Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Efren Saldivar: Hospital Executioner

Dark Rumors

Hospitals are supposed to be places of healing, but they also can attract people who like to play God and decide when someone else should die. Those people may act out of a need for power or excitement, but many claim they do it from compassion. They just believe that certain patients would be better off dead.

It's not clear when the suspicious deaths began in the Glendale Adventist Medical Center near the Ventura Freeway in southern California. Elderly people die every day of natural causes. It doesn't take much to push them over the edge. If they're poor or have few relatives around to remark on it, they may die without anyone noticing that something was amiss.

Glendale Adventist Medical Center
Glendale Adventist Medical Center

Reporter Paul Lieberman for The Los Angeles Times describes the respiratory failure of a 75 year-old woman in 1996. Her name was Salbi Asatryan and she was an Armenian immigrant. She was taken to the hospital on December 27 for extreme difficulty with breathing, so she went right into critical care, accompanied by her worried daughters, and was stabilized. Several respiratory therapists worked with her and felt sure that she would pull through and improve. They expected her to be able to leave the hospital and go home. She was even breathing on her own and feeding herself. That's why everyone was surprised when three days after she'd begun to look better, she was found dead in her bed.

Efren Saldivar, 1998 (AP)
Efren Saldivar, 1998

Well, not everyone. There was talk around the hospital about the night shift and the "magic syringe." A few workers had their suspicions. When staff members are alone with patients and no one else is around, they're free to do as they please. Presumably they're trustworthy and want only the best for those in their care. However, not everyone interprets that relationship in the same way and not everyone feels a nurturing connection to his patients. Efren Saldivar became a hospital therapist, Lieberman points out, because he "liked the uniform." That's not much of a reason to go into healthcare.

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