Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angels of Death: The Female Nurses


It is unfortunately a fact of bureaucracy that administrators will inevitably hide whatever makes their agency or company look bad to the public in order to keep the revenue flowing in. The paramount issue with hospitals is trust: If patients don't feel safe going to a particular facility, they'll choose another, and that is to be avoided at all cost.

The fact is, one bad apple doesn't make the entire facility unsafe, but public perception can exaggerate the situation, especially with the media's help. The typical manner of dealing with suspicious caretakers is to move them into jobs where their contact with patients is minimal, or pressure them to leave, but that's just not sufficient to stop them. Numerous physicians and nurses have been protected by administrators, and because of that, their compulsion to harm or kill continues.

In fact, protection by superiors supplies the first motive mentioned on the list below. While there's no one reason why these men and women take advantage of their patients the way they do, most fall into the following categories.

  1. Testing feelings of invincibility 
    Genene Jones certainly felt protected, and when she added in her ability to generate attention and the fact that she managed to get away with murder for several years, you have a person developing a serious sense of megalomania. She had power over her patients and she seemed to feel she had power over those with whom she worked. She could charm them into siding with her, which left her free to do what she wanted.
  2. Attention
    In some cases, nurses who kill are seeking attention, and they may have developed a personality disorder known as Munchausen by proxy syndrome. Often, they return to a healthcare facility many times, making people in their care sick so they can hang out with doctors and get their attention. The more hopeless the case appears, the more they revel in it while feigning concern. They mostly just seek attention and care, although a small percentage of them secretly hope to baffle a physician. If the medical staff at one place suspects fakery, the patient is likely to notice the change in attitudes and move on to another. They may repeat the same scene in each place or come up with new symptoms altogether. Some even inject their charges with a toxin to simulate an organic disease. Most Munchausen by proxy patients are female. They know how to lie in great detail and to disguise what they're doing. What happens to their charges is not their concern; they're in it for the attention. Not all of them are nurses, but some of the nurses in charge of children may have this disorder.
  3. Disdain
    Psychologist David Canter says that the way people treat the objects of their violence speaks to how they feel about people in general, and about themselves. A number of nurses who've been caught exhibit poor self-esteem. While motives attributed to them are often about gaining power over vulnerable people, it may go deeper than that. They may feel so inadequate that harming others or setting up a risky situation is the only way they can place themselves in terms of worth over other people. Their disdain for the patient mirrors their disdain for themselves. This could come from abuse as a child or the failure to be accepted by peers. Whatever the case, they act out what they feel for themselves.
  4. Compassion
    Several nurses have claimed that their fatal injection or asphyxiation of patients was done out of a sense of mercy. A 24-year-old nurse in Budapest, "Timea F," who is also known as the Black Angel because she always wears black, is suspected in the deaths of 40 patients over the span of a year. The motive she offered in her confession was that she hoped to "ease her terminally ill patients into death." The patients were ill and in pain, with no hope of recovery, and it seemed best to help them. However, "mercy-killing" has often been a cover for some other dark motive, so it's not necessarily to be trusted. Nor is it a justification.
  5. Psychopathy
    A large percentage of the nurses appeared to show no feelings of remorse for what they had done, or to have any concern about the people they killed. There were no apologies to families of the deceased. In fact, many psychopaths roam free in society, and for those who feel compelled to kill, what better place to do it without discovery than a facility where people die anyway? They're generally good at charming themselves into a position and at hiding what they're up to. It's easy for their colleagues to miss the signs. Many psychopaths are driven by anger and take it out on the most vulnerable people within reach. Some kill just for the physical charge it gives them, which may derive from a depressed autonomic system. About the only way to stop them is better vigilance in the hospital system.
  6. The malignant hero
    As with doctors, there have been nurses who set up risky situations in order to create an emergency where they can emerge as heroes. It matters little to them that the patients might die, and in fact that's been the case with those who were caught.
  7. Financial gain
    A few of the caregivers see a way to enrich themselves by conning vulnerable people or stealing from them. Some use a "wallet-opening smile" while others just find a way to take what they can. 

Let's take a look at a couple of cases like that.


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