Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angels of Death: The Male Nurses

Murder for Self-Esteem

Richard Angelo, arrest photo
Richard Angelo, arrest photo

Operating around the same time at Good Samaritan Hospital on Long Island in New York was Richard Angelo, 26, from Lindenhurst. He was a former Eagle Scout and volunteer fireman. Unlike Harvey, he said that he was motivated more by the idea of saving people than killing them. He just wasn't very good at it.

He had put himself into situations where he could be a hero. Since he worked as an emergency medical technician and Charge Nurse, he saw plenty of opportunities, so he decided to take a chance. Injecting something into the IV tube of a patient named John Fisher, Angelo created an emergency. The man was soon in critical condition, but before Angelo could save him, he died. That one was a failure, but Angelo tried again. 

"I wanted to create a situation," he later said in a taped confession, "where I would cause the patient to have some respiratory distress or some problem, and through my intervention or suggested intervention or whatever, come out looking like I knew what I was doing. I had no confidence in myself. I felt very inadequate."

Some of the patients survived, some died. It's estimated that he managed to kill ten people in his desire to be important.

Then one patient, Gerolamo Kucich, caught him. Kucich saw a bearded man put something into his IV, and he managed to reach for his call button before he succumbed. That action saved his life. He then told some nurses about the man and they linked the description to Angelo. Kucich's nurse took a urine sample and had it analyzed. It came back testing positive for the paralyzing drugs, Pavulon and Anectine, which had not been prescribed for this patient.

A search of Angelo's apartment turned up vials of both drugs, so he was arrested. He confessed that he'd murdered several patients. Ten bodies were exhumed and the paralyzing drug was found in their system. Angelo was soon nicknamed Long Island's "Angel of Death."

Richard Angelo in court
Richard Angelo in court

Charged with multiple counts of second-degree murder, which meant murder with depraved indifference, Angelo pleaded at his 1989 trial that he suffered from a mental disorder that precluded him from understanding the nature of his offenses. In short, he pleaded a form of temporary insanity at the time of each death.

Two psychologists testified that he suffered from a personality disorder called dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder. They said that he had not recognized the risks to these patients, and after he'd injected them, he'd moved into a dissociative state that made him unaware of what he'd just done. He felt inadequate and sought to create situations in which he could feel powerful and heroic. The psychologist rested his findings on the fact that Angelo had been wired to a polygraph during questioning and had proved truthful about his state of mind during the murders. However, the judge would not allow him to talk about that in court.

Countering this, the state had two mental health experts agree that Angelo suffered from a personality disorder but not one that precluded him from appreciating whether his actions were right or wrong, or even just risky. He knew what he was doing while he was doing it.

The jury convicted Angelo of two counts of second-degree murder, one count of second-degree manslaughter, one count of criminally negligent homicide, and six counts of assault. He was sentenced to 61 years to life.

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