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Dr. Joseph Michael SWANGO

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Poisoner
Number of victims: 4 - 60
Date of murders: 1981 - 1997
Date of arrest: June 1997
Date of birth: October 21, 1954
Victims profile: His patients and colleagues
Method of murder: Poisoning (usually arsenic)
Location: Zimbabwe / Illinois-Ohio-South Dakota-New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in New York on September 6, 2000. Sentenced to life in prison, with a chance of parole after 20 years, in Ohio on October 18, 2000
 
 

 
 

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Joseph Michael Swango (born October 21, 1954, Tacoma, Washington) was a physician and American serial killer convicted of four murders, but is estimated to have been involved in as many as 60 fatal poisonings of his patients and colleagues. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and is serving that sentence at ADX Florence.

Early life

Swango was raised in Quincy, Illinois and graduated as valedictorian for the 1972 Class of Quincy Catholic Boys High School (now part of Quincy Notre Dame High School). He played clarinet and was a member of the Quincy Notre Dame band. Although he attended a Catholic school he was raised Presbyterian.

He served in the Marine Corps, receiving an honorable discharge in 1980. He then attended Quincy College (now known as Quincy University), and later Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

Swango's troubles were first noticed during his time at SIU. Although he was a brilliant student (he'd graduated summa cum laude from Quincy College, and had won the American Chemical Society Award), he was known as lazy, preferring to work as an ambulance attendant rather than concentrate on his studies. Even at that young age, he had a noticeable fascination with dying patients. Although no one thought much of it at the time, many patients on which Swango was assigned to do checkups ended up "coding," or suffering life-threatening emergencies. At least five of them died.

Swango's lackadaisical approach to his studies caught up with him only a month before he was due to graduate, when he was caught faking checkups during his obstetrics and gynecology rotation. Many of his fellow students had suspected he'd been faking checkups as early as his second year. He only survived when one member of the committee voted to give him a second chance; at the time a unanimous vote was required to dismiss a student. However, serious concerns had been raised about his competence. Eventually, the school let him graduate a year after the rest of his class on condition that he repeat the OB/GYN rotation and complete several assignments in other specialties.

Murders

Despite a very poor evaluation in his dean's letter from SIU, Swango got a surgical internship at Ohio State University Medical Center in 1983, to be followed by a residency in neurosurgery. While he worked at the Rhodes Hall wing, nurses began noticing that apparently healthy patients began dying mysteriously with alarming frequency. Each time, Swango had been the floor intern. One nurse caught him injecting some "medicine" into a patient who later became strangely ill. The nurses reported their concerns to administrators, but were met with accusations of paranoia. Swango was cleared by a cursory investigation in 1984. However, his work had been so slovenly that he was not hired as a resident physician after his internship ended in June.

In July 1984, Swango returned to Quincy and began working as an emergency medical technician with the Adams County Ambulance Corps even though he'd been fired from another ambulance service for making a heart patient drive to the hospital. Soon, many of the paramedics on staff began noticing that whenever Swango prepared the coffee or brought any food in, several of them usually became violently ill, with no apparent cause. In October of that year, Swango was arrested by the Quincy Police Department who found arsenic and other poisons in his possession.

On August 23, 1985, Swango was convicted of aggravated battery for poisoning co-workers. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment. His conviction set off recriminations at Ohio State. A scathing review by Law School Dean James Meeks concluded that the hospital should have called in the police, and also revealed several glaring shortcomings in its initial investigation of Swango. Franklin County, Ohio prosecutors also considered bringing charges of murder and attempted murder against Swango, but decided against it for want of physical evidence.

In 1989, Swango, now released from prison, found work as a counselor at the state career development center in Newport News, Virginia. He was forced out after being caught working on a scrapbook of disasters on work time. He then found a job as a laboratory technician for ATICoal in Newport News, Virginia, now Vanguard Energy, a division of CITA Logistics. During his time there, several employees sought medical attention with complaints of persistent and increasing stomach pains. Around this time, he met Kristin Kinney, a nurse at Riverside Hospital. The two fell in love, and planned to marry once they got settled. He was employed until 1991, when he resigned his position to seek out a new position as a doctor. The FBI questioned employees on several occasions several months after his resignation.

In 1991, Swango legally changed his name to Daniel J. Adams and tried to apply for a residency program at Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling, West Virginia. In July 1992, he began working at Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls. In both cases, he forged several legal documents that he used to reestablish himself as a physician and respected member of society. He forged a fact sheet from the Illinois Department of Corrections that falsified his criminal record, stating that he had been convicted of a misdemeanor for getting into a fistfight with a co-worker and received six months in prison, rather than the five years for felony poisoning that he actually served. This was an important omission as most states will not grant a medical license to a convicted felon, considering a felony conviction to be evidence of unprofessional conduct. He forged a "Restoration of Civil Rights" letter from Virginia Governor Gerald L. Baliles, falsely stating that Baliles had decided to restore Swango's right to vote and serve on a jury, based on "reports from friends and colleagues" that Swango had committed no further crimes after his "misdemeanor" and was leading an "exemplary lifestyle".

Swango established a sterling reputation at Sanford, but in October made the mistake of attempting to join the American Medical Association (AMA). The AMA did a more thorough background check than the medical center, and found out about the poisoning conviction. That Thanksgiving Day, The Discovery Channel aired an episode of Justice Files that included a segment on Swango. Amid the AMA report and calls from frightened colleagues, Sanford fired Swango. Kinney went back to Virginia soon afterward after suffering from violent migraines. However, after she left Swango, the headaches stopped.

The AMA temporarily lost track of Swango, who managed to find a berth in the psychiatric residency program at the State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Medicine. His first rotation was in the internal medicine department at the VA Medical Center in Northport, New York. Once again his patients began dying for no explicable reasons. Four months later, Kinney committed suicide. Her mother, Sharon Cooper, was horrified to find out a person with Swango's history could be allowed to practice medicine. She got in touch with a friend of Kinney's who was a nurse at Sanford. The nurse alerted Sanford's dean, Robert Talley, about Swango's whereabouts. Talley telephoned the dean at Stony Brook, Jordan Cohen. Under intense questioning from the head of Stony Brook's psychiatry department, Alan Miller, Swango admitted he had lied about his poisoning conviction in Illinois and was immediately fired. The public outcry resulted in Cohen and Miller being forced to resign as well before the year was out. Before he resigned, Cohen, learning from the past mistakes of other medical facilities, sent a warning about Swango to all 125 medical schools and all 1,000 teaching hospitals across the nation—effectively blackballing Swango from getting a medical residency in the United States.

Since the latest Swango incident took place at a VA facility, federal authorities got involved. Swango dropped out of sight until mid-1994, when the FBI found out he was living in Atlanta and working as a chemist at a computer equipment company's wastewater facility. Soon after the FBI alerted the company, Swango was fired for lying on his job application. The FBI obtained a warrant charging Swango with using fraudulent credentials to gain entry to a VA hospital.

By that time, however, Swango had fled the country. In November 1994, he went to Zimbabwe and got a job at Mnene Hospital based on forged documents. There again, his patients began dying mysteriously. It took a year, however, for the poisonings to be traced to him, and he was arrested in Zimbabwe. He was charged with poisonings and retained prominent lawyer David Coltart, but he escaped from Zimbabwe before his trial date, and hid in Zambia. A year and a half later, in March 1997, he applied for a job at the Royal Hospital in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, using a false résumé.

While all this was happening, VA OIG Criminal Investigator Tom Valery consulted with Charlene Thomesen MD, a forensic psychiatrist, to help him with the case. Because of her considerable clinical expertise, she was able to review documents and evidence and give a psychological profile of Dr. Swango, along with her assessment why he had committed such horrendous crimes. Valery was called by the FBI to discuss holding Swango; Valery called then DEA Basic Agent Richard Thomesen who was stationed in the Manhattan DEA Office to discuss the case. Thomesen's conversation focused on Swango lying on his government application to work at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where he prescribed narcotic medications. This and other evidence was enough for Immigration and Naturalization Service agents to arrest Swango in June 1997 while he was stopping over at Chicago-O'Hare International Airport on his way to Saudi Arabia.

Faced with hard evidence of his fraudulent activities and the possibility of an extended inquiry into his time in Zimbabwe, Swango pleaded guilty to defrauding the government in March 1998. In July 1998, he was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison. The sentencing judge ordered that Swango not be allowed to prepare or deliver food, or have any involvement in preparing or distributing drugs.

The government used this time to amass a massive dossier of Swango's crimes. As part of that investigation, prosecutors exhumed the bodies of three of his patients and found poisonous chemicals in them. They also found evidence that he paralyzed Barron Harris, another patient, with an injection; Harris later lapsed into a coma and died. Additionally, prosecutors found evidence Swango lied about the death of Cynthia Ann McGee, a patient he'd been attending while he was an intern at OSU. While Swango claimed she suffered heart failure, he'd actually killed her by giving her a potassium injection that stopped her heart. On July 11, 2000—less than a week before he was due to be released from prison on the fraud charge—federal prosecutors on Long Island filed a criminal complaint charging Swango with three counts of murder, one count of assault and one count each of false statements, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. At the same time, Zimbabwean authorities charged him with poisoning seven patients, five of whom died.

Swango was formally indicted on July 17 and pleaded not guilty. However, on September 6, he pleaded guilty to murder and fraud charges before Judge Jacob Mishler. Had he not done so, he faced the possibility of the death penalty and extradition to Zimbabwe. At his sentencing hearing, prosecutors read lurid passages from Swango's notebook, describing the joy he felt during his crimes. Mishler sentenced him to three consecutive life terms; he is currently incarcerated at ADX Florence.

In his book Blind Eye, James B. Stewart (a Quincy native) estimated that counting the suspicious deaths at SIU, circumstantial evidence links Swango to 35 suspicious deaths. The FBI believes he may be responsible for as many as 60 deaths, which would make him the most prolific serial killer in American history. The case was featured on the American crime show Unsolved Mysteries.

Modus operandi

Swango did not often vary his methods of murder. With non-patients, such as his co-workers at the paramedic service, he used poisons, usually arsenic, slipping them into foods and beverages. With patients, he sometimes used poisons as well, but usually he administered an overdose of whichever drug the patient had been prescribed, or wrote false prescriptions for dangerous drugs for patients who did not need them.

Wikipedia.org


Guilty plea gets Swango life sentence

By Ikenna D. Ofobike - Thelanthern.cpm

October 19, 2000

A murder that has gone unpunished for 16 years was settled in less than 30 minutes yesterday in the Franklin County Courthouse. As expected, Michael J. Swango pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated murder for the 1984 death of Cynthia Ann McGee at the Ohio State University Medical Center.

Swango was sentenced to life in prison, with a chance of parole after 20 years; however, he is already serving three consecutive life sentences in a New York federal jail, with no chance of parole.

The plea was delivered in front of a packed courtroom, including media, friends and even a class of high school students in the building for a yearly field trip. Despite the flood of media coverage preceding Swango’s appearance in court, the hearing went smoothly, quickly and unremarkably.

Prosecuting attorneys Ron O’Brien and Ed Morgan gave a brief synopsis of the events leading up to yesterday’s hearing. According to Morgan, Swango was notified of his unsatisfactory performance through evaluations in early January 1984. On Jan. 14, he began his one month rotation in the neurosurgery wing of the OSU Medical Center, where five “very questionable” deaths occurred.

Swango showed no emotion as the attorneys detailed his actions on the day he took the life of the 19-year-old McGee. On the night of Jan. 14, 1984, McGee was suffering from a fever of 102-104 degrees. Swango was called to take a blood culture from McGee, which he claimed to have performed at approximately 11:30 p.m.

At midnight, a code blue sounded and doctors rushed to McGee’s room to find her unresponsive. The initial report quoted a nurse as saying McGee had a “pale, dusty bluish look” at the time. Although Swango was on the floor at the time of the code blue, he did not respond.

Swango sat quietly in his seat during the proceedings, his strawberry blond hair styled in a short crewcut. He made no sounds and appeared almost uninterested in the process. When asked to make his plea, Swango looked the judge in the eye and admitted his guilt in a strong, clear voice.

Before passing sentence, Sadler took a few moments to address Swango directly, telling him that patients entrusted him with their safety when they entered the hospital. “You have betrayed that trust and betrayed the medical profession,” Sadler said.

McGee’s parents are now living in Florida and did not make the trip to Columbus for the hearing. However, their attorney, Brian Miller, read a brief statement from them: “We would like to express our gratitude to the federal investigators for putting Swango in a place where he could not do harm to anyone else,” read Miller. “We are saddened by the reopening of old wounds. ‘Time heals all wounds’ is just a slogan. Not a day goes by when we do not think of Cindy."


Man to Admit To Murdering 3 L.I. Patients

By Charlei LeDuff - The New York Times

September 6, 2000

A former physician who the authorities say poisoned patients from Ohio to Zimbabwe but continued to find medical jobs will plead guilty in federal court Wednesday to charges that he killed three patients at a Long Island hospital in 1993, prosecutors said today.

The former doctor, Michael J. Swango, will admit that he murdered the three men with poison while working at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Long Island, according to Gary R. Brown, the assistant United States attorney who is prosecuting the case. Beyond that, Mr. Brown would offer no particulars about the plea agreement.

But an official familiar with the negotiations between prosecutors and lawyers for Mr. Swango, 45, said that by accepting the deal he would avoid the death penalty in New York and extradition to Zimbabwe, where the authorities have issued a warrant for Mr. Swango's arrest on charges that he poisoned seven patients, five of them fatally, when he worked there from November 1994 to July 1995.

The official said that the former doctor would also plead guilty Wednesday before Judge Jacob Mishler of United States District Court to mail and wire fraud charges. Within the description of those charges, Mr. Swango is accused of assaulting two patients in Africa, another elderly patient at the Veterans Hospital and a patient at Ohio State University Hospitals, all of whom died in his care, the official said.

Randi Chavis, a lawyer for Mr. Swango, would not comment on the plea agreement.

With the agreement, prosecutors say they will close the book on one of the most bizarre and unsettling stories in modern medicine. It seemed that no matter where Mr. Swango went, allegations, suspicion and death followed. According to the book ''Blind Eye: The Terrifying Story of a Doctor Who Got Away With Murder'' (Simon & Schuster, 1999), by James B. Stewart, questions about Mr. Swango began to surface as early 1982, when he was a medical student at Southern Illinois University. After an inordinate number of his patients died, classmates called him Double-0 Swango, joking that he had a license to kill.

Prosecutors believe that while working as an intern the next year at Ohio State University Hospitals, Mr. Swango murdered or tried to murder a number of patients by injecting them with poison. In his plea, it is expected that Mr. Swango will also acknowledge that he lied to the hospital investigators in connection with the death of the Ohio State Hospitals patient, Cynthia McGee, 19, in January 1984. Prosecutors said that Mr. Swango murdered her by giving her a potassium injection that caused her heart to stop.

After several mysterious deaths, but no hard evidence, the Ohio State University Hospitals ended Mr. Swango's neurosurgery residency. He then returned home to Illinois, where he got a job as a emergency medical technician with the Adams County Ambulance Service. While working there, he got into a dispute with co-workers and laced their doughnuts and coffee with ant killer. Five people became ill but no one died. Mr. Swango served two years of a five-year sentence.

When released from prison, Mr. Swango applied to residency programs in West Virginia and Iowa, but administrators noticed his falsified records, and his applications were rejected. He tried a third time in 1993 at the Veterans hospital in Northport, N.Y., and was accepted. The day after he was hired, his first patient, Dominic Buffalino, fell into a coma and died.

Three more patients died of lethal injections delivered by Mr. Swango, prosecutors said: Thomas Sammarco, 73; George Siano, 60; and Aldo Serini, all of Long Island. Mr. Swango will plead guilty to their murders on Wednesday, prosecutors said.

Officials charged Mr. Swango with the three murders in July, just as he was about to be released from prison in Colorado, where he was serving a three-and-a-half-year term for lying his way into the Northport hospital. After exhuming the men's bodies, forensic experts determined that they had indeed been poisoned.

''I've heard the news this afternoon'' Mr. Siano's stepdaughter, Roselinda Conroy, said today about the plea agreement. She said she had always assumed that her father had died from natural causes. ''I'm absorbing it,'' she said.

Relatives of Mr. Buffalino said that they were happy that a serial killer would be removed from society, but would remain dissatisfied until the cause of his death was properly identified. ''I'm glad he can't kill anymore, but I would like to see some answers in terms of my brother,'' said Andrew Buffalino, 70, of Huntington. ''My interest now is one thing. I want to see an autopsy report.''

After Northport officials learned of Mr. Swango's criminal record, they fired him. He became a physician at Mnene Mission Hospital in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, using forged documents form the Federation of State Medical Boards. He is still wanted in that country.

Mr. Swango was eventually arrested in 1997 in Chicago while waiting for a flight to Saudi Arabia, where he had a new job as a doctor.


The angel of mercy who turned out to be an angel of death

February 06, 1998

When American doctor Michael Swango successfully sued his bosses at a rural Zimbabwean hospital for wrongful dismissal, he was aided by one of the country's most eminent human-rights lawyers and a host of Christians who believed he was a victim of malicious rumours and professional jealousy.

They little suspected that the dejected be- spectacled 42-year-old (he claimed to be 27), who was a regular at the Presbyterian church's bible classes, could be one of the most prolific serial killers in United States history and was on the FBI's Internet file of wanted fugitives.

Swango's genteel white champions were equally oblivious to the fact that he had served half of a five-year sentence for poisoning medical colleagues and had left a trail of mysterious deaths among patients in hospitals across several US states.

Nor were they aware that nurses at the Meneni Hospital, some 300km south of Bulawayo, had accused him of killing nine (the official figure is five) black patients and attempting to murder two others, by injecting them with unknown drugs.

They were in the dark because the Lutheran missionary hospital followed the pattern of its counterparts in the US, where Swango came under suspicion after the sudden death of patients in his care, and tried to keep the matter hush-hush.

"He conned the lot of us, ably assisted by the authorities who refused to prosecute him," complained lawyer David Coltart -- who was particularly puzzled that Swango took the public recourse of going to court when he was already a wanted man in the US.

"He struck such a pathetic victim pose when he came into my office. He portrayed himself as someone who had come to Africa to help rural black people and was being treated in an abominable fashion." Swango had been referred to him by a doctor friend and fellow church-goer.

"I knew allegations had been made about him being responsible for a number of deaths, but he denied that anyone had died," said Coltart, who remembers his client having icy blue eyes and cold hands. "I wrote to the police on several occasions but they failed to reply as to the specifics of any charges, so we went ahead with the case."

Staff at Meneni Hospital heard about the court case and could not believe Swango's gall, in light of what they believed about the mercurial doctor who would vacillate between charm and brashness with the alacrity of a Jekyll and Hyde character.

"We thought he was an angel of mercy come to save people when he first arrived, because we were so short of doctors," said a Sister Hove. "But it was not long before we saw that this was not a very nice man. He turned out to be an angel of death."

She and other nurses at the rural hospital became suspicious shortly after Swango arrived in their midst. Of average height, with thinning blond hair, a squint and a loud, honking voice, the American had been given glowing testimonials by the acting head of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Godfrey Huggins School of Medicine, University of Harare.

But patients had a tendency to become violently ill and die after he saw them. "People with simple illnesses or who were on the road to recovery kept dying on his ward," said another nurse who begged not to be named for fear of repercussions from her tight-lipped bosses. "He liked to do ward rounds on his own and often prescribed multi-drugs to individual patients, which is not the way a real doctor behaves."

Swango, who kept his own private supply of drugs at home in a fridge, was suspected of carrying two syringes on his rounds -- one hidden in his pocket and another in his hand. It is alleged that he used this hidden medication on Kennias Muzeziwa one night.

Muzeziwa (56) had suffered from sores on his left toes which resulted in amputation of his left foot up to his heel. The wound had virtually healed and he was awaiting news of a promised prosthesis from a Swedish charity. "One night when I was asleep I felt someone pulling down my pyjama bottom," he said from his mud hut deep in the heart of the Mberengwa province.

"I woke up to see Dr Mike standing over my bed with an injection, which he put into my buttocks. Then he put it in his jacket pocket, waved goodbye and walked away. I was trying to get back to sleep but felt my whole body go numb."

Unable to move, Muzeziwa tried to shout for help. "I could barely breathe. I felt faint, but managed to get my voice back after several attempts," he said. Hearing his harsh cry, a nurse rushed to his side. He told her what had happened and Swango was called.

Swango denied the story. He complained that the same thing had happened at a hospital in Bulawayo, where he had spent three months before going to Meneni, and he did not understand why people kept making such allegations about him. Even though Muzeziwa later found the syringe top under his bed, nurses said they could do nothing.

Muzeziwa, a peasant farmer, lived through the ordeal, but his limb quickly became septic and he had to have the leg amputated up to his knee. Now living on his small plot in a remote rural area, he is a shadow of the man he once was.

"I can't do the farming because of my crutches. My wife has had to do everything, including thatching this house we live in. No one has compensated me for what happened. It seems they want to cover it over to hide the fact that this man should never have been allowed to work in this country."

Despite several other sudden patient deaths, Swango continued his duties for about a year. Two of his alleged victims were workers at the hospital. One of them, Edith Ngwenya, washed and cleaned for the American.

She fell ill suddenly sometime in 1996 and was taken to the outpatients clinic by Swango. Chipo Gumbo recalled seeing her aunt that day. "She was vomiting, sweating a lot and complaining of heartburn. She told me she was going home to rest, but that night she was rushed to emergency and by the morning she was dead. It was so sudden."

Gumbo believes her aunt may have been poisoned as a result of Swango's experimenting with various drugs.

Yet another suspected victim was Philemon Chipoko, who was the hospital's foreman. He died while recovering from a leg amputation soon after being examined by Swango. So did a young woman who had been kept for observation overnight after a miscarriage.

With the spectre of so many unexplained deaths hanging over their hospital, the nurses became increasingly vigilant of Swango, whom they also disliked because of his poor personal hygiene and the fact that he wore the same blue corduroy trousers all the time. "We thought he was responsible for the deaths, but he was very clever and we never caught him doing anything," said one nurse.

Then one night a woman in the maternity ward started screaming soon after Swango was seen hovering over her bed. She claimed he had injected something in her intravenous drip. He initially insisted she was hallucinating, then contradicted this by claiming he was only flushing it out with water. The woman broke into a sweat and suffered severe vomiting but lived to deliver a healthy baby.

This incident forced the hospital's hand after months of ignoring the allegations -- one newspaper report quoted an unnamed hospital representative admitting they had tried to keep the matter a closely guarded secret to avoid unnecessary panic.

The police began investigating and discovered 55 different types of drugs, brought into the country illegally, in Swango's living quarters. During questioning he appeared affronted. "I thought I had come to a jungle and out of the goodness of my heart had brought my own drugs," he told officers.

After his dismissal an aggrieved Swango moved to Bulawayo and hired Coltart. He found lodgings with Lynette O'Hare in a quiet middle-class suburb on the outskirts of town, after being introduced to her by a member of her daughter's church group.

O'Hare, a credit controller for National Foods, believed her lodger innocent of the allegations that had started to leak out in the press -- though Swango was not publicly identified until he had absconded. "My daughter Paulette was going to live in London and had prayed for God to send a nice person to come and live with me," said the still-frightened widow. "Instead I got this demon who brought nothing but misery to my life."

Soon after moving into O'Hare's modest three-bedroomed house in April 1996, Swango was rejected by a girlfriend. He locked himself in his tiny bedroom, with the curtains closed, for five weeks. "I did not see him. My domestic would leave his breakfast outside his room and it would disappear, then he would push the empties out in the hall."

With hindsight, O'Hare said she should have realised then that he was unstable. Instead she worried over him like a mother, making several attempts to coax him out of his room. When she had to go out of town, she phoned the local Samaritans to keep an eye on him.

"He seemed such a lost soul, my heart was wrung," she recalls. Eventually Swango emerged from hiding, coaxed by the loan of O'Hare's car. He found a new girlfriend -- a young divorcee with two children -- and would disappear with the car until the early hours.

It was not long before the disenchantment set in for O'Hare. "Food would disappear from the fridge [Swango was supposed to be paying her about R230 per month for bed and breakfast] and my liquor was being filched." Her electricity bill had quadrupled because he slept with a heater on, and her phone bill trebled.

The crunch came one day when Swango was out of the house. The domestic worker approached and with a voice full of foreboding said there was something in his room her employer should see. The two women stood over an open dresser drawer in which plastic bags had been neatly folded into parcels and, according to the widow, "cunningly concealed" in the centre columns were six packets of stale bacon sandwiches made from leftover breakfasts.

"I knew then his was an insane mind and felt sick with terror. I also began to believe he could have been guilty of the allegations." Fearful for her life, she asked her two employees to move into her house. They had already voiced suspicions to her that Swango did not behave like a proper doctor.

"They later told me he would sneak out of his room at night and peer at me through the crack in my bedroom door -- I assume with malice in mind."

O'Hare now remembers the times he would exalt infamous US serial killers like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, gleefully pointing out that no one had suspected for a long time that these men were killers. She later found newspaper cuttings on these criminals and the OJ Simpson trial, alongside books on pornography, mutilation and poisons, in a trunk he left behind. He had also stolen and hidden her daughter's underwear.

Swango stole money from her purse and from guests. She even had to take a few days off work after falling mysteriously ill. Finally, scared her life was at risk, she asked him to leave. He did not ask why. Two days later a garage mechanic discovered more than 2kg of sugar in her petrol tank. She reported it to the police and hired a guard for two months.

In August 1996 Swango moved in with his girlfriend and her children. Despite the local police's inability to charge him with any of the Meneni deaths, they wanted to see him about the sugar incident. Realising the net was closing in, he skipped the country. The FBI believes he went on to work in Zambia and Namibia.

Although he is wanted in the US only for making false statements on a job application to a government hospital, Swango is suspected of having been responsible for the deaths of dozens of hospital patients. The son of a military officer and a housewife, he was born at Fort Lewis, Washington, in 1954. The family moved to Quincy, Illinois, in 1967.

Muriel Swango, who became estranged from her alcoholic husband, said her son was well-adjusted as a child and achieved 97% in his college aptitude test. A high-school teacher described him as a brilliant clarinet player and one of his most promising students.

Swango won a music scholarship to a prestigious private university in Illinois, but left after two years to join the marines. Here he served two years and received an honourable discharge with the rank of sergeant. On his return home to Quincy, he switched his major subjects to chemistry and biology; he wanted to become a doctor.

But soon after arriving at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine at the age of 24, Swango began to show signs of maladjustment. He was withdrawn and a loner. Some students suspected he was cheating and one described him as "immoral to the point of psychopathic".

According to a story in The New Yorker magazine, he was nicknamed "Double-O" Swango because of the number of times his reports indicated that a patient was doing well but then died or had a serious problem.

Only one month before his graduation a disciplinary committee voted for his dismissal after he prepared a report on a patient without having seen the patient. A teacher pleaded for him to be given a second chance, and after an additional nine months on the programme he passed with "satisfactory" evaluations.

His first residency was a five-year appointment in neuro-surgery at the Ohio State University hospitals in July 1983. After a year he was dismissed -- apparently no reason was given. So Swango returned to Quincy, working as a paramedic for the ambulance service in 1984.

On September 14 he showed up at work with a box of doughnuts for four colleagues. Within 30 minutes they were feeling dizzy and vomiting so violently they had to leave work. There were numerous other incidents of colleagues falling sick after consuming food or drinks from Swango.

They recalled that he was very interested in different types of poisons. One ambulance worker told police Swango had said it was "a good way to kill people". He said Swango was fascinated with violent deaths and kept a series of large scrapbooks filled with such stories.

Swango allegedly talked about getting an erection when he had to tell parents their child had died from a head trauma. Former co-worker Mark Krzystofczyk told The New Yorker that, while watching a TV programme on a notorious serial killer, Swango had remarked: "Wouldn't that be great? To travel around the country killing people? Just moving on, killing some more -- a great style of life."

When the Quincy ambulance crew searched his bag, they found a branded ant killer with an arsenic derivative as the primary active ingredient. A week later Swango made a pot of tea, which was analysed and found to contain elements consistent with the presence of arsenic.

He was arrested on October 26 1984 and on searching his flat police found a mini-lab filled with vials, needles and bottles containing various chemicals, suspected poisons and poisonous compounds. Police confiscated a "do-it-yourself mayhem" publication, popular with paramilitary enthusiasts. A small arsenal of weapons, including a 12-gauge pump shotgun and a Magnum revolver, was also seized.

He was charged with seven counts of aggravated battery when his trial opened on April 22 1985 before Judge Dennis Cashman. Swango, who waived his right to a jury, emphatically denied he had poisoned anyone, but he was found guilty on six counts and was sentenced to the maximum five years' imprisonment on August 23 1985.

The judge concluded he had not intended to kill his colleagues, only to experiment in taking them to the edge of death.

In light of the trial, investigators decided to look into Swango's earlier activities at Ohio. Police discovered a storage locker in his name that contained firearms clips and 200 rounds of blank machine-gun ammunition.

The public prosecution department began to look into a series of deaths that occurred at Ohio State hospitals during Swango's tenure. They discovered that in January 1984 he had been told that unless his performance improved, his appointment would not be renewed for a second year. Investigators concluded this setback triggered a violent reaction and over the following weeks the hospital recorded a number of near-fatal or mysterious deaths.

In one incident Swango was accused of injecting "something" into the drip of a 69-year-old woman, who subsequently died. An internal investigation was held and Swango returned to his post, but the hospital did not renew his contract.

Unable to find any concrete evidence to charge Swango with murder, the police could do nothing when he was released from prison after serving half his sentence. He found work in the health field during the latter part of the 1980s -- again colleagues kept falling ill around him.

Swango legally changed his name to David Jackson Adams and around 1991 began doctor's residency with the University of South Dakota.

He had declared his criminal conviction, but claimed it resulted from an altercation in a restaurant in which a friend was accosted and he intervened. The head of the residents' programme was convinced he had been harshly judged.

In October 1992 Swango, who was then engaged to a pretty young nurse called Kristin Kinney, had his past outed by a cable television programme called Justice Files. He was dismissed from work, despite having hired a lawyer and appealing through the local press.

Despite the publicity, he received a residency in psychiatry at the State University of New York in Stonybrook on June 1 1993. Kinney stayed in Ohio and on July 15 her body was found in a park with a gunshot wound. She had left a suicide note, but her mother suspects she killed herself because of her grief on learning that her fiancé was poisoning her.

In New York Swango was assigned to Veterans Hospital on Long Island. Now called Michael Kirk, he fled after the sudden death of a 60-year-old cabinet-maker, to whom he had administered a sedative. The FBI and local police began to review patients who had been under his care -- there had been several deaths, but the hospital insisted none had been unusual.

It is unclear what happened to Swango after this, but he eluded capture and made his next known appearance in Zimbabwe in 1994. By the time David Coltart had secured his R10 000 compensation for unlawful dismissal from Meneni, Swango had again disappeared. "He wrote me on August 26 1996, to say he would be out of town for several days," said Coltart, who expressed anger that the Department of Health had not checked Swango's records thoroughly enough.

Health officials in Zimbabwe were reluctant to talk about Swango, but have come under heavy criticism for letting him loose in the country's hospitals.

Coltart said he was also concerned the police had not properly investigated and laid charges against the American.

Swango was arrested in June last year, when he returned to the US to pick up a Saudi Arabian visa before flying to Riyadh the same day. His name flashed on the computer when customs officers ran a routine check on fugitives from federal charges. "For once the system worked," said an FBI agent.

© Weekly Mail & Guardian


Swango, Michael

Rated a genius in high school, with a tested IQ of 160, Swango graduated first in his class and was named "High School Student of the Year" by the National Merit Scholarship organization in 1975. By 1983, he had finished medical school and was serving his internship at Ohio State University, in Columbus. 

At least seven persons died under his care in that year, and hospital administrators were disturbed by reports from nurses who saw Swango injecting unknown chemicals into patient IV tubes, shortly before deaths were reported. 

Another patient, I9-year-old Cindy McGee, was recovering nicely from an automobile accident when Swango dropped by "to take blood samples," but she suffered a sudden, inexplicable relapse, and was soon pronounced dead. 

A survivor, rescued from the brink of death, told nurses, "A blond doctor put something in my IV and everything went black." Intimidated by the prospect of lawsuits if Swango was dismissed, Ohio State administrators let him finish out the year, but he was not invited back to serve the normal five-year residency term. 

He was recommended for licensing as a physician, however, and moved on to Quincy, Illinois, where he joined the staff of Blessing Hospital, working around the emergency ward. In short order, paramedics at Blessing began suffering attacks of violent nausea, invariably following a gift of snacks or beverages from smiling Dr. Swango. Suspicious, they placed Swango under unofficial surveillance, and one paramedic soon found quantities of ant poison in the doctor's gym bag. 

Police were notified, and Swango was charged with assault, a search of his home turning up stockpiles of acid, chemicals, and poisons, in addition to handwritten poison "recipes" and numerous items of occult paraphernalia. As the investigation proceeded, authorities began exhuming Swango's unfortunate Ohio patients. 

At least one, Ricky DeLong, had apparently been suffocated, though Swango signed his death certificate with a notation of "natural causes." Convicted of assault in Quincy, during 1985, Swango was sentenced to five years in prison. 

No murder charges have yet been filed in Ohio, but on February 12, 1986 -- nearly a year after his conviction -- Swango's license to practice medicine in that state was revoked. He has been released from prison and remains eligible to practice in Illinois.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans


Michael Joseph Swango (born October 21, 1954 in Tacoma, Washington) is a physician and surgeon, who fatally poisoned at least thirty (and possibly many more) of his patients and colleagues. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and is currently serving that sentence in prison.

History

Details of Swango's early life are unclear, but he did serve in the Marine corps, receiving an honorable discharge in 1980. From there he went to Southern Illinois University, where he entered medical school.

Swango's troubles were first noticed during his time at SIU. He had bad manners and no bedside manner. As early as that, he had a noticeable fascination with dying patients. He was also called lazy, and was nearly expelled after being caught cheating during his OB/GYN rotation. In the end, the school let him graduate if he repeated the course work.

Despite a poor recommendation from SIU, Swango got a surgical internship at Ohio State University in 1983. Nurses began noticing that apparently healthy patients on floors where Swango worked began mysteriously dying with an alarming frequency. One nurse caught him injecting some "medicine" into a patient who later became strangely ill.

The nurses reported their concerns to the administrators, but were met with accusations of paranoia. Only a superficial investigation was conducted. But although Swango was cleared by this investigation, Swango resigned under mysterious circumstances in 1984, and was not asked back to OSU because of concerns about his skill as a surgeon.

In July of 1984, Swango returned to Illinois and began working as an Emergency Medical Services technician. Soon, many of the paramedics on staff began noticing that whenever Swango prepared the coffee or brought any food in, several of them usually became violently ill, with no apparent cause. In October of that year, Swango was arrested by the Quincy, Illinois Police Department, who found arsenic and other poisons in his possession. On August 23, 1985, Swango was convicted of aggravated battery for poisoning co-workers at the Adams County Ambulance Service. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

After his release in 1991, Swango forged several legal documents which he used to reestablish himself. He forged a fact sheet from the Illinois Department of Corrections that falsified his criminal record, stating he had been convicted of a misdemeanor for getting into a fistfight with a co-worker and received six months in prison, as opposed to the five years for felony poisioning that he actually served.

He also forged a "Restoration of Civil Rights" letter from the Governor of Virginia, falsely stating that the Governor had decided to restore Swango's right to vote and serve on a jury, based on "reports from friends and colleagues" that Swango had committed no further crimes after his "misdemeanor" and was leading an "exemplary lifestyle."

In 1991, Swango used an alias, David J. Adams, to apply for a residency program in West Virginia. Then, in July of 1992, he began working at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A few months later, in December of that year, Swango made the mistake of attempting to go from there to joining the American Medical Association. The AMA did a more thorough background check than the medical center, and discovered the poisoning conviction in Swango's past. The AMA informed the medical center where Swango was working, and the medical center discharged Swango quietly.

The AMA temporarily lost track of Swango, who managed to get employed at the residency program at the Northport Veterans Administration Medical Center, affiliated with the State University of New York Medical School at Stony Brook School of Medicine. This time, Swango posed as a psychiatry resident, and once again his patients began dying for no explicable reason.

Four months later, the Dean at South Dakota finally learned that Swango had moved to New York, and placed a call to the dean at Stony Brook. Swango was discharged in October. This time, the residency director learned from past mistakes and sent a warning about Swango to over 125 medical schools and over one thousand teaching hospitals across the nation.

Now that most of the hospitals in the country had been warned about him, Swango had no choice but to practice in another country. In November of 1994 he surfaced in Zimbabwe and got a job at Mnene Hospital. There again, his patients began dying mysteriously. It wasn't for another year, however, that the poisonings were traced to him, and he was arrested in Zimbabwe. He was charged with poisonings, but he escaped Zimbabwe before his trial date, and hid out elsewhere in Africa and Europe. A year and a half later, in March of 1997, he applied for a job at the Royal Hospital in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, using a false resumé.

In June of 1997, he began a double flight from Africa to Saudi Arabia. He had a layover between flights at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois, and it was there that he was arrested by Federal authorities. Three years later, he was finally tried for the murders he had committed in his medical practices. On July 11, 2000, Michael J. Swango pled guilty to killing three of his patients, and fraud charges. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Modus Operandi

Swango did not often vary his methods of murder. With non-patients, such as his co-workers at the paramedic service, he used poisons, usually arsenic, slipping them into foods and beverages. With patients, he sometimes used poisons as well, but usually he administered an overdose of whichever drug the patient had been prescribed, or writing false prescriptions for dangerous drugs for patients who did not need them.

It is estimated that, over the course of his career, Swango killed anywhere between thirty and sixty people, even though he was only convicted of three of them.


Michael Swango: Doctor of Death

by Joseph Geringer

Physician on Trial

Recently a doctor was convicted in two separate cases of murdering his patients. Three in a Veterans Hospital in New York and one young woman when he was an intern in Ohio State University Hospital.

A press release issued by Swango's alma mater, SIU, states, "If Swango (is) legally connected to all the suspicious deaths of patients under his care since he began his residency with Ohio State University's medical program in 1983, it would make him the most prolific serial killer in history." The numbers of suspected deaths differ according to various publications, but estimates range from 35-60.

Following is a story of the alleged intercontinental murder spree of Michael Swango that stretches from 1983 to 1997.

But...that is still only a part of the story. Pulitzer Prize winner James B. Stewart's recent book, {Blind Eye - The Terrifying Story of a Doctor Who Got Away With Murder}, tirelessly follows Swango's career through interviews with his professional peers and tomes of documentia. He points a finger at the nation's hospital administration system as being part of the cause of Swango's ability to elude charges for so long. Nurses and patients alike saw forewarnings, but, according to Stewart, the departmental doctors scoffed and did nothing. As Swango moved from institution to institution, neither personnel nor hiring directors checked his past history, and when they did, they accepted his own testimony over anything incriminating on record.

After Swango's arrest, Stewart told the New York Times, "(His) case shows that the medical establishment will blindly trust the word of a fellow doctor over the word of other witnesses, and that the medical profession cannot adequately police itself."

That Swango demonstrated a charm and sincerity cannot be denied. Good looking, blonde, blue eyed and affable, openly supportive of his authorities, he was often well liked and appreciated by fellow professionals. He was aware of his charisma and used it to cover his suspicious maneuvers and his chronic lies.

Loretta Lynch, U.S. District Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, exclaimed that, "Instead of using his medical license to become a healer, Swango inveigled his way into the confidence of hospital administrators (and), once in their trust and in their employ, he searched for victims and took their lives."

While reading this story, keep in mind that the naivete of the industry that hired Swango has not gone unlearned. In the wake of the Swango case, the Federation of State Medical Boards has announced proposals to tighten the governance of medical practitioners. In the highly respected Observer, which is published by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM), staff writer Jodi Knapp states that among these recommendations are that "residents would have to register for a special permit to practice from their local state medical board (and) would have to renew the permit each year." (More details on the Federation's proposals appear in the final chapter.)

While U.S. District Attorney Lynch has called Swango "exactly the kind of doctor you would want to avoid," ex-FBI Agent Jason Themason says that that's easier said than done. Serial killers often wear masks. Themason, formerly with the FBI's Child Abduction and Serial Killer units, told SIU's newsletter, The Daily Egyptian, that Swango displays characteristics associated with "organizational murderers". They have, says he, "above-average intelligence, sexual and social competence and a controlled mood during the crime."

"...I will prescribe regimen for the good of my patients according to my
ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone. To please no one
will I prescribe a deadly drug, nor give advice which may cause his death..."

-- Excerpted from the Hippocratic Oath

Double-O Swango

Chances are that if you asked any one of Michael Swango's seventy-one fellow medical students at Southern Illinois University what they thought of him they would reply, "He's nuts!"

The university, which sits 350 miles south of Chicago and is one of the state's more esteemed places of higher learning, expects much of its students. In fact, SIU's School of Medicine was the first in the nation to create a written set of criteria to aptly prepare students for an inclusive knowledge of practical medicine while still in their freshman year. The curriculum is tough, and often the light levity formed by bonding between students is the one factor that eases the demanding load of expectations. So, when there is a black sheep in its midst, the organization of students spots him immediately.

Michael Swango was different than the rest of the would-be hopeful doctors. He kept to himself and drew resentment from his peers by spending more time working as a local ambulance attendant than attending his classes and laboratory sessions. That he had the brains to accomplish his studies and extracurricular activities simultaneously might have gained admiration had it not been for an obvious lack of discipline at school, a conceited aire, a sloppy skills-regimen during dissections and a noticeable buttering-up to certain professors.

Classmates recall an incident that took place one day that told them their intuitions were correct – that Swango might not be cut out for the noble profession. Despite his high marks earned on written exams, Swango could not identify the position of the human heart in an x-ray, something that even a novice could do. The episode made a lasting impression on many.

During an early anatomy class, Swango's dissection of a cadaver was so botched that the specimen, which was put on display for all to see, became a school joke. Swango hardly seemed to recognize his blunders and took no notice of the others' ridicule.

Swango had one particularly odd trait that left many professors stunned. If upbraided for making an error during technique, he would drop immediately to the floor to perform a series of self-chastising push-ups, a form of punishment practiced by the military – but not by civilian pre-meds!

A major part of any medical student's training is the education that comes with working hands-on at hospitals with actual patients. Under direct supervision of a trained physician, students are graded on their ability to conduct the history and physicals of patients – this process is called H&P. Students are expected to accurately summarize a patient's health background and assess a proper physical schedule for the patient while under the hospital's care. It is a very important phase of a medical education, for it 1) hones a student's perception of various illnesses and the effects of required treatments while 2) teaching them a professional and caring bedside manner.

But, in the eyes of his classmates, Swango washed out of H&P.

Particularly enlightening to them was his attitude toward death. He demonstrated a morbid interest in critical patients, almost as if waiting for them to succumb. And when they did, he adapted a habit of scratching DIED across their charts in huge red letters. When one pupil asked him how he could be so cold, he answered, "Hey, death happens." And it happened so often to those patients who Swango oversaw that the students – half-jokingly, half-suspiciously – said he was acting as if he had a license to kill. As a parody of James Bond 007, they began calling him "Double-O Swango" behind his back.

*****

Born Joseph Michael Swango, the boy cancelled out his first name at an early age and let his Quincy, Illinois, friends call him Mike. His parents Muriel and Virgil experienced little trouble with him, as he practiced good manners, wore suit coats and white shirts throughout the bead-and-bandana culture of the 1960s, and brought in high grades throughout elementary and high schools. In high school, he topped the honor roll each semester, outshining less-scholastic efforts of two brothers, Bob and John, and a half-brother, Richard. A clarinetist with the Christian Brothers H.S. Marching Band, he won an Outstanding Merit Award for this talent. After graduating valedictorian in 1972, he decided to attend nearby Millikin University College to pursue a degree in music.

Then, in sophomore year, he changed.

The suit coats vanished to be replaced by military fatigues; he painted his up-till-then immaculate automobile an army green; and became preoccupied in things tragic and violent. He started a scrapbook of clippings from newspapers referring to car and plane crashes, bloody military coups, savage sex crimes, arsons and riots. Losing interest in school, he left after his second year to join the U.S. Marine Corps.

This spontaneous move alarmed his friends, but more so his mother. Recently divorced, her marriage had been an on- and off-again affair with a man more interested in his military career than his family; for many years she was the lonely housewife left alone to raise four sons while husband Virgil served two duties in Vietnam. Before the divorce, the family endured sixteen relocations as military transfers took Colonel Swango across the country during the Fifties and Sixties, but after he left for Saigon a second time, his departure had been too much for Muriel. She turned to her favorite son, Michael, to uplift the Swango name into something more than the derivation of ramrods and mortar shells. Hard-studying, clean-cut, talented, well-behaved, good son Michael. But now, he too had tired of textbooks and bandstands and the wheatlands of Illinois, and flew to other parts of the world.

Muriel prayed he would not take up an army career, as had her wayward Virgil. As it turned out, her worries were needless. One stint with the Marines was all Michael could handle. Honorably discharged from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in 1976, he returned home to resume his college education. No longer interested in music, he told his happy mother that he wanted to study medicine.

Now attending Quincy College, he majored in both Biology and Chemistry, prerequisites for pre-med schools, and worked after classes as an ambulance attendant at a local medical center. Throughout, he maintained just below an A average. His senior-year thesis, which gained laudits for its exhausting research and meticulousness, also raised some professorial eyebrows: It detailed the true-life chemical-poison murder of a well-known writer in London.

Passing the Medical College Administration Test with flying colors, winning the coveted American Chemical Society Award and graduating summa cum laude, Swango's name was placed at the top of Southern Illinois University's long waiting list of prospective pre-med students in 1979.

*****

The reason that Swango worked for the American Ambulance Service while at SIU, even though it meant losing valuable study time, was simple: He was fascinated by the front-row scenes of gore and violence the job afforded. Chaos excited him, the sight of blood tingled his loins. A tableaux of street curbs dense with ogling crowds, in the street a pile of twisted metal once a pair of cars, and somewhere amid the fusion parts of two human beings that needed to be pried loose – this, to Swango, was ecstasy. And it cost nothing; in fact, the ambulance corps paid him to enjoy the scenery!

In 1982, while Swango was in his last year at SIU, his father died. Never close to Virgil, barely knowing the man, Swango nevertheless did the honorable thing and turned out to show respect alongside his family at the funeral. After graveside services, his mother presented her favorite boy with something she had found among the colonel's personal effects. It was a scrapbook, very similar to the one her son had already started on his own, but more complete; it bulged with columns and photos cut from magazines and newspapers, a virtual dictionary of general mayhem, of the world's worst disasters, of everything from assassinations to mass killings. Swango's reaction when he saw it: "Hell, I guess Dad wasn't such a bad guy after all."

Inspired by his father's creativity, Swango searched local and Chicago papers for any such testimony to bloodletting to thicken his own scrapbook. One evening an associate asked him why the odd fixation. Swango's answer scared the other. "If I'm ever accused of murder," he responded, "this will prove I'm mentally unstable."

*****

Michael Swango would have graduated with the rest of his class in June, 1982, had he not failed a major phase of the curriculum in the semester's final weeks. Assigned to rotation in the Obstetrics/Gynecology ward, he often disappeared or showed up late. Chief Resident Dr. Kathleen O'Connor discovered that he would sneak off to the ambulance service instead of applying himself to important H&Ps on the floor. Taking mental notes, she observed his behavior one day as he moved from room to room and noticed that he seemed to be performing patient visits in an unrealistically quick time. After he left the room of one particular female patient, O'Connor checked with her to learn that Swango had not examined her at all – had not even conducted a simple IV check or blood pressure reading. Yet, he had completed a report on the woman as if he had. More so, his report was so well detailed that the chief resident figured Swango was doing one of two things: fabricating his findings or plagiarizing them from a report done earlier.

Because such conduct jeopardized patients, the board found Swango's deceit unforgivable. Swango knew the committee would act harshly and hastened to hire a lawyer to prevent action. At stake was an offered internship with the University of Iowa's neurosurgery department. Both sides eventually compromised: Swango would not be expelled providing he agreed to repeat the OB/GYN rotations. He consented and Iowa withdrew its invitation.

By the time Swango received his diploma in the mail in early April, 1983, he had left behind a sorry reputation. Southern Illinois University Dean Richard Moy had already strongly indicated in his "dean's letter," which accompanies every graduating student's profile, that Swango was, to put it mildly, inept. Moy clearly pointed to not only Swango's scholastic blunders, but also to an increasing array of attitudinal and professional problems.

Yet, somehow, even before the diploma arrived with the postman, the Ohio State University Medical Center turned down a number of competitive candidates to offer Swango a year-long internship in general surgery to be followed by a residency position in its department of neurosurgery.

Pre-Med(itation?)

The medical center belonging to Ohio State University (OSU) was and is considered top-drawer among the profession. Its educational agenda and attention to professionalism are unequalled and, because of this, only the best pre-med graduates are permitted through its doors in Columbus, Ohio.

"Given such competition, it didn't take long for some of (Swango's) shortcomings to surface," writes James B. Stewart in his book on Swango. "The doctor in charge of transplant surgery, who oversaw Swango's work from mid-October until mid-November (threatened to) fail Swango...(He) didn't believe he was competent to practice medicine." This doctor also complained that Swango had a "brusque and indifferent manner with patients."

Not only his bedside manner was at question. Fellow interns and residents alike perceived an aura about him that was inexplicably strange. He seemed to be often lost in space when conducting H&Ps. When he talked, it was not about anything related to the rest of the conversation. One doctor recorded in his files that the young intern was preoccupied with Nazi history and genocide of Jews.

Then, just after Christmas of 1983, Swango was assigned to the ninth floor of the Rhodes Hall wing and there was more to talk about than merely his odd-duck personality.

On the morning of January 31, 1984, Swango entered the room of a neurosurgery patient named Ruth Barrick, supposedly to check on her intravenous (IV) hook-up. The attending nurse, Deborah Kennedy, thought it was strange as it was now nearly 10 a.m. and routine checks are usually performed much earlier, and by doctors, not interns. Still, Kennedy left the room as ordered. Some twenty minutes later, she returned to find Swango gone and the patient turning blue, writhing, suffocating. Doctors rushed to her bedside on Kennedy's alert and were able to resuscitate Barrick. She recovered in the Intensive Care Unit. Hospital physicians were puzzled at what had caused an obvious respiratory failure.

A week later, February 6, Nurse Anne Ritchie observed a lower than usual reading on the central venous pressure gauge that supplied medicine to Barrick's IV tube. She summoned a doctor to check it. According to Ritchie, Swango answered the call. But, when Swango seemed to be taking a longer-than-expected time in the room, she peeked in to ask if there was a problem. The intern told her no, and seemed annoyed that she was interrupting him.

Finally seeing Swango leave the room, Ritchie returned to Barrick to check the dressing that she had just applied. The patient had turned a ghastly blue. Despite emergency treatment, Barrick died gasping for air. Ritchie noted that Swango stood at the foot of the bed throughout the procedure, unaffected and idle. His one comment referred to the nurse's attempts at mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. "That's so disgusting," he glowered.

A little more than 24 hours later, at 9 p.m. on the evening of February 7, student nurse Karolyn Beery checked in to see if a patient on her rounds, elderly Rena Cooper, was showing satisfactory signs of recovery after that morning's back operation. When she looked in, she saw Swango in the woman's room, injecting something into Mrs. Cooper's IV with a syringe. Beery figured he was freeing a blockage, which sometimes occurred. Swango, spotting the nurse eyeing him from aside, said nothing to her but left immediately.

Moments later, it happened. Cooper began shaking violently, choking for oxygen as her complexion turned a vein-popping blue. A league of doctors and nurses responded to Beery's emergency code. Within 15 minutes, resuscitation efforts fortunately took effect; the medics noticed her body easing up and her natural color returning. Though still unable to speak, Cooper motioned for a notebook and a pencil, which one nurse provided. A former nurse herself, Cooper dashed off; "Someone gave me some med in my IV and paralyzed all of me, lungs, heart, speech."

As she later told 20/20 television show host Connie Chung in 1999, "There was no feeling in my arms or body. A voice said, 'When it reaches your other elbow, you'll die.' And I shook the bed rail with my right hand..."

After Cooper was able to talk the following morning, a resident doctor asked her to describe the mysterious person with the syringe. Her description fit Swango: "Tall, blonde." However, when confronted – and despite Nurse Beery's persistence – Swango sanctimoniously denied having ever been anywhere near Cooper's room.

But, the nurses on the floor were unconvinced. One of their own, a male nurse named Joe Risley, had witnessed Swango darting out of the lavatory in an unoccupied room down the hall immediately following the trauma. Swango bore an eerie expression, according to Risley, and rushed by as if trying to escape from something. In the lavatory, Risley found a syringe, just washed out, still wet. Wrapping it in tissue, he turned it over to the night manager, Nurse Lily Jordan. With the needle in their possession and with Beery sticking to her story that it was Swango she saw in Cooper's room, the body of nurses in Rhodes Hall began comparing notes.

Since Swango's appointment to this area of the hospital, there had been an unusual increase in the number of deaths – more in those few weeks than there had been for an entire year. In each case, the patient had been doing well and had not been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Besides Ruth Barrick, there had been six others, including 19-year-old Cynthia Ann McGee who was found dead in her bed on January 14, 21-year-old Richard DeLong who succumbed unexpectedly on January 21, and 47-year-old Rein Walker who passed away without warning.

Swango had been the floor intern at the time that every one of them died.

Assistant Director of Nursing Jan Dickson, recognizing the earnestness of her staff members, knew the time had come to present their suspicions to Neurosurgery Professor Joseph Goodman. After relaying her concerns about Swango, as well as typed statements from some of her employees, Dickson was startled to find Dr. Goodman reserved and unsympathetic. He hinted that the nurses should stick more to their business and stop feeding a rumor mill. He promised to investigate, but Dickson, as did the rest of the nursing staff, felt that nothing would come of it. They knew why. As with any institution trying to survive, bad publicity, coupled with a lawsuit, could ruin it.

"The issue of potential legal liability was especially sensitive at Ohio State because, as a large state-financed and taxpayer-supported institution, the university was largely self-insured," explains author Stewart. "Judgements against the hospitals, the medical school or the university itself were paid by the university."

Doctor Goodman's investigation on February 9 was less than inclusive. He interviewed Cooper, read the results of her blood test and reviewed the files of the seven patients whose deaths were suspect. But, he never interviewed any doctors or nurses who responded to the emergency calls, never spoke to nurses Kennedy, Beery or Ritchie, and didn't care to examine the syringe found in the washroom. After conferring with hospital attorneys and other institutional brass – among them Dr. Michael Tzagournis, Dean of the College of Medicine, and Medical Director Michael Whitcomb, Goodman concluded that Swango had been a victim of bad press. (As an aside, and to their credit, Tzagournis and Whitcomb proposed to monitor Swango's future activities.)

Swango, who had been put on probation, was reinstated with full intern privileges.

Near victim Rena Cooper, who survived her ordeal, left the hospital confounded and very disturbed by the light judgement passed on Swango. As she told {20/20}, somehow – she doesn't know how – investigators concluded that her description of the individual who entered her room did not match Swango at all. Overnight, her account of the syringe-brandishing ghost had become a metamorphosis. It went down on paper not as a "tall, blonde" male, but as a short female!

"I think at that time words were trying to be put in my mouth," Cooper expressed.

*****

Gossip barely subsided in Rhodes Hall when unexplainable deaths began to occur in neighboring Doan Hall – immediately following Swango's transfer there to work surgery rotation.

February 19, 1984: Charlotte Warner, 72 years old, was found dead in her room. Only hours earlier, her doctor had told her she was doing well after a recent surgery, well enough to go home in a day. Something...someone...had caused her blood to clot in several organs.

February 19: Patient Evelyn Pereney began bleeding profusely from body orifices, even through her eyes, after being examined by Michael Swango. Resident physician Dr. Birkin had no explanation for the hemorrhaging.

February 20: Anna Mae Popko, 22, recovering from a simple intestinal operation, rolled up her sleeve to permit Swango to give her a shot to (as he claimed) increase her blood pressure. The girl's mother did not understand why the doctor wanted to shoo her from the room, but after a brief argument the woman relented. Not long afterwards, Swango confronted Mrs. Popko with an attitude that seemed almost victorious. "She's dead now," Swango droned. "You can go look at her."

*****

A residency review committee in late February pondered Michael Swango's ability to become a resident doctor at Ohio State. Even apart from the suspicious deaths, his performance was ruled as "poor" by supervising doctors. For that reason, the university decided not to accept Swango as a resident physician after his internship concluded in June. After being notified in March, he left angrily.

*****

Ohio State University would later regret not having taken the nurses' claims further. In the months ahead, as Swango had further dealings with the law, its handling of the Swango case would reap scandal. After Swango became a target of national suspicion in the late 1990s, the press lambasted it. Columbus Dispatch Science Reporter David Lore would write, "OSU's critics say the university still has not cleaned up the mess that was created when doctors and attorneys at OSU Medical Center gave Swango a pass after bungling their cursory and closed-door investigation...Last month, in response to ABC News, OSU conceded in a written statement (that) 'we should have called in outside police authorities to investigate.'"

*****

Hindsight, however, didn't help the patients who died. In the meantime, in 1984, the Ohio State Medical Board, routinely investigating Swango for a state medical license, learned of his behavioral problems and alleged link to patients' deaths. In response to the board's inquiries, Surgery Director Dr. Larry Carey expressed misgivings about Swango, citing run-ins with hospital personnel and, specifically, the Rena Cooper episode.

The crazy luck that followed Swango again struck, however. In the face of negative reports from those, like Carey's, who worked with him, the medical board granted Michael Swango a license to practice medicine in the State of Ohio.

But, Swango was angry about the way he had been treated by his peers. Either that or he was frightened. At any rate, he absconded from Ohio to return to Quincy, Illinois. He told his mother and brothers that he had been a victim of a personality clash with the powers that be.

He would seek a license to practice his beloved Hippocratic Oath in his own home state.

Toxic Snacks

Back in Quincy, Swango got a job as a paramedic with the Adams County Ambulance Corps. He did not try to reapply with his old employer, American Ambulance, because he had left them in bad favor. Actually, he had been fired for making a coronary victim walk to the ambulance. Not having told Adams his past history, the new company thought they had a gem on their hands with all his medical expertise.

Members of the ambulance corps worked in 24-hour shifts and shared the same suite of rooms in Blessing Hospital. Thrown together like they were, they were a fraternity of people who got to know each other's habits, personalities and, sometimes, secrets. More than anything, they were a dedicated group – dedicated to their job and to each other. Except for Swango. From the start, he was considered the group's official loonytoon.

Free to express himself now that he was unfettered from the stodgy cubicles of porcelain white that was Ohio State, Swango admitted to the crew that violence turned him on. And even though he did not carry the sentiment further, the others gathered that that was probably why he became a paramedic: to surround himself in the blood-and-guts and every-second-counts scenario of an ambulance corps.

Fellow corpsmen Mark Krzystofczyk, Jim Daniels, Brent Unmisig and the others, including Lonnie Long who captained the group, regarded Swango's singularity as harmless; they sometimes looked forward to his black humor to break the monotony of long idle periods. Notwithstanding, Swango was a good technician; he had more practical medicine experience than the rest of them put together; and that was justifiable reason to let much of his bizarre dialogue pass. But – sometimes he got just a little too creepy – like when he professed poison as the best murder tool, or the time he told a fellow paramedic that he loved being a doctor because, "It gives me an opportunity to come out of the emergency room with a hard-on to tell some parents that their kid has just died."

As the crew sat around the cafeteria one evening, Swango described his total fantasy. While he confessed it, the others shuddered. "It's like this," he began. "Picture a school bus crammed with kids smashing head-on with a trailer truck loaded down with gasoline. We're summoned. We get there in a jiffy just as another gasoline truck rams the bus. Up in flames it goes! Kids are hurled through the air, everywhere, on telephone poles, on the street, especially along an old barbed wire fence along the road. All burning."

Gruesome fabrications aside, everyone considered Swango nothing but talk and imagination. Until the doughnut incident. After that, he was viewed by his comrades more ambiguously – and with much more of a cautious eye.

As was customary, members of the corps took turns bringing in treats for others to share – cookies, candy, biscuits, doughnuts. The latter were especially popular, for they went well with the general morning coffee habit. On a mid-September morning, Swango brought in an assortment of freshly baked doughnuts to the delight of the other four paramedics on duty. The crew fell on them with a hearty appetite, but over the next hour, one by one, the entire crew of paramedics were stricken with identical symptoms: stomach cramps, nausea, dizziness, then vomiting. They had to leave work, all of them.

Only later did it dawn on them that Swango had not partaken of his own box of treats. When angrily questioned later if he had pulled some kind of a stunt, he answered, "{Of course not!} I wouldn't do anything like that!"

The following evening, Swango and Unmisig were assigned to routine emergency detail at the local high school football game. Near halftime, Swango said he was thirsty and would like to buy himself and Unmisig a cola. The co-worker thanked him and promised to hold Swango's seat while he went off to fetch two Cokes. After sipping half the cup, Unmisig started to experience severe cramping. Swango drove him home where the fellow was forced to his bed with a headache, nausea and dizziness for three days.

No doubt, Swango became suspect. No one would drink a cup of anything or swallow a tidbit from the once-welcomed tray of snacks whenever Swango was about. One afternoon, the latter asked if anyone would care to join him for a soda in the recreation area. Paramedic Greg Meyers, who had been less informed than the rest of the personnel, agreed to go along. Besides, he knew that the soda Swango referred to would come in a can straight out of a pop dispenser. Tossing his co-worker loose change, he waited nearby. When Swango returned, Meyers noticed that the flip-top of his can was pulled back.

"Why did you open this?" he asked.

"Why not?" Swango smiled.

Against his better judgment, Meyers sipped the pop. Within minutes, he was met with stomach pains and the related various symptoms suffered by Unmisig earlier in the month. Once again, an Adams County paramedic had to be rushed home, compliments of an ailment that appeared out of thin air.

Following that latest upset, his fellow workers decided to check out Swango's duffel that he habitually carried to work. When he left quarters on a call, they opened his locker and retrieved the bag. Inside they found a box of Terro ant poison. According to the label, it was comprised of chiefly arsenic, which, when ingested, causes the exact symptoms each of them had had after downing Swango's snacks. They decided to spring a trap.

The men purposely left a freshly brewed pot of iced tea on the counter when they knew Swango would be alone. When they returned, and after Swango had gone out, they poured the tea into another container and washed out the pot. They then brought the liquid to the local coroner, an acquaintance, who in turn sent it to the nearest FBI lab for testing. Results indicated traces of toxin.

Before the week was up, the Adams County Sheriff searched Swango's apartment on Eighteenth Street. Amid the debris of an unkempt flat, police uncovered a mass of vials, bottles, syringes and other medical paraphernalia, all piled around a book entitled The Poor Man's James Bond, a tongue-in-cheek manual of weapons and do-it-yourself murder. As the police report reads, "An eerie mini-lab set-up was observed. Detectives found numerous chemicals, suspected poisons and poisonous compounds... Handwritten recipes for poisons...were (also) observed." As well, the police confiscated several models of handguns and a range of knives.

Swango was promptly arrested, charged with seven counts of aggravated battery.

His trial opened in the Quincy Courthouse on April 22, 1985. Proceedings moved quickly. Defense lawyer Dan Cook had very little to work with in Swango's behalf because prosecutors had unearthed the defendant's shady past history from Ohio State University (much to the university's chagrin) to throw in suspicion upon suspicion. Cook's main platform was that his client was being accused on largely circumstantial evidence.

Witnesses for the prosecution included Swango's co-workers who had become ill after sampling his devices, as well as the coroner to whom the poisoned tea was delivered, and the lab technician who tested it. Swango was found guilty, thumbs down.

Addressing the prisoner of the bar, Presiding Judge Dennis Cashman ascertained, "It's clearly obvious to me that every man, woman and child in this community or anywhere else that you might go is in jeopardy as long as you are a free person...You deserve the maximum under the law because there is no excuse for what you have done."

Following the sentence, Michael Swango was transported to the Centralia Correctional Center to begin a five-year sentence.

His application for a license to practice medicine in Illinois was revoked.

Judge Cashman always believed that Swango was using the Adams County paramedics as guinea pigs for some bigger poisoning efforts he had in mind. In a 1999 interview with ABC-TV reporter John Stossel, Cashman opined, "I think he wanted to take them to the edge of death. If he had wanted to kill these people he had plenty enough arsenic to do so."

Fresh Start, Same Symptoms

The arrest of Michael Swango in Illinois prompted a media interrogation that reached national heights. In Columbus, Ohio State University honchos took the rap for unleashing a suspected poisoner into the world. James Meeks, OSU's Dean of Law, forced an investigation, then published results that pretty much bowed to the critics. What became known as the Meeks Report agreed that the school had indeed been negligent in its responsibility to the American community.

Reporter John Stossel, who became personally interested in the alleged crimes of Swango, sought an interview with him in prison for the television investigative program, 20/20. Swango agreed to talk and what resulted was rapid-fire dialogue. Stossel questioned Swango about the poisons in his Quincy apartment, about his shady internship in Ohio, and about his reaction to the mess he found himself in. Throughout, Swango insisted he was innocent, resenting the monster figure the press had created. Said he, "I did not do these things. It is simply beyond my— well, beyond the sort of person I am to even think about doing something like that."

When Stossel told him that the public feared his release from confinement, Swango grimaced. "There's certainly no reason for anyone to be scared (of me)," he responded, "none whatsoever."

*****

On August 21, 1987, Swango was released on good behavior from the correctional center after serving only two years of his five-year sentence. A year's probation would follow. By the time he walked out, the media furor had died down and his name had long lost front-page appeal. He was happy to be in the shadow. And to avoid local gossip, he left Illinois for other climes. He chose Newport News, Virginia, a city with an Atlantic flavor so unlike Quincy or Columbus.

Miles between him and the past, the past nevertheless was present. When he applied for a medical license in Virginia he was vigilantly turned down. Instead, he hired on as a job counselor at the state's Career Development Center. His tenure was brief, as the professionals with whom he worked cast a disapproving eye on his habit of working on his scrapbook of disasters at his desk during work time.

His next position, that of a lab technician at coal exporter Aticoal Services, lasted longer. Work was clinical and humdrum, but it paid well and the company's president thought well of Swango. That he had been the doughnut poisoner featured on 20/20 had been forgotten (after all, it had been a couple of years), for his co-workers showed no hesitation in accompanying him at lunchtime. And it seems he avoided the wagging finger when several Aticoal employees fell ill and almost died from food poisoning.

*****

Kristin Kinney was beautiful, red-haired, 26 years old and newly divorced when she met Swango in 1991 at Newport News' Riverside Hospital. She was a nurse there and Swango was taking a refresher course. Engaged to a doctor at the facility, Kristin at first regarded her friendship with Swango as platonic, but as the months passed they clearly became an item. Her friends, who liked her and affectionately called her KK, fretted over the whirlwind romance. One even told her to beware, as it became common knowledge that Swango's attempts for employment at the hospital were rejected for some sort of past scandal. But, she laughed off any consternation.

Swango had been itching to get back into practice and had applied at a number of medical centers across the country. Between nurturing his relationship with KK, he continued to send resumes. In September, 1991, he received a phone call from the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls. Dr. Anthony Salem, the director of the residency program there, was interested.

By phone, Salem congratulated him on an excellent resume, but asked him to further clarify certain past history episodes mentioned in Swango's cover letter – most importantly, a passage that referred to a conviction "of battery in Ilinois". Swango fabricated. He explained that he had been involved in an unsightly barroom brawl in which several people were hurt; he was the fall guy who wound up taking all the blame. But, he quickly added, he now had all his practicing rights restored to him in Virginia where he now resided. Salem, who said he appreciated the other's frankness, acknowledged that accidents do happen. He invited him to come to Sioux Falls to be interviewed by several teaching doctors.

Kristin kissed Swango good luck and he flew to the meeting, which was set for October 3. As the first-step of what would be a long selection process, he was interviewed by an assembly of internists who centered their questions on his background in internal medicine. "Incredibly, no one asked any other questions about his conviction on battery charges," Blind Eye author James B. Stewart awes. "It never occurred to (them) to contact police or judicial authorities in Quincy."

Just past the new year, 1992, a long list of candidates for twelve open positions was sliced to less than twenty. Even though he hadn't fared well with all interviewers, his name remained afloat. More banter, more shearing. Then, in March, Swango was given official notice of his residency to begin in June.

He followed up the good news by proposing to KK. She accepted and together they made plans to move to Sioux Falls. They opted to live together until each was settled in his or her own respective job. Kristin had been hired as an RN at the Royal C. Johnson Veterans Memorial Hospital, one of the university's franchises, and looked forward to her new job where she planned to make a difference.

Kristin's mother and stepfather, Sharon and Al Cooper, were skeptical. Like Kristin's friends, they were bothered by the blank spots in Swango's background, years he ignored. But, as Sharon was to tell an interviewer years later, she dismissed her worries by telling herself that it "was the answer for Kristin". Husband Al adds, "Kristin had gone through one marriage that hadn't worked out. She wanted desperately to be married and have children."

The Cooper's concerns seemed to be all for nothing. In Sioux Falls, Swango and KK became achievers. He proved to be better than the university had hoped, carving a reputation for himself as one of the best emergency-situation doctors it ever had. Kristin, at the VA hospital, brought a sparkling personality and intensity to the nurses' station that it needed. She became very well liked and respected by both nurses and doctors. Together, KK and Swango turned many a head and generated much envy.

By October, 1992, Swango had gotten too cocky. Even though he was an unlicensed doctor who had obtained an internship under false pretenses, hiding his past, he dared to apply for membership in the American Medical Association (AMA). Only one logical reason supports this gutsy move: He must have counted on them not checking his credentials. He was wrong.

Conducting its usual background checks, the AMA inadvertantly discovered that Swango's conviction in Quincy was not due to a barroom brawl. When Judge Cashman, the jurist who tried Swango for the poisonings in 1985, heard that a call had come in from the AMA concerning Swango working as a doctor again, he unraveled. Immediately, he returned the call and told AMA official Nancy Watson the true story. Watson related it to her superior and he relayed it to Dr. Robert Talley, Dean of the University of South Dakota.

Good things may come in pairs, but the old cliche had a mirror effect in this case. Just about the time Talley was hearing the bad news about his prized doctor in emergency, 20/20 re-broadcast John Stossel's 1986 interview with Michael Swango from the Centralia Correctional Center. The nurses and doctors – and patients – who knew Swango now saw that man's face on TV while a voiceover suggested that he might have purposely needled doughnuts with ant poison. The effect was devastating.

Kristin saw the program, too, and fell apart. Swango, having been dismissed, was in no mood to comfort her or to answer any questions. Once again, his world had shaken. He ranted and shouted defamation and did everything he could to show he was being railroaded – everything but hug Kristin. Feeling deserted, KK waited in humiliation, ducking reporters who badgered her about her berserk boyfriend. Almost more hurtful than the truth of his crimes were the chuckles and giggles that many were having at her expense. One popular radio station played a song, sung to the tune of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," part of which goes:

"Swango the troubled doctor
USD says out he goes
And if you saw his rap sheet
All of us would say "Oh no!
"

When Kristin's friends at the hospital tried to show their support by inviting her and Swango to a Christmas party, KK noticed that the host's husband followed Swango from room to room and hovered whenever Swango neared the punchbowl and sandwich platters.

Headaches began. Pounding, dizzying headaches. Always troubled by migraines, KK had never experienced anything as miserable as these. For a while she attributed them to tension – but deep down inside she wondered if Swango was dropping chemicals in her food. She was a nurse, a good one, and she most likely feared the worst.

Finally, she couldn't take it anymore and rushed back to her mother's house in Virginia. Away from Swango, the headaches abruptly ended.

Gone from him, she continued to love him. Perhaps she continued to believe, meekly, that Swango was innocent and all would be right in the end. But, she couldn't, just couldn't, explain why those headaches vanished the day she left.

She weighed her emotions, separated her hopes from the obvious, until the obvious became too unbearable. And then she committed suicide.

At her apartment police found a note left behind, addressed to her mom and Al Cooper:

"I love you both so much. I just didn't want to be here anymore. Just found day-to-day living a constant struggle with my thoughts. I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not. I feel that sense of peace, 'peace of mind,' I've been looking for. It's nice."

An addendum below, to Michael, read:

"I love you more! You're the most precious man I've ever known.
"Love, KK"

Death Takes No Holiday

Kristin Kinney was in her grave. By the end of June, 1993, Swango was off to New York State. He had his own ass to worry about. He had successfully acquired yet another position in a favored hospital.

Having had the ability so far to pick and choose his fields of endeavor, as a child pretends to be a cowboy one minute and a Martian the next, this time it was with a psychiatric residency program offered by the State University of New York through its Stony Brook Medical School. He had been interviewed in the spring.

When the issue of his conviction in Illinois arose, Swango again used the barroom brawl alibi, and again displayed the forged Virginia pardon. Sufficiently dazzling Dr. Alan Miller, Director of the Psychiatric Department, as well as other professorial types, no one checked with the administration that convicted him or on the standing of his credentials. Had they done so, they would have realized he was a doctor in search of practice without a license. Instead, they hired him and slated his first tour of duty to commence July 1.

His first assignment was with Internal Medicine at the Veterans Administration complex on picturesque Northport, Long Island. The hospital, one of the institutions that made up Stony Brook, sat in the midst of the pleasant community, which enjoyed having a medical establishment of such good merit in its fold.

But, reverberations of oncoming trouble began the first evening of Swango's duty. His first patient, Dominic Buffalino, mysteriously died that night within hours after Swango taking charge of his case. Wife Teresa Buffalino could not understand how her husband, a man who entered the hospital with a mild case of pneumonia and who had been sitting up teasing her and the nurses that very afternoon, could suddenly succumb to paralysis of the heart and other organs.

A rare case as it was, Mrs. Buffalino's query was matched by other startled relatives of patients over the next couple of months. Aldo Serinei died suddenly. As did Thomas Sammarco. As did George Siano. All died of heart failure after paralysis struck in the night. As they lay breathing their last, Swango had placed a DNR order on every one of them. DNR, or in its entirety "Do Not Resuscitate," meant that a patient's condition was fatal and inoperable.

The case of Barron Harris is one of the more dramatic because his wife, Elsie, proved later to be one of Swango's more vocal detractors. Elderly Harris had been admitted into the hospital after contracting pneumonia in September.

At first, the wife approved of the resident doctor put in his charge, the tall, congenial Swango. But, her attitude of him soon soured. He grew distant and silent towards her. One night when she came to visit Barron, she found the doctor in the room, lights off, injecting something into his patient's neck. When she asked what the shot was for, Swango answered unemotionally, "Vitamins," then shuffled off with no further explanation.

Mrs. Harris must have sensed his response amiss, for later she asked the nurse on duty about the shot she saw Swango administer. The nurse stared back incredulously. "Doctors don't give shots," she reported. "That's what we're supposed to do."

Within days, Harris' condition faltered. He was forced to a respirator, then slipped into a coma. When she heard that Swango assigned a DNR to be placed across Barron Harris' chart, Elsie demanded to know why. "Because," Swango groaned as if annoyed, "his brain is virtually dead."

Mr. Harris lived for some time after the incident, but never awoke from the coma. When his wife later sued the hospital for negligence, the case was tossed out of court for lack of evidence that Swango had committed a crime.

Since then, things have changed.

*****

Mr. and Mrs. Cooper, Kristin Kinney's parents, could not accept her suicide. They knew she had been driven to it by a very evil man. And they wanted answers. They wanted to know why this fellow was still practicing medicine, maybe hurting more good people like their beloved KK. In communicating with one of Kristin's nursing friends in South Dakota, Sharon Cooper relayed her wariness over the elusive Swango. She knew he had left to take a residency in Stony Brook and, after what she had found about him through the 20/20 program and subsequent newspaper exposes, she felt that there had been a gross error committed somewhere.

Kristin's friend was aghast – she hadn't known Swango was working again – and pledged to elevate Mrs. Cooper's concerns. She followed through with her promise. The next day she sought audience with Dean Robert Talley.

Horrified, Dr. Talley directly phoned Dr. Jordan Cohen, Dean of Stony Brook. An emergency meeting ensued, to which Dr. Miller and Swango were summoned. When Miller insisted to hear the real reason for Swango's prison time in Illinois, the latter shrugged, then admitted it had not been for a barroom brawl, but for suspicion of poisoning fellow paramedics.

Swango was terminated, but not before the media got ahold of the incident. Local and national press rallied at the threshold of Stony Brook. People who lost loved ones under Swango's care sent out a war cry, among them Barron Harris' wife Elsie. The University of New York, gun shy, shook the hierarchy trellis and before the year was out both Drs. Miller and Cohen resigned. Looking back, Cohen later told AP reporter Larry McShane, "(Swango was) a charming, pathological liar."

According to ABC News, Dr. Cohen resigned gracefully, taking a step no other of his profession had done before. "He sent a letter to every medical school in the country, warning them about Swango."

The Justice Department now moved in quietly to investigate. However, Swango had left New York for parts unknown. Agents checked for his whereabouts in several locations that he was known to have visited; they followed leads from friends and associates, including the Coopers, who thought he might have gone here or there. But, months passed without results. In mid-1994, they finally traced him to friend Bert Gee's home near Atlanta, Georgia. Gee, an acquaintance for years, was unaware of Swango's crimes and unaware that the FBI had put his house under surveillance.

No order had yet come down from headquarters to arrest the runaway doctor-who-wasn't, so agents bided their time shadowing Swango's movements. They panicked when they discovered he was working at a wastewater treatment facility, which connected to Atlanta's water supply! Before they could confront the local authorities, warning them of the dangers inherent, their suspect suddenly left Atlanta.

Within weeks, the long-awaited arrest warrant arrived, charging Michael Swango with falsifying documents in order to enter the service of the federally granted Veterans Administration hospital at Stony Brook.

But, this time, Swango had vanished, not to be found. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents predicted he had either killed himself or left the country. Having dealt with the likes of Swango many times in its history, the FBI laid its money on the second.

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Banana-colored skies, crooked eucalyptus trees and a veldt that stretched outward until it fell over the horizon. This was Swango's newest home, Zimbabwe, South Africa. A place where he thought he would be safe from a democracy that didn't like cyanide in its IV tubes or homemade botulism glazed on its jellyrolls.

But, had he thought Africa too backward to notice that healthy patients don't just keel over without cause, he was about to learn a desperate lesson.

Looking to get out of the country, Swango applied with an agency that serves as a conduit for English-speaking doctors seeking employment in other nations. He submitted a parcel of forged and totally fabricated documentia, the curriculum vitae attesting to his outstanding work across the United States.

A cover letter bespoke a desire to practice medicine in a far-off village somewhere, all for the sake of Mankind. The Lutheran mission hospital at remote Mnene received his package and thought that this Dr. Michael Swango would be an excellent catch. American doctors were hard to come by and here was one almost pleading to be selected.

Swango arrived in Africa just before the end of the year 1994. Church deacon Mpofu picked him up at the tiny airport at Bulawayo and transported him back to the mission station at Mnene to meet its director, Dr. Christopher Zshiri. Not one to mince words, Zshiri asked why such a dynamic metropolitan physician would want to come to a depressed atmosphere such as Mnene to earn only a pittance of what he was used to. The American said he loved Africa and wanted to give what he could to help the black people who just didn’t get the breaks he had been given.

Zshiri somewhat bought it. But, he made a point to survey Swango during his orientation days in the small, one-story, dry-bricked cottage cum hospital. The newcomer showed enthusiasm and a willingness to adapt to foreign cultures but, strangely, seemed somewhat lacking in the simple basics that the people here required – attending to childbirth, removing cysts, cleaning abscesses. Zshiri attributed the gap to Swango's specialization in neurosurgery. In America, he knew, specialists don't bother with ailments and prognoses outside their realm.

Swango agreed to take a five-month internship at Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo to familiarize himself with the fundamentals of doctoring the local populace, to learn the bioethical nuances as well as the mechanical techniques of the operating room. He learned quickly, seeming to grasp the sensitive nature of an ancient and proud race who still didn't quite trust blonde, blue-eyed doctors from a mythical land called Illinois. His initiatives and hard work pleased Mpilo's superintendent, Dr. Chaibva, and the head of Obstetrics, Dr. King. But, his personal friend became Dr. Ian Lorimer, a tall, likeable surgeon/teacher who was struck with Swango's coolness under emergencies.

In May, 1995, a more skilled Swango returned to the outpost hospital at Mnene. Quite often, he worked late into the evening and effected improvements in procedures that decreased waiting periods endured by the sick of Mnene Parish. But, Dr. Zashiri's earlier cynicism about this Yankee doctor gradually took form as he noticed Swango's attitude sink, a little at a time, and his nature turn sour.

First, his work took on a sloppy disregard. Then, the Lutheran nuns with whom he worked began complaining that he was treating them with disdain, as if to taunt the respect he had been told to show them. Sometimes, Zashiri would awaken to find that "Dr. Mike" had taken an unauthorized holiday when there was no one else on duty to tend to patients.

But, Dr. Zshiri was a professional man, a capable leader; internal squabbles and sloven employees were not beyond his ability to fix. However, there was more to Swango than that.

Rhoda Mahlamvana had entered Mnene Lutheran Hospital with burns received in an accident at her home. She was doing well and was scheduled to leave the hospital in a few days. After Swango took over her case, her condition deteriorated. She died shortly thereafter. Swango could not explain.

There were others, too, young and old, who collapsed in the midst of recovery, never to awaken again. Cause of death: heart failure brought about by...well, that was the mystery. Dr. Jan Larsson, who helped out at the mission, admitted to Zshiri that he believed this Swango was playing foul.

Patient Keneas Mzezewa awoke one night from a shallow slumber to sense Swango's needle in his arm. Before the doctor stepped away from his cot, he waved goodbye, an act which Mzezewa could not comprehend – until a bit later when he began to feel scalding hot all over, then nauseated, then feel his frame begin to paralyze. He could barely speak, but somehow managed to find the power for one scream. Resuscitation efforts by the nuns revived him, and when he was able to speak he told them to keep Swango away from him. "That man, he's no good!" he cried. "He tried to kill me!"

Swango told Zshiri that Mzezewa must have hallucinated. "No one injected him!" Swango cried, not knowing that the nuns had found a needle cap lying on the floor beside his cot.

Within a few weeks, Katazo Shava died. He had been talking with friends who had come to see him after his leg operation when Swango interrupted them. He asked the party to leave, saying Shava needed to rest. Respectfully, the visitors filed out, leaving the doctor alone with his patient. Suddenly, they heard Shava scream. When they ran back to his cot, they found him frenzied, yelling that Swango had given him something bad in a needle. Swango denied it, but Shava died that afternoon. Paralysis due to heart failure.

And the beat went on...Phillimon Chipoko succumbed in the middle of a foot amputation – a very rare occurrence. Again, heart failure.

Virginia Sibanda nearly died in the spasms of conception. Going into labor pains, the nurses wheeled her into the delivery room when Swango appeared to take over. He had been there only moments when the sisters heard the patient crying for help. Her body wracked with pain, she yelped for relief. The nurses stepped in to deliver the baby while the mother writhed. Luckily, a healthy child was born and Sibanda recovered.

That evening, she told a nun that, while the nurses were not looking, "Dr. Mike" bent over her to inject her with a needle that he withdrew from inside his lab coat; her excruciating pain followed within seconds. When confronted, Swango smirked and blamed the whole matter on the patient's delusions.

One more death was to follow, that of Margaret Zhou, a young woman facing a mild operation, who died in the still of the peaceful African night.

By this time, the nuns were threatening to go to the police if Zshiri did not. Zshiri called a meeting and it was decided to summon a police investigation. Superintendent of the Zimbabwe Republic Constabulary, P.C. Chakarisa, obtained a search warrant and went to Swango's cottage nearby. Inside, the police found, according to James B. Stewart's Blind Eye, "an extensive array of drugs and medical equipment". Syringes, some still filled with a liquid, lay about the room; so did bottles and tins of substances foreign to the Zimbabwe doctors.

Shortly after the raid, Swango hired one of the region's top lawyers, David Coltart, a man respected by authorities. Coltart's reputation was so high that Swango's friends from Mpilo Hospital firmly believed that Swango's defamation charges against Mnene had credence. While Swango awaited an upcoming hearing, they allowed him to practice medicine at Mpilo.

Meanwhile, Inspector Chakarisa's case was solidifying as he talked to surviving patients and relatives of those who had died, and to the good sisters at the mission hospital. The drugs found in Swango's residence were lethal. Intercontinental communications began to bring to the surface another Swango that Dr. Zshiri and the folks at Mnene had never known – one who had been in an American prison for poisoning co-workers and who was dismissed from one hospital after another for apparently suspicious reasons. When Chakarisa learned that Swango was practicing at Mpilo, he intervened. He contacted the republic's Minister of Health and Child Welfare who, in turn, ordered Swango barred from further duty.

As the evidence built, Attorney Coltart realized his client might be guilty, after all. And he was sure of it when the doctor failed to appear at a hearing in August, 1996. The main players knew he had gone on the lam.

*****

Hiding out in Zambia, then Europe, for nearly a year, Swango returned to the United States. Immigration officials, checking all flights for many months, were ready for him when he stepped off an airplane in Chicago's O'Hare Airport on June 27, 1997. Cuffed in the terminal, he was ushered to a back room, read his rights and told he was arrested for fraudulently entering Stony Brook and practicing medicine without a license in a VA hospital.

From Chicago, he was escorted to New York for trial.

Killing for Pleasure

At first glance, arresting Michael Swango on fraud charges seems as incomplete as nabbing Al Capone for income tax evasion. But, the federal government had a method in its madness.

By charging Swango – now in its possession – with even a minor infringement and giving him the maximum time allowable under the statute of the law, the government would have on its side the value of time to build the case it wanted. Even though Swango had eluded the FBI by traveling to Africa, the Bureau had not given up the chase. Agents worked with international law enforcement agencies to pinpoint his movements and build a dossier. At the same time, they were shaping a psychological profile, an important phase of their investigation and a vital tool that would be used to identify the nature of his criminality.

There is yet to be done a thorough, up-close psychological study of Michael Swango, but subject experts and forensic clinicians who have watched his case from afar tend to agree that the profile emerging is one of an individual with emphatic narcissistic tendencies. He is not insane; he can distinguish right from wrong.

Forensic Psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Smalldon (who has examined many serial killers, among them John Wayne Gacy) believes that Swango's drive is "a preoccupation with control and manipulation," including a feeling of control over life and death itself. Sans a formal examination, Smalldon says Swango displays the common threads of a narcissist.

These include – but are not inclusive of – a dysfunctional family history (in Swango's case, an absentee father); violent fantasies and attention to disasters (starkly noted by his scrapbook); an overt reaction to criticism (remember his self-punishing push-ups?); a contempt for his victims (he cruelly waved goodbye to Mzezewa after injecting him); and a compulsion to deceive (examples of this being the foundation of Swango's career).

But, how does one fully explain a psychopath, especially a Swango whose deeds are so loathsome and continuous? Dr. Smalldon says it's impossible. More so, as author James B. Stewart recently told 20/20, "One of the most chilling things about this kind of personality is that there is no known treatment...no psychiatric procedure...no drug...no way to stop him. If he is free he will find a means and a place to do it again."

*****

A sign that the government had not forgotten the fugitive is that while he was still in Africa, an FBI agent visited Swango's old nemesis Judge Dennis Cashman in Springfield, Illinois, to garner information that would help prosecutors slot the type of killings Swango performed. It was at that time that Cashman learned the depth of the poisoner's crimes. The agent, John McAfee, admitted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation suspected that Swango could be responsible for as many as 60 deaths. Cashman was stunned.

At his hearing on charges of fraud July 12, 1998, Swango entered a plea of guilty and was given the maximum penalty for such a crime, to be served at the high-security Sheridan Correctional Facility in Florence, Colorado. Judge Jacob Mishler, in passing sentence, mandated that Swango, at no time during confinement, would fulfill any duties "that directly or indirectly require the preparation or delivery of food".

With Swango behind bars only temporarily, the FBI accelerated its search for hard evidence of murder. Africa had contacted them and was preparing an official warrant for his arrest. The FBI knew that an extradition order would follow once Zimbabwe officials fused their respective pieces of evidence into a murder rap. But, FBI agents had worked too many hours and months to lose their grasp on Swango. They wanted to see him in an American courtroom.

They interviewed relatives of patients who had died under mysterious causes at Stony Brook. From the many people interviewed, agents drew up a plea to disinter those patients whose deaths at Swango's hands seemed to be most certain. These were Thomas Sammarco, Aldo Serinei and George Siano who, it appears, were given lethal injections of a drug that stopped their hearts. Swango was charged with the deaths of these three men in June, 2000.

Swango is also charged with battery on patient Barron Harris. Although it is believed that he had given him a shot that led to a coma, technically Harris' demise was the result of a larger ailment.

"In all," reads a CNN press release, "Swango is charged with three counts of murder, one count of assault, and three counts of making false statements, mail fraud, and a scheme to defraud by use of wires." After U.S. prosecutors recited his charges in court on June 17, Swango pleaded not guilty to each.

*****

Just when it looked as though Swango would be released from prison, federal prosecutors charged him with murdering three patients at a VA hospital in Northport, Long Island. All three died during 1993. The government suspected, but could not prove, that a fourth person was also a victim. Also linked into the indictment was the murder of 19-year-old Cynthia McGee by an injection of potassium when Swango was an intern at Ohio State University Hospital. McGee was in the hospital after an auto accident.

Swango finally pleaded guilty of murdering the three patients in the New York veterans hospital and was sentenced to to life in prison without parole. Later, Swango was again sentenced to life in prison in the murder of Cynthia McGee.

The most chilling evidence was Swango's own diary in which he said he killed for pleasure. He loved the "sweet, husky, close smell of indoor homicide." He claimed that these murders were "the only way I have of reminding myself that I'm still alive."

How does one explain a man going through the arduous path of getting a medical degree and then using it to launch a career of murder and assault on the people who entrusted their lives to him? One can almost understand the attributed motivation of serial killers of murdering to have complete power over an individual. But killing for pleasure?

Bibliography

Stewart, James B. Blind Eye – The Terrifying Story of a Doctor Who Got Away With Murder NY: Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster, 1999.

CrimeLibrary.com


Michael Joseph Swango (born October 21, 1954 in Tacoma, Washington) was a physician and surgeon, who fatally poisoned at least thirty (and possibly many more) of his patients and colleagues. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and is currently serving that sentence in prison.

History

Details of Swango's early life are unclear, but he did serve in the Marine corps, receiving an honorable discharge in 1980. From there he went to Southern Illinois University, where he entered medical school.

Swango's troubles were first noticed during his time at SIU. He had bad manners and no bedside manner. As early as that, he had a noticeable fascination with dying patients. He was also called lazy, and was nearly expelled after being caught cheating during his obstetrics and gynaecology rotation. In the end, the school let him graduate if he repeated the course work.

Despite a poor recommendation from SIU, Swango got a surgical internship at Ohio State University in 1983. Nurses began noticing that apparently healthy patients on floors where Swango worked began mysteriously dying with an alarming frequency. One nurse caught him injecting some "medicine" into a patient who later became strangely ill.

The nurses reported their concerns to the administrators, but were met with accusations of paranoia. Only a superficial investigation was conducted. But although Swango was cleared by this investigation, Swango resigned under mysterious circumstances in 1984, and was not asked back to OSU because of concerns about his skill as a surgeon.

In July 1984, Swango returned to Illinois and began working as an Emergency Medical Services technician. Soon, many of the paramedics on staff began noticing that whenever Swango prepared the coffee or brought any food in, several of them usually became violently ill, with no apparent cause. In October of that year, Swango was arrested by the Quincy, Illinois Police Department, who found arsenic and other poisons in his possession.

On August 23, 1985, Swango was convicted of aggravated battery for poisoning co-workers at the Adams County Ambulance Service. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment.

After his release in 1991, Swango forged several legal documents which he used to reestablish himself. He forged a fact sheet from the Illinois Department of Corrections that falsified his criminal record, stating he had been convicted of a misdemeanor for getting into a fistfight with a co-worker and received six months in prison, as opposed to the five years for felony poisoning that he actually served.

He also forged a "Restoration of Civil Rights" letter from the Governor of Virginia, falsely stating that the Governor had decided to restore Swango's right to vote and serve on a jury, based on "reports from friends and colleagues" that Swango had committed no further crimes after his "misdemeanor" and was leading an "exemplary lifestyle."

In 1991, Swango used an alias, David J. Adams, to apply for a residency program in West Virginia. Then, in July 1992, he began working at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

A few months later, in December of that year, Swango made the mistake of attempting to go from there to joining the American Medical Association. The AMA did a more thorough background check than the medical center, and discovered the poisoning conviction in Swango's past. The AMA informed the medical center where Swango was working, and the medical center discharged Swango quietly.

The AMA temporarily lost track of Swango, who managed to get employed at the residency program at the Northport Veterans Administration Medical Center, affiliated with the State University of New York Medical School at Stony Brook School of Medicine.

This time, Swango posed as a psychiatry resident, and once again his patients began dying for no explicable reason. Four months later, the Dean at South Dakota finally learned that Swango had moved to New York, and placed a call to the dean at Stony Brook, Dr. Jordan Cohen. Swango was discharged in October. This time, the residency director learned from past mistakes and sent a warning about Swango to over 125 medical schools and over one thousand teaching hospitals across the nation.

Now that most of the hospitals in the country had been warned about him, Swango had no choice but to practice in another country. In November 1994 he surfaced in Zimbabwe and got a job at Mnene Hospital. There again, his patients began dying mysteriously. It was not for another year, however, that the poisonings were traced to him, and he was arrested in Zimbabwe.

He was charged with poisonings, but he escaped Zimbabwe before his trial date, and hid out elsewhere in Africa and Europe. A year and a half later, in March 1997, he applied for a job at the Royal Hospital in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, using a false resumé.

In June 1997, he began a double flight from Africa to Saudi Arabia. He had a layover between flights at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois, and it was there that he was arrested by Federal authorities. Three years later, he was finally tried for the murders he had committed in his medical practices. On July 11, 2000, Michael J. Swango pleaded guilty to killing three of his patients, and fraud charges. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Modus Operandi

Swango did not often vary his methods of murder. With non-patients, such as his co-workers at the paramedic service, he used poisons, usually arsenic, slipping them into foods and beverages. With patients, he sometimes used poisons as well, but usually he administered an overdose of whichever drug the patient had been prescribed, or writing false prescriptions for dangerous drugs for patients who did not need them.

It is estimated that, over the course of his career, Swango killed anywhere between thirty and sixty people, even though he was only convicted of three of them.

Trivia

While he was in training, Swango's colleagues gave him the nickname "Double-0-Swango" (a play on James Bond's 007) because seemingly any patient he came in contact with would soon die.

In 1999, Simon & Schuster published a biography of Swango, entitled Blind Eye: How the Medical Establishment Let a Doctor Get Away with Murder, written by James B. Stewart.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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