"Angel of Death" accused of killing 24 patients

The nurse is alleged to have killed 12 patients at this nursing home in Sarnen Keystone Archive

A male nurse, dubbed the “Angel of Death”, is to stand trial in Switzerland for killing 24 mostly elderly patients.

This content was published on January 14, 2004 - 15:56

Officials in Lucerne said pre-trial investigations confirmed that the nurse was also implicated in three cases of attempted murder.

Announcing the results of a two-and-a-half-year inquiry, officials said on Wednesday that the man was responsible for the killings, which occurred at five nursing homes in Switzerland.

The 34-year-old man, who has not been named, told investigators that he had acted out of compassion, giving his patients drug overdoses or smothering them with plastic bags or towels.

His victims – 23 women and 4 men – were aged between 66 and 95 years old.

“On the one hand, the accused gave as his motive acting out of sympathy, compassion, empathy and salvation; on the other hand, he said he and his [team] were totally overworked and needed relief,” said investigating magistrate Orvo Nieminem.

The accused confessed to 27 murders in September 2001, but pathologist Rudolf Hauri said the precise cause of death could not be established in three cases.

Hauri added that investigators had examined the medical files of 142 elderly patients who had died in homes where the nurse worked.

Trial

A psychiatric review found the nurse, whom the authorities have described as well educated, competent to stand trial either late this year or in early 2005.

The first eight suspicious deaths came to light at the end of May 2001 at a special unit for the senile in Lucerne, where the man had worked for six months.

The suspect was arrested a month later after the unit’s authorities alerted police. He remains in custody.

Following his arrest, investigators widened their probe to include other homes and hospitals where the man had worked. Five bodies were exhumed as part of the investigation.

Police traced 12 suspicious deaths to one home for the elderly in the central Swiss canton of Obwalden and said the rest took place in other homes or hospitals.

All the deaths occurred between 1995 and 2001.

Shock

The case has shocked Switzerland, despite the country’s relatively lenient attitude towards euthanasia.

Euthanasia is tolerated in a number of Swiss cantons, provided strict rules are followed.

The Swiss Exit organisation for voluntary euthanasia is active in canton Lucerne, where it accompanies terminally-ill people who have decided to end their days.

In 2002 the assisted suicide organisation, Dignitas, came under fire for offering its services to foreigners and the mentally ill.

Active euthanasia is illegal in Switzerland but the authorities often turn a blind eye to cases in which lethal drugs are prescribed to patients to help them end their lives.

swissinfo with agencies

Angel of Death

The nurse was arrested in June 2001.
He will stand trial for 24 killings. He is also accused of three attempted murders.
The first eight suspicious deaths came to light at the end of May 2001 at a special unit for the senile in Lucerne.
Police traced 12 suspicious deaths to one home for the elderly in canton Obwalden and said the rest happened in other homes or hospitals.

End of insertion

This article was automatically imported from our old content management system. If you see any display errors, please let us know: community-feedback@swissinfo.ch

Share this story