Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angels of Death: The Male Nurses

Still Being Decided

Richard Williams
Richard Williams

Some cases get as far as arrest, indictment, and even a trial, without being resolved. In Columbia, Missouri, according to Associated Press reports, Richard Williams was indicted in 2002 for killing ten patients ten years earlier. He is a former veteran's hospital nurse and was charged with administering the paralyzing drug, succinlycholine, a derivative of curare, killing nine men and one woman in his care. Their ages ranged from 58 to 85. The charges were made possible by new technology that detects the drug in people's tissues in a way that was previously impossible. The prosecutors also had over one hundred witnesses.

But then charges were dismissed when problems with the test arose. Williams, who had maintained his innocence despite almost two dozen deaths during his shift being classified as "moderately suspicious," was surprised but pleased. Nearly on trial for his life, he was suddenly a free man.

Similarly apprehended was John Bardgett, a 25-year-old nurse who worked at Harborside-Northwood Nursing Home in Bedford, New Hampshire. He was arrested in September 2001 on second-degree assault charges. In April 2002, those charges were changed to two charges of second-degree murder and four counts of first-degree assault for giving two elderly women unauthorized doses of morphine. The trial, starting in January 2003, ended with an acquittal for eight charges, including second-degree murder, negligent homicide, first-degree assault, and manslaughter. The jury was deadlocked on one count of negligent homicide and on three counts of first-degree assault. The state must now decide if they will retry Bardgett on those four counts.

The state alleges that Bardgett intravenously injected two patients, Dorothy Koch, 91, and Clara Hamm, 92, with lethal doses of morphine. Both were terminally ill, as Koch was suffering from end-stage liver cancer, while Hamm was being treated as a hospice patient. They both died within an hour on September 9, 2001, of receiving the injections of acute opiate intoxication, and they both died within seven hours of each other.

Bardgett was allegedly heard bragging to nurses about the deaths, saying such things as, "I killed another. I just killed Clara." He also referred to himself as "Angel of Death" or "Angel of Mercy." One person said that he had bragged about killing three patients, but the body of one had been cremated before it could be investigated for traces of morphine. He was also seen by several witnesses acting arrogantly and happy after the deaths, and a funeral director called his behavior, "Unusual... almost as if he was on a natural high."

Bardgett's attorney defends the comments and the nickname of "Angel of Death." According to reports in The Boston Globe, he stated that Bardgett was only referring to the fact "that he had encountered many deaths while working as an emergency medical technician." Bardgett's statement, "I killed this patient," was also dismissed as meaningless — just the remarks of a cocky man who made inappropriate comments.

Doctors had instructed nurses to administer morphine to these patients, but under the skin not intravenously. Bardgett gave both of the women morphine intravenously.

Since Bardgett was arrested, he has been forbidden to enter a medical facility unless he has an appointment or an emergency need for treatment. This order still stands until the state decides whether or not to have a retrial. Bardgett said he would eventually like to get back into the medical profession.

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