Doctor, nurses, caregivers; they are human beings like us – sons, daughters, mothers, father, aunts, and uncles… But some of them are just stone cold killers. And for them, despite having taken the Hippocratic Oath of saving lives, life holds no value, but death does. Instead of saving lives, they take lives. They murder and kill, they stab and cut, they burn and poison.
For some it was a calling, for some a business, and for some, just something they simply had to do. None of these medical practitioners were the kind to uphold their oaths or hold human lives sacred. For them, the thrill of the kill was all that mattered – and that is what makes what they did all the more chilling. They were the ones who were supposed to save lives, and yet they killed mercilessly. These so-called angels of mercy fell from grace, and fell to spine-chilling depths, for when they killed, they committed murder most foul.
15 America’s First Serial Killer: Dr. Holmes (1861-1896)
Dr. Holmes is perhaps best known for being America’s first documented serial killer. Born Herman Webster Mudgett, he remained a conman and a misogynist all his life – and his first career was that of an accountant. Later, he graduated as a doctor but never really practiced as one. Instead, while he was enrolled as a student, he stole cadavers and disfigured them and then claimed life insurance on them by declaring them to be accident victims. Holmes kept changing towns whenever he felt that a scam or even a murder of his could be linked to him and finally ended up in Chicago where he first worked in a drug store and finally bought it. He made plenty money by selling “water that could cure the sick” and left once enough funds had been accumulated.
Across the street, he built his Murder Castle – a block long, 3-story building with innumerable rooms and dead ends – where he killed and killed again, selling off his murder victim’s bodies as cadavers and model skeletons. While he was hanged after being convicted of 25 deaths, he is rumored to have killed nearly 200 people in his murderous spree.
14 The Living Weapon: Dr. Shiro Ishii (1892-1959)
If you thought that horrific torture practices were just limited to Nazi concentration camps, think again, or rather think Japan. In a country that celebrates and holds suicide in high esteem, was born Dr Shiro Ishii, who is responsible for the death of thousands of Chinese POWs, and hundreds of Russian and Allied POWs as well.
In a building called Unit 731, Shiro unleashed the world’s worst medical horrors on Chinese prisoners called maruta, meaning logs. These prisoners were forced to intake deadly pathogens such as cholera, plague, anthrax, gas gangrene, botulism, and smallpox. These so-called human logs were left to die or sometimes killed before the disease could run its course in the name of science – to study what the disease did to an organism. The prisoners were subjected to further horrors: vivisection (autopsy performed on live victims), forced abortions, as well as artificially induced heart attacks, strokes and hypothermia. Despite all this, Shiro Ishii died a free man in 1959, and his part in Japanese war crimes was wiped clean by the US, eager to learn his medical secrets by striking a deal.
13 The Nightmare Nurse: Jane Toppan (1857-1938)
In case you thought that killing people was limited to doctors, or men, nuh uh – meet Jane Toppan, the nightmare nurse who is believed to have killed 33 of her own patients by giving them lethal doses of morphine and atropine over the course of two decades. Toppan may actually have killed about seventy people all together but confessed to killing only 33, and unlike other female serial killers, Jane here got a sexual thrill out of patients dying in her arms.
Born Honora Kelly and often also called Jolly Jane, she was a rather attractive young nurse who worked in Boston, Massachusetts. She was able to hide her obsession with death from almost everyone that she worked with. Even as a nursing student, Jane often altered the dosage of many patients in a bid to see how it reacted. But once she became a registered nurse, it seems she got her license to kill too. She later stated, “my ambition is to have killed more people — helpless people — than any other man or woman who ever lived..." She was committed to a mental asylum where she lived for 40 years before dying in 1938.
12 Double-O Swango: Who Nearly Got Away (1954-present)
Michael Swango was the troubled child of an army veteran with alcoholism and a housewife who single-handedly raised him and his three half-brothers. From the beginning, Michael showed a less-than-marked talent for medicine, botching up autopsies so bad that he became a school joke. His classmates noticed his interest in dying patients – once they died, he marked their chests with "DIED" written in red– which is why they began to call him Double-O Swango, in reference to James Bond and his license to kill.
Handsome and congenial in nature, Swango is estimated to have killed 30-60 of his patients, poisoning them with various substances such as ant poison, arsenic, and other poisons of his own makings. He skipped several jobs and was fired from others, changed his identity many times by forging documents, and even served a 5-year stint in jail for aggravated battery (he was caught poisoning his colleagues) before finally escaping to Africa and killing even more there. When he returned to America, he was greeted at the airport by police officials and finally sent to prison, and is serving three consecutive life terms without parole.
11 The Orderly With A God Complex: Anders Hansson (1960-present)
Anders Hansson is probably Sweden’s worst ever healthcare-related serial killer, or rather Sweden’s deadliest serial killer to date. An orderly whose job was to provide care and assistance to elderly and long-term care patients, Anders was just 18 when he killed at least 15 victims by poisoning them with cleaning products that he was provided with to clean and decontaminate hospital rooms.
An orderly at the Malmö Östra Hospital, Anders first started his killings in 1978 and during the course of just a year, he poisoned almost 30 patients, 15 of whom died while another 15 were victims of attempted murder and suffered physical harm as well as mental anguish. He was arrested when an elderly patient screamed that something was burning her throat and upon smelling her breath, it was found that she had ingested cleaning fluid. Anders Hansson confessed to it all, and has been incarcerated in a psychiatric care facility ever since.
10 Doctor Death: Harold Shipman (1946-2004)
A British general practitioner, Harold Shipman has been perhaps one of the most prolific doctor serial killers in the history of doctors being serial killers, and while he was held accountable and pronounced guilty for the murders of 15 victims, his death count is believed to be more than 250.
Shipman graduated from the Leeds School of Medicine in 1970 and worked in Yorkshire before moving to Hyde Park after being found guilty of forging prescriptions of Demerol for personal use. Later he began his own practice in 1993 and became a respected member of the community. Some years later, a few relatives raised concerns of deaths in their families, all the victims being patients under the care of Dr. Shipman.
After some bungled police work, it finally came to light that Harold Shipman made a habit of killing women, mostly elderly women under his care, by poisoning them with morphine and derivatives, and forging wills that left their assets in his name. He was incarcerated in Wakefield Prison in 2000 and committed suicide by hanging himself in 2004.
9 Arfinn Nesset: The Killer Nurse Who Is Now Free (1936-present)
Arfinn Nesset was born out of wedlock to a mother who provided for him all through his life, and a father he never met. Not much is known about his childhood, but he was educated and later became a registered nurse. He must have been good at his job because by 1977, he was head nurse at a large nursing home in Okdal, Norway. In 1981, his luck apparently ran out when a large number of deaths at his nursing home was discovered by the authorities. Investigations led them to question Nesset, who first confessed to 27 murders; he claimed to have killed the victims by injecting them with a powerful muscle relaxant called suxamethonium chloride.
Though he later recanted his confession, in 1932 he was convicted of murdering 22 patients, though his body count may have been higher than 180. Sentenced for 21 years followed by 10 years preventative detention (the maximum sentence at the time), Nesset served just 12 years with 10 years supervision. He is believed to be living as a free man today under an assumed name.
8 The Children Killer: Beverley Allitt (1968-present)
Picture this: a hard-working, children-loving girl, brought up in a normal family in a normal neighborhood with average grades, who, at age 16, quits school to enroll into a nursing school and finally becomes a nurse.
Sounds pretty normal, right? Well this girl gets a job as a nurse in the children’s ward at Grantham & Kesteven Hospital, in Lincolnshire in the UK, and this is where things start to go horribly wrong. Born Beverley Gail Emma Louise Allitt, her crimes were all the more horrifying because they were committed against the most innocent and defenseless of all human beings: children.
In a period of 59 horrific days, Beverley administered air bubble and insulin injections, killing four children, attempting to murder more, and caused grievous bodily harm to six other children as well. She pleaded not guilty to all counts but was given a sentence of 30 years, and will be eligible for parole, if found not to be a danger to public only in 2022. While not much has been found out about the cause, she was diagnosed as having Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome.
7 The Qi Assassin: Hu Wanlin (1949-present)
Born in the Sichuan province of China, Hu Wanlin completed only his primary education before embarking on a career of conning and abducting women, and in the 1980s was imprisoned for homicide. Still in prison in 1993, he opened a medical practice while incarcerated. In 1997 he was acquitted in a retrial and went on to practice medicine illegally. When this was banned by the local authorities in 1998, he shifted his lodgings but continued to practice his brand of deadly medicine.
The herbal medicine he gave to his patients was later found to be laced with sodium sulphate, and along with this, he also practiced the ancient art of Chinese healing called qigong. In qigong, the practitioner is thought to emit healing rays called qi from his body, that reaches his “patients” and apparently heals them without contact. Luckily, in 1999, he was arrested on suspicion of causing 150 deaths and finally imprisoned for 15 years in 2000, and paid a 150,000 Yuan fine. Sadly, he was released early, and apparently killed again in 2014.
6 The House Of Horrors: Kermit Gosnell (1940-present)
If you thought that Beverley Allitt was the worst of them all, because she murdered children, meet Kermit Barron Gosnell, who murdered babies.
After receiving his medical degree in 1966 from Jefferson Medical College, Dr Gosnell apparently spent four decades practicing medicine among the poor and needy, including opening the Mantua Halfway House in Philadelphia. In 1972, Dr Gosnell performed 15 second trimester abortions using an experimental “Super Coil” method invented by Harvey Karman. This event was televised and later dubbed as the Mother’s Day Massacre when 9 of these 15 women reported complications with three of them being severe ones.
He opened an abortion clinic known as The Women’s Medical Society which was raided in 2010 by the DEA and the Philadelphia Police Department. What the authorities found there was horrific. Discarded fetuses were everywhere: in juice cartons, bottles, bags... The equipment was unsanitary, patients were being treated by unqualified staff, and there was blood and gore all around.
Later it was found that if the aborted fetus was alive and viable, it was killed by scissoring the spinal cord. All in all 45 fetuses were found in that raid, with some of them being viable. Thankfully, this monster is behind bars.
5 Doctor Death, Not Guilty: Jayant Patel (1950-present)
An Indian-born American surgeon, Dr. Patel was accused of gross negligence during his stint in Australia when many of his patients began to die. In 2010, he was convicted of three counts of manslaughter and one count of grievous bodily harm – but all these convictions were overturned in 2012 by the High Court of Australia. At the retrial, Dr. Patel pleaded guilty to fraud and was barred from practicing medicine in Australia in 2015.
Not that he had a glorious record before this either. In the medical field, the word of a doctor is often believed over those of others, even if they are victims. In 1984, Dr. Patel was accused of not examining his patients before surgery and placed on probation for three years. In 1989, he moved to Oregon and had a string of problem cases. In 2000, Oregon took away his license to practice, and in 2001, New York followed suit. We hope he never practices again.
4 The Doctor of Wills: John Bodkin Adams (1899-1983)
This one really takes the cake because between 1946 and 1956, more than 160 of his patients died under suspicious circumstances, and he was never convicted for his hand in these deaths. Out of these 160 victims, an astounding 132 left him money or items in their wills which were most certainly doctored by the good doctor himself. The failure of the prosecution to convict him on murder, however, stems from Dr. Adam's apparent sexual involvement with Sir Roland Gwynne, the MP for East Bourne. Though at that time, homosexuality was deemed an offence.
Arrested in 1956, Dr. Adams is stated to have said, “Murder… murder… Can you prove it was murder? I didn’t think you could prove it was murder. She was dying in any event.” Nonetheless, it’s a well-kept secret that Dr. John Bodkin Adams did indeed cause an overdose for many of his patients, and doctored their wills to amass wealth for himself. Unfortunately, despite being convicted of fraud, he was reinstated in 1961 where he continued to practice medicine till his death in 1983.
3 The Nurse With "Heart": Kristen Gilbert (1967-present)
Born to an electronics executive father and a teacher mother, very early on it was clear that Kristen Gilbert was a habitual liar who faked suicides to get her way. And in case that failed, she also had the rather endearing habit of making violent threats against people who got in her way ever since her teenage years. Despite all this, and the fact that she had to transfer from a couple of nursing schools due to her disturbing behavior, in 1988, she became a registered nurse.
In 1989, she joined the staff of VAMC in Northampton and a string of suspicious patient deaths occurred. While initially she escaped investigation, it became increasingly obvious that she might be the underlying cause of it all. The hospital staff members later speculated that she may have been the cause of over 80 patient deaths and some 300 emergencies. She would induce cardiac arrests in her patients by introducing epinephrine in their IV bags and be the first responder to start resuscitating the patient. She is currently serving her sentence for multiple counts of murder in federal prison in Texas.
2 America’s Killer Nurse: Charles Cullen (1960-present)
Charles Cullen first attempted suicide when he was a mere 9 years old by drinking chemicals from a science kit. This was the first of his many suicide attempts, seven in all, to end a life that began with a miserable childhood. In 1977, his mother and sister died in a car crash and there began Cullen’s mental instability. He enlisted in the Navy but received a medical discharge in 1984 after which he enrolled in a nursing school. He graduated in 1987 and joined the burn unit at St. Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey.
His patients tended to die alarmingly and with no cause. He shifted jobs often at many different hospitals before finally being arrested in 2003, after an astounding 16-year murder spree. He admitted to murdering over 40 patients in his career and was awarded a sentence of 18 consecutive life terms which means he will be eligible for parole only in the year 2403. Experts say that Cullen may actually be responsible for the deaths of over 300 patients, many of whom were non terminal.
1 The Angel of Death: Daniela Poggiali (1973-present)
This Italian nurse is not what the doctor ordered at all. She was accused of killing patients just because she thought them and their visiting friends and families to be "annoying." She even took selfies, while laughing and making lewd gestures, with a few recently deceased patients.
She is thought to have killed as many as 38 patients, and while this number is not as high as the others on the list, her reasoning makes it all the more chilling. While some of these "angels of mercy" thought that they were being merciful or even killed to make a quick buck, Daniela killed because her victims had committed the cardinal sin of annoying her. Working at Lugo Hospital, Daniela’s modus operandi was hefty doses of potassium chloride, and 38 of the 96 patients she treated died within a three-month period. She is also accused of stealing money and valuables from the victims, though she denies all charges. The prosecution calls her a megalomaniac with a God complex, even though Daniela claims to have never killed, only helped.
We can only hope and pray that she and these other so-called caregivers never see the light of day again, and those who are free never get the chance to kill again. For the ones who are no longer on this earth, may God have mercy upon your soul, diseased as it may be.