – as I was a senior at Hollywood High School and was set to graduate on June 24, 1971. KHJ, including Humble Harve, took me through all 3 years of high school and to very end, and I will always remember him, and all the others, very fondly. Those were the days we learned to appreciate long after their passing.

  5. Barbara Baldino | Reply

    MAY HIS SOUL ROT IN HELL THIS POS – HE SHOULD HAVE STAYED IN PRISON – GOT OFF TO EASY

    1. Wow.

      Just trying to make sure that’s not “The Last Word on Humble Harve.”

    2. He did get off to easy. It was his favorite Commodores song.

  6. […] The reason for telling all this now? Humble Harve passed away on Monday; jb has written a very good summary of Miller’s, er, unusual life arc, which you can find here. […]

  7. The Los Angeles Times did its obit yesterday—bringing the facts of the case out of the archives and back to where there’s no excuse for not knowing them: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-me-humble-harve-miller-dead-20190606-story.html

  8. John Gallagher | Reply

    Thank goodness for websites like Reelradio.com I can relive all those amazing KHJ moments since I’ve spent my entire life over here on the East coast. I spent my youth with a transistor radio listening at night to stations like CKLW, WLS, WCFL, WGAR, WWOW and others. I would have been in heaven to hear a KHJ and other stations live.

    May he rest in peace and we look back fondly on his radio talent.

  9. Barbara Baldino | Reply

    You really need to stop glorifying this man – he was a pervert and he murdered my Mother – you all don’t know half the story. So I hope he burns in hell for what he did to her and to me. I was a bit relieved to hear that he didn’t die peacefully and suffered for some time before his passing that should have happened when he said he would kill himself if he ever got caught after shooting my Mother -enough said and now I can move on.

  10. Harve was a great man who made a mistake. I don’t believe Barbara Baldino for one second.

    1. Barbara Baldino | Reply

      FYI – It wasn’t a mistake, it was intentional. He was planning this for some time. We tried for pre-meditation but I guess his lawyer was better than the DA. The hearing was closed to the public at the time. You should be thankful he didn’t make the “MISTAKE” with your Mother. I’m sure you wouldn’t call murdering someone a mistake if he did it and admitted it. He didn’t try to take the gun from her – he had the gun the whole time, He told me and my Grandparents that she dared him to shoot her and that he didn’t have the guts – well that was proven wrong and I blame her for that MISTAKE. But YOU believe what you want, I’m at peace now knowing that he suffered during his sickness. God Bless your heart for not wanting to believe the truth.

  11. You know what, folks? Barbara has a valid point. I and others are guilty of letting the glow of nostalgia for a time period we recall fondly obscure the fact that there are people in this world now, today, who are still living with the consequences of Harve Miller’s act. I wish that my posts had done a better job of acknowledging that, and I am sorry that they did not.

  12. If I had known Barbaro Baldino was Mary’s daughter, I would have let her first all-caps comment stand. I apologize.

  13. […] in traffic—the day after his death I got 10 times the visits I usually do. I wrote a new post intended to summarize information from the original posts, and it’s still getting […]

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