Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angels of Death: The Female Nurses

A Sexual Game

Gilbert's idea of excitement pales in comparison to the next team of caregivers. It was in Walker, Michigan in 1987 where a pair of lesbians made death a sexual game. Gwedolyn Gail Graham, 23, and Catherine May Wood, 24, worked together at the Alpine Manor Nursing Home. Graham was a nurse's aide and Wood was her immediate superior. Wood had divorced and gained an enormous amount of weight, so she was hungry for a friend. When she met Graham, they immediately hit it off and soon became lovers.

It was Graham who first broached the subject of murder. They practiced sexual asphyxia to achieve greater orgasms, so Wood later claimed she thought Graham was kidding. Yet the linked pain and pleasure of their sexual games became threaded with the idea of cruelty. Just talking about murder got them both excited.

They started killing patients in January and continued for three months, picking patients to kill whose initials would end up spelling "murder." Graham called this "the Murder Game." Posting Wood as sentry, she started with several elderly women, but they struggled so hard, she had to back off. Yet they did not register a complaint, and in fact, most of the patients liked these two women.

Then Graham went into the room of a woman suffering from Alzheimer's who would not be able to fight her off. She smothered the woman with a washcloth. In the weeks that followed, she moved on to another, and then another. There were times when the act of killing so excited her that she and Wood went to an unoccupied room for sex. Graham even took items off the victims — jewelry or dentures — to help her to relive what she had just done, and she found enormous emotional release in murder.

When they washed the bodies down as part of the postmortem routine, they grew even more excited.

Then they got bolder. They told colleagues what they were doing, because even the confessions added to their heightened sexual drive, but their accounts were dismissed as sick jokes. Graham showed three aides her shelf of souvenirs, and still no one stopped them.

Then Graham wanted Wood to take a more active role. To prove her love, she would have to kill one of the patients herself. Wood wasn't ready for this, so she got transferred to another shift.

Graham took up with another woman and then left Michigan to go work at a hospital in Texas taking care of infants. A terrified Wood confessed everything to her former husband, but it took him over a year to take action. Finally he called the police.

Of the 40 patients who had died in that three-month period, eight seemed suspicious enough for further investigation. Then they settled on five, and arrested both women. Wood turned state's witness against her former lover for a sentence of 20 to 40 years. She told them she'd come forward because of Graham's claim to her that she wanted to "take one of the babies and smash it up against a window."

To offer a mitigating circumstance, Graham said that her father had molested her, but this charge was never proven. Her lawyer also claimed that Wood came forward with lies just to get even with a lover who had left her. This was a set up.

The jury believed Wood. Graham was convicted on five counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder (although Wood had claimed that she'd tried to smother five more patients.) She got six life sentences, with no possibility of parole.

People, both male and female, who take advantage of vulnerable patients to feed their own needs are in some way depraved. They defy society's code of trust, and some of them are obviously sadistic. Whether it's because something terrible was once done to them or because they just needed to feel more powerful, they make people everywhere wary entrusting themselves to the healthcare system. Thus their damage is more profound than whatever they do to their victims. In a real way, society itself becomes their ultimate victim.


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