5 Of The Most Evil Medical Professionals In History
Serial-killing doctors and nurses are nothing new in pop culture. From Dr. Jekyll to Annie Wilkes to Hannibal Lecter, "evil medical professional" is practically its own sub-genre of horror. Well, the good news is that murderous MDs and nefarious nurses are exceptionally rare in real life. The bad news is that this means the bad ones can actually rack up way higher body counts than most of their fictional counterparts, even if their methods are less flamboyant. For example ...
Thomas Neill Cream Was So Murderous That People Thought He Was Jack The Ripper
Thomas Neill Cream was born in Glasgow in 1850 and went on to grow up in typical Victorian fashion. This mostly meant growing a large mustache and trying desperately to avoid the many childhood diseases anti-vaxxers are hellbent on bringing back. Graduating from McGill in Quebec, Cream went on to leave a swath of dead bodies across America and England, eventually reaching the end of his rope at the literal end of a rope. And before I forget, he reportedly was on the verge of confessing to be Jack the Ripper at the moment he died.
First following his father into the family lumber business, Cream found a future in cutting logs to be quite shitty, and went into medicine instead. At McGill, using daddy's money, he bought dandified outfits and wore lots of bling, essentially becoming the Liberace of future murder doctors. Cream met a gal named Flora, whom he wooed and knocked up and then ... practiced an abortion on. Unsurprisingly, it went terribly. She fell ill, and her dad came calling for a shotgun marriage. While Cream studied obstetrics, Flora would die of (maybe) consumption, the "maybe" coming in the form of a budding killer husband who'd already badly hurt her.
Cream continued his aborting ways, gassing a woman to death via ether. When cops started sniffing around, he pulled up stakes and headed to Chicago. In 1881, Cream killed another woman via "botched" abortion, poisoned a second, and then, when a woman came to him for epilepsy medicine for her husband, gave her strychnine pills. In a true case of playing himself, Cream had the body exhumed (whereupon the lethal dosage was found), with a plan to sue the pharmacists who'd made the medicine he'd ordered. The authorities blamed him instead and sent him to Illinois State Penitentiary for 10 years. That seems a little light, but at least it's something.
Now, you might be thinking, "Wouldn't being in an American jail until 1891 make him not viable as an 1888 Ripper suspect?" and you'd be right. But that logic allegedly didn't stop him from claiming it, or thirsty authors from latching on. But here's the thing: You could make the argument that this guy was actually worse. Cream soon started killing sex workers himself, starting up his strychnine pill business again and passing them out like M&Ms once he'd gotten to Lambeth in London. Soon known as the Lambeth Poisoner, Cream was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death at Newgate, where he was hanged on November 12, 1892.
John Bodkins Adams May Have Gotten Away With A Whole Bunch Of Killing
John Bodkins Adams, with a name like a Harry Potter reject and a face like Heinrich Himmler fucked Benny Hill, discovered that being a traveling doctor is a surefire method to wealth and glory. By the time he was done, he'd amassed a personal fortune in bequests, having been written into the wills of 132 of the 163 patients he'd helped to euthanize over the course of his career. Even if you knew nothing else about him, "People who die under his care kept leaving him money" is a big enough red flag to blot out the sun.
This Toby-Jones-character-to-be graduated from Belfast and entered practice in 1922, becoming a Dr. Feelgood who specialized in handing out barbiturates. All the way through 1957, he finagled a personal fortune by herding a clientele of England's snoots around in his Rolls Royce. He made it rain by pointing out that if he'd sent them a bill, he'd be taxed, but if they happened to remember him in their will, well, he'd get all the money. And rich people LOVE avoiding taxes.
His other amazing pitch was that since so many charities were a scam, if they left their money to him, he'd see that it get where they wanted it to go. The problem with doing that dance 132 times, however, means your practice starts to reek with authorities wondering if your gaggle of pill-popping grannies may have kicked the bucket earlier than they should have. In his position, there'd be quite a temptation to, you know, not wait for nature to take its course. But was he a mass murderer? Thanks to a botched prosecution, we'll never know.
What we do know is that after two deaths that were even more suspicious than usual, the police got a warrant to search his house for drugs, and Adams was arrested and put on trial. The prosecutor, Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, handled the case with the skill of an alligator decorating a wedding cake. He lost Adams' notebooks (which the defense turned up and used to punch holes in his witnesses' testimony) and entered a nolle prosequi. (Apparently Latin for "Fuck it, never mind.")
It took only 45 minutes for Adams to be acquitted. Though they'd get him on a later, minor charge of mishandling dangerous drugs, he'd eventually appeal and be reinstated as a doctor. He'd taken a beating from the trial, but he won out and never faced a day in jail for any one of the codgers he'd pumped full of drugs and strip-mined for cash. He died a millionaire in 1983.
Related: 10 Old-Timey Medical Treatments Inspired By Your Nightmares
Amelia Elizabeth Dyer Was A True Monster
Nurses that kill the weak aren't anything new. Beverly Allitt got sent up the river in the '90s for killing babies, and Genene Jones did the same thing (with her nephew claiming Stephen King "stole" Misery from her life story). But it was Amelia Elizabeth Dyer who takes the cake in terms of sheer fairy tale witch levels of awfulness. She was a one-woman Egyptian plague, with hundreds of dead infants to her name.
The Victorian period, for all its quaint Dickens adaptations, was rough as hell for anyone actually living in it. Disease ran rampant, it literally stank like shit, and women had it worse than anyone. The ones who got pregnant out of wedlock wound up getting shut out of the job market, choosing between starving, sex work, or paying a fee to someone to take the baby off their hands and presumably to an orphanage -- a process known as "baby farming."
Enter evil crone, stage right. Dyer, born 1837, had become a nurse and learned about "farming" from a friend. She'd visit people who'd advertised in the local paper, collect her fee, and then take off with the kid. Most were dead within a few hours. Dyer's favorite methods, in order of increasing awfulness, were drugging them, strangling them, or letting them starve to death. She got six months hard labor for the many child deaths that were connected to her in 1879, but that was all.
Wondering why she'd even needed doctors to issue death certificates, she cut out the middleman and simply started disposing of the bodies herself, since they were, y'know, babies and therefore not all that much to hide. But it was this very act that would prove her undoing. Taking the daughter of a barmaid along with her fee, she killed the child and stuffed her in a carpet bag, which she dropped into the Thames in her usual child-disposing area, presumably before heading home to see how Hansel and Gretel were plumping up.
The bag was fished out, handed over to police, and they read her former married name (Thomas) off the tag inside. Dragging the river, they found six more bagged bodies, and attached all of them to Dyer. She pleaded insanity, but the court didn't buy it. Witnesses claimed they sometimes saw as many as six children a day enter her home. Dyer eventually confessed and was executed on June 10, 1896. The one good thing about her was that her trial highlighted what a problem England had regarding unwed mothers, and forced some change. See? That's all it took.
Related: The 5 Most Terrifying Ways Doctors Went Crazy On The Job
Cathy Wood And Gwendolyn Graham Killed Out Of Love
Working at the Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walker, Michigan, Cathy Wood and Gwendolyn Graham killed a string of elderly patients mainly for the hell of it. They initially chose victims whose initials would spell out the word MURDER, which seems a bit on the nose, but they quickly just started picking them at random. Eventually the police would catch on to this Thelma and Louise from hell, and the women would tell vastly different stories.
The real history begins with Wood, who'd stopped caring for her daughter and allowed her house to become a candidate for an episode of Hoarders, getting encouraged by her oblivious husband to go to work as a nurse to cheer her up. By 1986, she began an affair with Graham. Graham had grown up in an abusive home, her father at one point ordering her brother to kill her beloved dog (which she later dug up to collect its teeth). Some childhoods seem like elaborate experiments to see if a serial killer can be manufactured.
Graham lapped up the constant attention Wood gave her, but was still afraid of Wood (who'd tied her up and pulled a gun on her). The pair started smothering patients to death, and apparently boasted of the murders to anyone who would listen (everyone seemed to just assume it was bullshit). Eventually the relationship soured and Graham moved away. Wood confessed/boasted to her ex-husband, who went to the cops and spilled the beans. And he only waited a year to do it!
The police looked into the claims and found enough suspicious deaths to arrest both women, who said they'd thrill-killed to spice up their relationship. Wood claimed that she'd simply been the lookout, and that Graham was both murderer and manager, while Graham of course claimed otherwise. This didn't stop them from writing love letters with "I love you forever and __ days!" on them, with the blanks filled in with the number they'd killed so far. American Greetings didn't make murder romance cards, so they had to make do.
Because of Wood's claims, Graham got five life sentences without parole. Wood, on the other hand, pleaded out for a charge of second-degree murder. She got two 20-year sentences, but got paroled after only 29 years. She moved to South Carolina, and is living a quiet life, by all accounts.
Michael Swango's Hospital Killing Spree Spanned Continents
On paper, Michael Swango seemed like the perfect citizen: class valedictorian, veteran, doctor. Apparently he wanted something more out of life. By the time he was arrested, he'd killed up to 60 patients under his care. And that's not counting the deaths of his friends, co-workers, and wife.
Swango started out as a cute little tyke who had the same hobby as your Aunt Kathy: scrapbooking. Except in Swango's case, it wasn't photos of trips to Tahoe and stickers saying "Summer Fun," but clippings about the Holocaust and car accidents. Far from being alarmed, Swango's mom helped her budding Norman Bates by finding him gory snippets for his album. He'd drop out of college when he got dumped by his girlfriend and became a marine sharpshooter, padding his accomplishments with a fake Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
In a turn of events that probably everyone should have seen as foreshadowing, he got a discharge and went to Quincy, studied poisons, and wrote his thesis on them. Then in Southern Illinois, Swango became an ambulance driver, cutting corners in school to keep up. After they'd all seen his weird scrapbooks and five patients die in proximity to him, his fellow students called him "Double-Oh Swango" on account of his "license to kill." You get it? Because they thought he was a nutcase killing his patients. Comedy gold.
From Quincy, he got into Ohio State, where patients began to die under his care and reports from nurses were glossed over while the hospital moved him to a different wing. There people also started to suddenly die ... which was weird, because an administration playing Murderer Musical Chairs usually has such a good outcome. Ohio declined him a second year on his residency, so he returned to ambulance work. While there, he poisoned his co-workers via donuts. They got tested, called the cops, and he ended up in the clink for two years of a five-year sentence.
Still, none of the previous deaths could be tied to him. Experts in poisoning know how to cover their tracks. So after he got out, Swango got married, divorced, and became a counselor, since no one local would hire him as a medical doctor. Oh, and he started poisoning his co-workers there too. He legally changed his name to David Jackson Adams and moved on to the University of South Dakota, where he began a residency and married a second time. Things were peachy for him until he tried to join the AMA, who do these things called background checks. They blew the whistle on his terrifying past, and he was forced to resign.
To cope, he began poisoning his wife. When she found that he'd also emptied her checking account, she committed suicide. Though in top mama bear fashion, her mother ruined Swango by sending his records out to every teaching and residency hospital in the country.
But that didn't stop Swango, who then, holy shit, got a job with a wastewater treatment plant that controlled the water supply to all of Atlanta. Fortunately, the company fired the mad doctor when the FBI clued them in, but he skipped off to Africa where, and you'll be shocked to hear this, patients began dying again. He then decided to leap-frog to Saudi Arabia for some reason, taking a flight that went through O'Hare, where he finally got nabbed and put away. Today he resides in ADX Florence Supermax in Colorado, alongside people like Ted Kackzynski and the 9/11 conspirators. I'm sure they'll finally be the ones to appreciate his scrapbooks.
For more, check out What Your Doctor Wants To Tell You, But Can't (From A Medical Physician):
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