Friday, August 1, 2008

Serial Killer Bedtime Stories: Michael Swango

Michael Swango, the star of tonight's serial killer bedtime story, makes Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest look like Florence Nightingale.

Authorities suspect Michael Swango, 43, may have poisoned and killed as many as 60 patients under his care over the past 10 years when he worked in Ohio, Quincy, Massachusetts, Virginia, South Dakota, New York and Zimbabwe. In all these places the affable doctor had been suspected in a number of deaths and sudden illnesses. Although he was never charged in connection with any, he was either fired or left his respective jobs while under a cloud of suspicion.

Authorities became aware of alleged career as an "Angel of Death" in 1984 when he worked in Quincy, Illinois, as a paramedic. As with others in his line of mayhem, many of his co-workers complained that they became ill every time he brought them food or drinks such as doughnuts, cool drinks or iced tea. When one of his colleagues found ant poison mixed with sugar among Swango's belongings, police went to search his home.

There they found "how-to" books on homemade weapons and mass destruction as well as books on the occult, several guns, bottles with different concentrations of ant poison, a range of insecticides and rodent killers; and castor beans, from which the almost untraceable poison, ricin, can be obtained. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to five-years' jail for aggravated battery because none of his colleagues had died from the poisonings. "I don't think he intended to kill them," said Judge Dennis Cashman. "I think he wanted to take them to the edge of death. They were like a lab experiment."

While he was serving his sentence, investigators combed the Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus, where Swango had been a medical intern. Nurses told investigators that they had become suspicious because he was seen in several patients' rooms right before they died unexpectedly. "I do not think the evidence was clear one way or the other. I am glad he is not here," said Ohio State University's Larry Carey.

Swango was paroled in 1987 after serving two-and-a-half years of his five-year sentence. Curiously, after leaving prison he continued his career in the health care business with increasingly lethal results. He hopped from job to job and was fired at least three times after he was suspected of wrongdoing or someone learned about his past.

In the early 1990s Swango landed a job at a State University of New York hospital. There, Federal of Bureau Investigation agents investigated 147 patients Swango treated and died. Autopsies were performed on several former patients, but the results were inconclusive. By 1993 -- as police started piecing together his poisonous path -- he disappeared to re-emerge in Zimbabwe. There he worked at a rural hospital where he was suspended after five patients under his care died in suspicious circumstances.

After his suspension he travelled to South Africa, the modern mecca for serial killings, where he contacted Saudi Arabian health authorities, who offered him a job. Finally in July, 1997, Swango was arrested when he re-entered the United States to pick up a visa en route to his job as a physician in Saudi Arabia. Though he has been arrested for relatively minor fraud charges and illegally prescribing narcotics to patients, authorities hope to uncover enough evidence to expose him as a viscous serial killer.

Sweet dreams, and may you forever remain Crazy 4 Crazies.

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