Throughout the history of medical science, many respectable men and women have sought to improve the lives of their patients—people suffering from unthinkable diseases, the horrors of war, accidental injuries, and more. It is left up to the practitioner to make the best decisions about the application of medicine.
Sometimes, prestigious people with medical licenses and no ethics find that they have the freedom to carry out atrocities that go undetected, unquestioned, or both. Here are 10 cases where raving madmen were allowed to take the reins of medical power and use them for nefarious purposes under the guise of care and compassion.
10 Michael Swango
Medical doctors who commit murder in their professional practices often go undetected for long periods of time. Mainly, this occurs because they are tending to sick people who already have a high likelihood of dying. Such was the case with Michael Swango.
After a stint in the United States Marine Corps, Swango eventually went to the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. From there, he became a surgical intern at Ohio State, where his murders apparently began in the early to mid-1980s.
His coworkers began to notice the high frequency with which his patients were dying. But in a medical environment, accusations of murdering patients are strikingly hard to prove. Although Swango was investigated and cleared, he was not permitted to become a surgical resident at Ohio State.
Instead, he went to work for an ambulance service as an emergency medical technician. His coworkers realized that they always fell violently ill when Swango brought them food or coffee. He was arrested for poisoning them with arsenic and other substances and was eventually sentenced to five years in prison.
After his release, he fell in love with a nurse, Kristin Kinney. But even love couldn’t suppress his violent tendencies. For no apparent reason, Kinney became severely ill on many occasions. In truth, Michael Swango had poisoned his own girlfriend, and she later committed suicide.
Using forged credentials, Swango had resumed working at another medical institution, where his patients mysteriously died once again. Through a combination of circumstances, he was found out and the subsequent outcry forced Swango to run from the FBI to Zimbabwe. But his crimes inevitably caught up with him, and he was sentenced to life in prison.
Although the exact body count is unknown, Swango had the opportunity to poison many people. Using arsenic as his main tool of murder, he remained completely under the radar for years. Swango is suspected of killing up to 60 individuals.
9 John Christie
John Christie was an English serial killer who murdered under the guise of patient care, although his medical practice was entirely illegal. He offered abortion services to prostitutes. Abortion was illegal in England during the span of his killings between 1943 and 1953.
With the aid of his wife, Ethel, John Christie would render his victims unconscious with a combination of gases intended to be anesthesia for surgery. Then he would strangle his victims to death.
Christie is believed to have killed 6–8 people this way, with some counts ranging as high as 10. Like serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr., Christie buried his victims beneath the floorboards and in the crawl space of his flat. The police uncovered most of the bodies there.
John Christie was a monster who even turned on his wife and murdered her. During an abortion procedure, he also killed the unborn child of his next-door neighbors, Timothy and Beryl Evans, as well as Beryl. Later, Christie murdered the Evanses’ other child, Geraldine.
Timothy Evans took the fall, and John Christie testified against him for murder. Evans was hanged. But in a beautiful twist of fate, John Christie was eventually convicted for his murderous rampage and hanged on July 15, 1953.
8 John Bodkin Adams
On October 1, 1956, police confronted long-standing doctor John Bodkin Adams with considerable evidence that he was a serial killer who had taken over 100 lives. His trial for murder took place in 1957.
Adams was strategically, politically, and economically savvy. He was able to befriend the local mayor and other notable figures as well as borrow from patients to invest in property and cars. This provided passive income while he worked and allowed him to continue killing beneath the facade of a distinguished gentleman.
Adams’s motive for murder was simple: greed. He killed his patients in various ways. Before doing so, he often convinced them to give up a large part of their income. For example, prior to killing one woman’s husband, Adams tried to persuade the wife to give him a portion of her inheritance for his “attempts” to save her husband.
As he made house calls, Adams was also invited into patients’ homes to care for them. There, he would maliciously murder them. Adams was a professional con man who blurred the lines of medical practice, murder, and euthanasia.
Oh, and that trial in 1957 where he was facing execution by hanging? He was found not guilty. Though he was barred from medical practice due to the scandal and stripped of his license, Adams died a free man in 1983.
7 Thomas Neill Cream
Thomas Neill Cream was the epitome of the sociopathic criminal. He was a thief, arsonist, burglar, practitioner of illegal abortions, and murderer. He also happened to be a physician.
Many have speculated that Cream was responsible for the Jack the Ripper murders because Cream killed around the same time. However, he was believed to be in prison when many of the Ripper murders occurred.
Cream only killed women. He commonly used poison, which was quite different than the brutal, gory nature of the Ripper murders. Although Cream took intermittent breaks between murders, he was convicted after the body of a former patient was exhumed for analysis. Strychnine poisoning was found.
However, this didn’t stop him. Even though he received a life sentence, he was released on good behavior and became free to murder again. Cream was eventually hanged for his crimes.
6 Kermit Gosnell
Kermit Gosnell is another unorthodox case. Unlike the others listed so far, he was a licensed, legal abortion doctor. Some of Gosnell’s murders were a legal distinction when it came to abortion: He performed experimental abortions and illegal, late-term abortions.
The FBI and the Philadelphia police raided Gosnell’s practice and described the conditions as filthy, vile, and disgusting. Among other crimes, Gosnell was eventually convicted of murdering three babies who were born alive during attempted abortions.
5 Steven Massof
Employed by abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, whom we just discussed, Steven Massof was equally depraved and assisted in Gosnell’s murderous rampage. In fact, Massof did much of the deranged doctor’s dirty work.
Massof also killed babies born alive during attempted abortions. He received a reduced sentence for his honesty during his testimony. According to his statements, he witnessed over 100 babies having their necks snapped. They were basically beheaded before his eyes.
But make no mistake. Although Massof was only sentenced to 6–12 years in prison for his monstrous crimes, he was every bit as guilty of committing some of the murders in Gosnell’s abortion clinic from hell.
4 Jack Kevorkian
Some hailed him as a philanthropist, a kind and caring man who aided in the euthanasia of people experiencing tremendous suffering that is nearly impossible to comprehend for those of us who haven’t been there. Others saw Kevorkian (aka “Dr. Death”) as a terrifying monster, dedicated to seeking out the weak and suffering to satisfy his murderous desires.
Kevorkian battled the legal system over the gray areas in the euthanasia laws of the United States at the time. But he never stopped his practice of killing patients whom he felt had suffered too much for too long.
After a lengthy career which included his advocacy for assisted suicide, Kevorkian eventually engaged in his first one on June 4, 1990, with the death of Janet Adkins. The assisted suicide of Adkins catapulted Kevorkian to the national stage, where he went on to practice what some would call “homicide” and others would term “medicine.”
This sparked an international debate. In 1993, the Netherlands adopted guidelines to allow doctors to conduct assisted suicides under some circumstances without fear of prosecution, although euthanasia was still deemed to be illegal at that time. Meanwhile, the United States stood chiefly against it.
Kevorkian was soon arrested for his practices. However, the authorities were unable to convict him of murder due to the legal gray area pertaining to assisted suicide. Adkins and the others had specifically written that they had made their own choices to end their lives rather than suffer their horrible afflictions.
But Kevorkian’s days as a free man were numbered after a spree of very public assisted suicides. He actually videotaped and showed the world one of his killings on 60 Minutes in 1998. This is what did him in, and Kevorkian was charged with second-degree murder. Ultimately, he was convicted and sentenced to 10–25 years in prison.
3 Harold Shipman
Harold Shipman, a seemingly gentle British doctor, often made house calls. In this way, he was able to perpetuate a murder spree that resulted in over 200 deaths, one of the highest body counts in serial killer history.
As compared to those of other physicians, Shipman’s patients died at an alarmingly high rate. But people generally thought nothing of it—that perhaps the doctor just had a run of bad luck or tended to the worst cases with the best of intentions.
In his early years of outright killing, Shipman was investigated by the police. But their probe turned up no wrongdoing, and he was allowed to continue his deviant practices.
Shipman used diamorphine, an insanely strong painkiller, to murder people. He would administer the drug intravenously and kill the patient with an overdose. He was a “gentle” sadist who preferred to silently kill his patients rather than delve into blood and guts. In all, Shipman claimed at least 215 lives before being convicted of 15 counts of murder.
But perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Shipman’s personality was that he seemed to derive pleasure from having the power to take the lives of weaker, vulnerable people. Simply put, he enjoyed killing.
2 Donald Harvey
Donald Harvey appeared to be a caring, sweet nurse’s aide who worked in several different hospitals. But beneath his compassionate veneer lurked a terrifying monster with an active hatred for his patients.
Harvey had many methods of killing his victims. He would force catheters too far inside them, suffocate them with pillows, poison them with cyanide, and more.
Nicknamed the “angel of death,” Harvey had an incredible appetite for murder and took life whenever he pleased, sometimes killing victims on back-to-back days. His spree spanned decades before he was brought to justice.
In a lengthy confession, he admitted to committing 87 homicides. However, more are suspected because killers often hold back on revealing the true amount of devastation they have caused. Although Harvey received multiple life sentences, they were cut short when he was fatally beaten in prison by a fellow inmate.
1 Josef Mengele
Josef Mengele, also dubbed the “angel of death,” was perhaps the darkest and most depraved human being to ever live. As a Nazi doctor, he was the dark face behind the twisted experiments, murders, and other horrific acts carried out behind the walls of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Mengele was particularly fond of torturing Jewish children.
For his victims, he actually preferred to lengthen the time of torture until death. In fact, Mengele took great pride in the pain he inflicted on those helpless souls behind the walls of the prison camp. His name became synonymous with the “Final Solution” of Hitler’s terrifying Nazi empire with its crusade against the Jews of Europe. Mengele enjoyed hand-selecting the victims who would be taken to the gas chambers.
His experiments included attempts to render Jewish people sterile and boost fertility for the German race. He knew no limits—castrating his victims, freezing them to death in chambers, and more. Mengele was also particularly fond of dissecting children, especially young twins.
He was one of the few Nazis who escaped the Allied invasion, when most of the other Nazis killed themselves with cyanide capsules rather than face trial for war crimes. Mengele made his escape to South America, where he lived until his death in 1979.
I like to write about dark stuff, horror, murder, true crime, serial killers, philosophy, and history.