Doctors and nurses who kill the patients who trust them; what could be more sinister than that?
An Angel of Death, sometimes also known as an Angel of Mercy, is the term used to describe a specific class of serial killers. These murderers act in medical or hospital settings and are usually doctors or nurses who kill patients instead of helping them. Often, they chose defenseless victims such as the elderly or terminally ill, and sometimes their targets are even children.
This type of serial killer can easily be a man or a woman as the methods they use are not typically violent. Their means of killing often include methods such as administering toxic drugs or smothering. Many of them are considered to be mentally ill, usually suffering from severe personality disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and most are considered to have serious narcissistic character traits.
It’s believed that others may suffer from a condition known as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. With this disorder, a person is compelled to cause harm or induce illness in their victim in order to gain attention for themselves.
Let’s have a look at some of the most sinister angels of death, and how they killed…
15. Dr. X
The “Dr. X” killings were a string of suspicious curare poisonings that occurred during 1966 in a New Jersey hospital. After a newspaper investigation and subsequent criminal trial an Argentinean physician named Dr. Mario Jascalevich was accused of the murders, but he was later acquitted due to lack of evidence. Despite this, many people are still convinced that Jascalevich was the mysterious and deadly Dr. X.
He was arrested when 18 vials of curare were discovered in his assigned locker. Most of them were empty. He claimed that he had been experimenting with the curare on dogs, but it’s believed that he could have used it to kill up to nine victims. Curare is a powerful skeletal muscle relaxant which can cause a person to become unable to breathe and subsequently asphyxiate.
14. John Bodkin Adams
Between 1946 and 1956 Dr. John Adams wrote death certificates for 310 of his patients. When those were examined by authorities, 163 (that’s just over half!) were found to be suspicious. Although it could never be proven, it’s suspected that he killed patients by injecting them with strange substances. The nurses who worked with him at the time reported that they would often be asked to leave the room before he injected the patients and that he refused to disclose the content of these injections.
Worse still (yes, it gets worse), of the 163 people he’s suspected of killing, 132 of them left him money or other items in their will. He would isolate patients from their families and loved ones to break contact between them and then win their trust.
Adams was acquitted of all murder charges due to lack of evidence, but he was found guilty of other minor charges and struck from the medical role for two years. He died in 1983 at the ripe old age of 84, still maintaining his innocence.
13. Marcel Petiot
It’s believed that French doctor Marcel Petiot could have killed at least 60 people during his lifetime. He was arrested in 1944 after Paris police discovered the charred remains of 23 victims in his home. These were the bodies of people he had falsely offered to help escape from France. Instead of assisting them, he told them they needed an inoculation, but then injected them with cyanide. Once they were dead, he would steal all their valuables.
He was a dubious doctor suspected not only of multiple counts of murder, but also stealing, fraud, supplying narcotics, and performing illegal abortions. After he was arrested, he was tried and convicted of 26 counts of murder. Six days later he was executed by beheading (swift justice in those days).
12. Joseph Michael Swango
Joseph Swango was a star high school student who went on to serve in the Marine Corp after he graduated. After receiving an honorable discharge, he then began to study medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Although he was a lackluster student, he eventually managed to get into several residences at medical facilities all over the U.S. and Southern Africa, even after he was found guilty of poisoning and serving time in jail. He did this by forging documents.
He is suspected of killing more than 60 people, and in 2000, he pleaded guilty to murder and fraud charges and was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences, without the possibility of parole. And he’ll never be allowed to touch anyone’s food or drink again, thank goodness.
11. Beverley Allitt
What makes Beverley Allitt so evil is the victims that she chose– defenseless young children. In 1991 during a 59-day period, she attacked 13 children, aged between 7 weeks old and 5 years old, and killed 4 of them. She used large amounts of insulin to send some of them into a coma and injected others with air bubbles. It’s still not clear how she killed all her victims, but she gave herself away by being the only nurse on duty when the attacks took place and also being the only person with access to drugs during that time.
She pleaded not guilty, but in 1993 she was found guilty for 4 of the children’s deaths and given 13 life sentences. She has to serve a minimum of 30 years before she is considered for release, but most people feel that will never happen due to the risk she poses to the community.
10. Donald Harvey
Donald Harvey is a self-proclaimed “angel of death” who claims to have murdered 87 people both in and out of the medical setting. He was the last orderly you wanted to clean your room if you were a patient. He had various methods of killing including poisoning, injecting deadly cocktails into IV lines, suffocating, and inserting a wire coat hanger into a catheter line, causing an abdominal rupture.
He got away with his crimes for 17 long years before he was apprehended. To avoid the death penalty, Donald pleaded guilty, admitting that while he started killing patients as an “act of mercy”, he quickly started murdering those who simply annoyed him. We’ll be safe from him for a while; he’s serving 28 life sentences and his first parole hearing will only be in 2043.
9. Anders Hansson
Even orderlies can be deadly. Anders Hansson is considered to be Sweden’s most deadly serial killer after he was found guilty of killing long term care patients between 1978 and 1979. He was only 18 years old at the time and worked as an orderly in the Malmö Östra Hospital.
He killed defenseless elderly patients by poisoning them with the cleaning products he was provided with to cleanse the hospital rooms. At least 15 people are confirmed to have been killed by Hansson, while a further 15 were the victims of attempted murder. He’s believed to have poisoned up to 27 patients in total. He was sentenced to confinement in a psychiatric facility where he still resides today. Probably the best place for him.
8. Arnfinn Nesset
Nesset was by far one of Norway’s most prolific serial killers; it’s suspected that he could have murdered upwards of 138 people. He was a nurse who eventually became a nursing home manager. Instead of making sure the people under his care were well looked after he took to murdering them by injecting them with fatal doses of suxamethonium chloride (a powerful paralytic).
Nesset was finally captured, but here comes the twist: even though he was found guilty of the murder of 22 people, he only received a 21-year sentence. It gets worse; he was released after only 12 years! Apparently, this was due to “good behavior”. If he is still alive, Nesset would be 80 years old. Wonder how he’s being treated in his old age?
7. Sonja Caleffi
Sonja Caleffi was already troubled as a teenager. She suffered from depression and anorexia and even during her early adult life she was described as being withdrawn and anti-social. She trained as a nurse and worked in a few different facilities during her career.
One month during her employment at the Saint Anna hospital, she killed eight terminally ill patients by injecting an air embolism into their IV lines. She moved on to Manzoni Hospital where she killed an astonishing 18 more patients before she was finally apprehended and arrested. She admitted to the court that she enjoyed the attention her vile actions created, although she later claimed not to remember any of the killings. Her final sentencing brought further outrage to the victims’ families– a mere 20 years.
6. Josef Mengele
“Angel of Death” was Josef Mengele’s nickname and the term for a medical professional who kills patients comes from this man. He is possibly the most evil man on our list.
Mengele was a German Doctor and an SS Officer during World War II. He worked in what is now regarded as one of the most notorious concentration camps; the infamous Auschwitz, where more than 1.1 million prisoners of war were murdered. He selected which prisoners would be killed in the gas chambers and which he wanted to perform gruesome medical experiments on. His research was geared towards genetics and he often used twins in his experiments with no regard for their lives.
5. Daniela Poggiali
One of the most recent “Angel of Death” cases involved an Italian nurse by the name of Daniela Poggiali. This charming lady is suspected to be responsible for up to 38 deaths, mostly elderly patients of the hospital she worked in. People started suspecting that something suspicious was going on when 38 out of the 86 patients that she nursed over a three month period died. Her means of dispatch was an overdose of potassium chloride in the patient’s IV lines.
But this woman went beyond just killing her patients; she dishonored them even after death by using her phone to capture macabre selfies with their dead bodies. Talk about sick.
4. Louay Omar Mohammed ai-Taei
Dr. Louary is an Iraqi medical doctor who cold heartedly murdered 43 of his patients in under a year, between 2005 and 2006. While he behaved as if he was helping wounded soldiers, officials, and policemen, he was really injecting them with large amounts of blood thinning medication, which caused them to quickly bleed out and die from their injuries.
His murders were politically motivated; he claims that he was recruited into an insurgent group that fought against the U.S during the Iraq War. He then used his position as a doctor to kill patients associated with the U.S. Pro-coalition. In a chilling statement to the press, he said “I made a mixture of drugs and injected them. They were dead in three hours”. Charming man.
3. Linda Hazzard
Linda Hazzard sold herself to her patients as an osteopath. Osteopathy focuses on treating and making the muscles and bones stronger, without drugs or any type of invasive treatment. Sounds fine, right? Sounds safe? Well, not when this woman had you in her clutches.
Even though she didn’t have a medical degree, she was allowed to practice in the early 1900s via a loophole that made provision for alternative medicine. Her method of treatment was in the form of a fast, but what she actually did was starve the patients who trusted her to death in her “sanitarium”. They would become so weak they would be unable to escape and 14 deaths in total would finally be attributed to her.
It was difficult to prove that she was guilty in those times and she ended up serving just two years in prison for other minor offenses and eventually reopened another facility where she continued to supervise fasts. Fittingly, she herself finally died during a fast.
2. Shiro Ishii
It’s difficult to decide what’s worse in the case of Shiro Ishii; the fact that he performed gruesome experiments and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of people during the Sino-Japanese war, or the fact that he got away with it scot-free.
He was a surgeon who worked at the now infamous Unit 731 where he experimented with biological warfare agents and used Chinese prisoners of war to conduct sickening medical experiments, including forced abortions, as well as testing the effects of chemical agents and weapons on them. When it became clear that their side was going to be defeated, he ordered the killing of 150 prisoners and blew up the facility to try and cover his tracks.
1. Harold Shipman
This British GP is regarded as one of the most prolific serial killers that ever lived. He is also the only British doctor ever found guilty of murdering his patients, although others have been charged and then acquitted.
Early on in his career, deviant behavior had already begun to rear its ugly head; shortly after he had qualified as a doctor, in his first job, he was caught forging prescriptions for strong pain medication, which he was using himself. He was fined and sent to a drug rehab, but continued to practice and build a career for himself afterwards.
Shipman killed mostly elderly patients by overdosing them on morphine and, although he was charged with only 15 deaths, it’s believed he may have killed up to 250 people. He was a killer and a coward who killed himself once he had been caught to avoid having to answer for his crimes.