Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angels of Death: The Male Nurses

Troubled Caretaker

Orville Lynn Majors
Orville Lynn Majors

Some people don't learn from the examples of others. Before Orville Lynn Majors, LPN, joined the nursing staff at Vermillion County Hospital in Clinton, Indiana, in 1993, only around  26 people died there per year in the intensive care unit. It was a small facility with only 56 beds.

Then a larger percentage of people began to die. It's true that they were mostly elderly, yet it still seemed astonishing that in 1994, the deaths there rose to 101, with 67 of them in the last half of the year (and 63 of them during Majors' shifts). In only 22 months of his service there, 147 people died, most while he was working. Majors seemed oblivious that someone would eventually grow concerned. A nursing supervisor started asking questions.

Majors' license was suspended in 1995 and the death rate returned to normal. Clearly something was amiss, and a $1.5 million investigation that covered 160 deaths between May 1993 and February 1995 revealed that Majors sometimes took his own initiative in "treating" patients, something for which he had no authority. Investigators exhumed 15 bodies to examine tissues, finding that at least six deaths were consistent with the administration of epinephrine and potassium chloride. Most had experienced a rise in blood pressure before their hearts had stopped. Police searched Majors' residence, where they found a stash of suspicious syringes and needles, along with the two drugs. They also found potassium chloride in vials in a van owned by Majors' parents and driven by him.

It wasn't long before Majors was suspected in up to 130 deaths. In December 1997, he was arrested and charged with six counts of murder. An independent statistical report run on all of the deaths indicated that patients were 43% more likely to die at the hospital if Majors was working.

Orville Lynn Majors going to court
Orville Lynn Majors going to

Seventy-nine witnesses were paraded through his trial, some of whom had witnessed him injecting the patients who later had died (and in his position, he was not authorized to give any injections). Others claimed that he was callous toward patients, saying things like, "Let them die." One witness, a former roommate, stated that Majors had said that senior citizens should be gassed.

Majors claimed to be innocent and attributed the high percentage of deaths during his shift to his long working hours and overtime. It was a weak defense at best.

On October 17, 1999, Majors was convicted of six counts of murder, for which he received a sentence of life in prison.

There are others, such as Robert Diaz, convicted in 1984 in California of killing 12 elderly patients with a lethal dose of heart medication, and Brian Rosenfeld in Florida whose death toll may run to 23. And in some places, the murders in which male nurses were suspected were never solved.