Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Team Killers, Part Three


It was in Walker, Michigan in 1987 where a pair of lesbians made murder into 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 aid and Wood was her immediate superior. Wood had divorced her husband and gained an enormous amount of weight, so she was in need of a friend. When she met Graham, they immediately hit it off and it wasn't long before they 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 sexually excited.

They started killing patients in January and continued for three months, picking victims whose initials, taken all together, would spell out the word, "murder." Graham dubbed this "the Murder Game." Posting Wood as sentry, she started with several elderly women, but they struggled so hard she had to back off. Oddly enough, none of them registered a complaint, and in fact, most of the patients liked these two women. In many respects, they appeared to be good at their jobs.

Then Graham went into the room of a woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease whom she knew would be unable to fight her off. Using a washcloth over the woman's face, she smothered her to death. In the weeks that followed, Graham moved on to another, and then another. There were times when the act of killing so excited her that when she was done, she and Wood went to an unoccupied room for a quick sexual encounter. Graham even took items off the victimsjewelry or denturesto help her to relive what she had just done, and she found enormous emotional release in killing.

In a morbid postscript, these women washed the bodies down as part of the postmortem routine, and handling the people they had just killed excited them even further. They simply could not stop.

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, astonishingly, no one stopped them.

Then Graham pressured 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 worked behind the scenes to get herself transferred to another shift.

This angered Graham, who then took up with another woman and eventually left Michigan to go work at a hospital in Texas taking care of infants. A terrified Wood confessed everything to her former husband, who called the police.

Of the 40 patients who had died in that three-month period, eight seemed suspicious enough for further investigation. Then investigators 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 admission to her that she wanted to "take one of the babies and smash it up against a window."

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.

* * * * *

Another team of female killers in a medical context were a pair of midwives who stimulated the imaginations of a village full of women, many of whom then acted out against husbands and children. The so-called "angel-makers of Nagyrev," which is a farming village in Hungary are believed responsible for the deaths of an estimated 300 people over a span of 15 years.

It all started during World War I, when midwife Julius Fazekas took care of people's medical needs. Her cohort in crime, reputed to be a witch, was Susanna Olah, a.k.a., "Auntie Susi."

Most of the village's men had gone to war in 1914, but the women had access to the Allied prisoners of war in camps outside town. When spouses returned, many of the wives were unhappy. They'd gotten used to their sexual freedom. Rumors of their unrest got back to the midwives, so they began to show the women a way to be rid of their unwanted burdens. They boiled arsenic off strips of flypaper, dispensing poison to whomever wanted it. By some estimates, around 50 poisoners went into action and because of the high death rate, the area eventually became known as "The Murder District."

Eventually they were stopped and the midwives arrested, along with 36 other women, with more to follow, and 26 actually went to trial. Eight received the death sentence, seven got life, and the others spent some time in jail. Among those who died was "Auntie Susi," because it was she who had distributed the poison. One account says that Fazekas was one of those hanged, but another describes her suicide by poison in her own home, surrounded by pots of boiled flypaper. At any rate, the woman who'd come in to offer her "medical" services had inspired a shocking murder spree, and the final tally will never be known.

The same may be said of the next couple, who persuaded people to die as sacrifices to their religion.

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