Angels of Death: 6 More Medical Murderers
In this third installment of Angels of Death, we'll take a look at several serial medical murderers you may have never heard of. They each left a trail of victims behind them and a lot of unanswered questions.
Small Town Nurse
The locals were shocked when nurse Vickie Dawn Jackson was arrested for a series of murders at Nocona General Hospital in Nocona, Texas. After almost a year of exemplary service, Jackson began injecting patients with mivacurium chloride, a muscle relaxant. Over a two-month period, she may have killed twenty patients. The victims included people she had known for years. Her husband's grandfather was a victim. Jackson was fired after a would-be victim survived and complained that she gave him unauthorized medication that made him pass out. An investigation led to ten murder charges. However, the trial was stopped before it began when Jackson pleaded no contest to the charges, and received a life sentence. Jackson still says she is innocent.
The Would-be Hero
Most of the medical killers profiled today killed for reasons that will remain a mystery. Richard Angelo had a motive. He wanted to play the hero by rescuing patients in distress, only he caused the distress by injecting victims with the muscle relaxer Pavulon and sometimes couldn't save them. Angelo worked as a night shift nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital in New York, where 37 code blue emergencies saw the deaths of 24 patients during his shift. One patient managed to call for help after Angelo injected him with Pavulon and Anectine. An investigation followed, in which the nurse's home was searched and the drugs in question were found. Angelo was eventually charged in four deaths. His defense was that he suffered from multiple personality disorder, but the evidence was the result of polygraph tests, which the judge did not allow. He was convicted and sentenced to 61 years to life.
Murder as Sexual Thrill
Gwendolyn Gail Graham was a nurses aide at Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walker, Michigan. She had a lesbian relationship with her immediate supervisor, Catherine May Wood. The couple practiced erotic asphyxiation, and began killing elderly patients to achieve a sexual thrill. Graham would smother a victim while Wood stood guard, then they would stop for a sexual interlude together. They even bragged about their activities, but coworkers did not believe them. Eventually, Graham put pressure on Wood to commit a murder herself, which led to the couple splitting. Graham left town, and Wood confessed to her ex-husband. A year later, he approached police with the story. The following investigation unearthed eight suspicious deaths, five of which yielded enough evidence to take to trial. Wood testified against Graham in return for a reduced sentence. Graham received six life sentences; Wood drew 20 to 40 years.
Two-month Nursing Spree
Robert Diaz wanted to be called Dr. Diaz, even though he was a nurse. Diaz held a series of temporary nursing jobs in Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Berardino Counties in California in 1981. At each hospital, an unusual spike in the death rate coincided with his employment. Twelve dead patients exhibited a high level of the heart drug lidocaine. A search of Diaz' home found vials and syringes of lidocaine in concentrations ten times as high as their labels indicated. He was arrested on twelve counts of murder committed in a two-month period. A judge found him guilty of all counts in 1984 and sentenced him to execution. Diaz is still on death row at San Quentin.
Efren Saldivar was a respiratory therapist who confessed to killing around 50 people between 1988 and 1998. Saldivar would inject one of several paralytic medicines into his patients, which caused breathing, or the heart, to stop. His early victims were undetected because he killed only patients who were near death, so the death rate on his shift wasn't noticeably abnormal. Still, the staff at Glendale Adventist Medical Center had suspicions. Co-workers once broke into Saldivar's locker to play a prank and found drugs and syringes he did not have legal access to. They didn't report the find for fear of getting into trouble. After an informant approached the hospital with second-hand knowledge of the staff's suspicions, police were called in to investigate. During his first contact with police, Saldivar, who was connected to a polygraph, started telling stories of how he killed terminal patients out of compassion. Within a few days, he recanted his confessions. Police spend a year and a half looking for evidence in exhumed bodies, and built a murder case around six suspicious deaths in which the bodies had high levels of Pavulon, a derivative of curare that paralyzes the respiratory system. In 2002, Saldivar pleaded guilty to six counts of murder and received life in prison.
Donald Harvey claims to have murdered 87 people during his 17 year career as a hospital orderly. He began working at Marymount Hospital in London, Kentucky when he was eighteen years old. Harvey later confessed to killing at least a dozen people in his ten months there. The first victim, according to Harvey, rubbed feces in his face, angering the orderly so much he strangled the patient. No investigation followed. Harvey used a variety of methods to kill patients: poison, overdoses of medication, strangulation, turning off or misusing equipment, and introducing infections. He was arrested for burglary, served a short time in the army, andÂ was in a mental ward for a time before working at a couple of Lexington, Kentucky hospitals where he had little opportunity to kill. Harvey later worked at the Cincinnati V.A. Hospital and Drake Memorial Hospital in Cincinnati. At both hospitals, unusual numbers of deaths took place during his shift. He also used poison on his lover, Carl Hoeweler, and both of Hoeweler's parents. Hoeweler's father died as a result. After one suspicious patient death, Harvey's home was searched. Police found various poisons and his incriminating diary. Harvey confessed to dozen of murders in order to avoid the death penalty. He pleaded guilty to 25 counts of murder and received four consecutive life sentences. Harvey earned an additional eight life sentences with a guilty plea in Kentucky. Later, an Ohio court added another three life sentences. There were also sentences for attempted murder and assault. His first scheduled parole hearing will be in 2047.