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True crime. Casually done.

Dr Death 2: The Crimes of Michael Swango

The very first episode I penned for this fine show focussed on the most murderous MD in history, Great Britain’s Harold Shipman. Needless to say, I haven’t been within 100 feet of a clinic ever since (fingers crossed this burning sensation clears up by itself).

If you too had your faith in the medical profession shaken by that story, then I’m sorry to announce that we’re now bringing you the sequel. In today’s CasCrim [short/episode], we’re looking at America’s very own contender for the title of Dr Death (and potentially one of the most prolific serial killers in the country’s history).

Like his British counterpart, this doctor managed to worm his way into the confidence of employers and patients for years, while secretly carrying out one of the worst crime sprees the profession has ever seen…

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Zimbabwe 

Doing the Rounds

Zimbabwe, 1995. Farmer Kennias Muzeziwa is lying asleep at Mnene Hospital, a Lutheran mission project in the rural south of the country. Earlier that week, his left foot had to be amputated to the heel, after the painful sores on his toes turned septic. The operation was a success, and Mr Muzeziwa was eagerly awaiting a prosthetic foot, promised to him by a Swedish charity.

But his condition was about to take a turn for the worse, thanks to the man in charge of treating him. In the middle of the night, the farmer awoke to see the silhouette of a visitor by his bedside, and the glint of a needle in their hand. Muzeziwa later recounted:

“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.”

He tried to cry out for help, but no sound escaped his mouth. After a few minutes of burning sensations in his limbs, he managed a hoarse cry that brought one of the nurses to his side. Once he was stabilized, Muzeziwa cried out “That man, he’s no good! He tried to kill me!”.

The nurse went to confront Dr Mike, who denied ever going into Muzeziwa’s room at all. Regardless, nobody ever let the good doctor near Mr Muzeziwa alone after that…

The Nurses’ Suspicions

The sisters at Mnene Hospital had harbored suspicions about the newest member of staff for some time now. Mike’s full name was Michael J Swango — a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, middle-aged doctor from the USA, who joined them earlier that year.

The arrival of an experienced American physician seemed like a godsend for the isolated hospital at the time. However, their blessing quickly turned into a curse. For one, the guy wore the exact same pair of blue corduroy trousers every day, and came to work stinking of sweat. And he also seemed somewhat… majorly incompetent. Swango struggled with even some of the most basic medical tasks, which the staff attributed to his highly-specific specialization in neurosurgery.

That wasn’t the worst of it; one nurse, speaking under condition of anonymity, explained:

“People with simple illnesses, or who were on the road to recovery, kept dying on his ward. 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.”

The nurses noticed that the hospital’s death rate was increasing worryingly fast, and this latest incident seemed like all the confirmation they needed: Dr Mike was to blame. The next morning, Muzeziwa found the cap of the doctor’s secret syringe: it had dropped under his bed.

But when the nurses took this evidence to management, Swango accused them of rumor mongering, and the sisters were silenced by management. So Dr Mike was allowed to continue spreading the stench of death (and body odor) around Mnene Hospital throughout the rest of 1995. 

A few months after Mr Muzeziwa’s unexpected bout of paralysis, another amputee experienced a similar fit. This was the hospital’s foreman, Philemon Chipoko, who fell into a critical condition not long after receiving aftercare from the doctor. He died before anyone could come to his rescue.

Then at the start of 1996, Edith Ngwenya — who was employed by Dr Mike as a cleaner — fell unexpectedly ill. The doctor drove her to the hospital, drenched in sweat and clutching at her chest. By the next day, she was dead.

The Angel of Death

By this point, the nurses were absolutely convinced that Dr Mike was more concerned with taking lives than saving them— the pattern was painfully obvious. But unless they could prove it beyond a doubt, it was their word against his. They finally got their big break one evening in spring 1996, when a shrill cry rang out from the maternity ward. 

When the sisters rushed to investigate, they found Dr Mike by an expectant mother’s bedside — she was shouting that the doc had just injected something into her IV. At first Mike said that his patient was just hallucinating, but quickly changed his story: he was merely flushing water through the tubes. When the woman started sweating profusely and vomiting, it was obvious he wasp something more sinister.

The nurses weren’t buying Mike’s excuses, and the testimony of the pregnant woman (who survived unscathed, by the way) was enough to finally turn the medical director against Dr Mike. By this point, the nurses believed that he was responsible for the deaths of nine patients, as well as the two attempted killings we’ve witnessed. As one Sister Hove put it, 

“We thought he was an angel of mercy come to save people when he first arrived, because we were so short of doctors. But […] he turned out to be an angel of death.”

However, since no autopsies had been carried out on his alleged victims, the best the hospital could do was dismiss the grim reaper from his post, and report him to the medical board. When local police got involved, they found a refrigerator in the doctor’s home, filled with a secret stash of medicines.

He must have smuggled them into Zimbabwe illegally, and concealed them from his colleagues all that time. When the cops questioned him about the contraband, he was outright offended, saying:

“I thought I had come to a jungle and, out of the goodness of my heart, had brought my own drugs.”

What an absolute saint you are Mike. Bob Geldof would be proud. 

Fleeing to Bulawoya

But in reality, this kind-hearted doctor had wreaked havoc on the people of that community by illegally administering those drugs to patients in massive overdoses. While all this was unfolding, Mr Muzeziwa returned to his farm on a pair of crutches, unable to work and without any kind of compensation. 

Victims of medical malpractice like that in the States can usually sue for big, big bucks, but in this case it ended up being Dr Mike that launched a lawsuit against the hospital. First, he ran away in shame to the town of Bulawoya, about 200 miles north, and established himself in an affluent suburban community on the outskirts of town. 

There he started attending a white Presbyterian church and bible study group, where he was introduced to top human rights lawyer David Coltart. He convinced Coltart to advocate for him, in an attempt to keep his Zimbabwean medical license.  As the lawyer later put it:

“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.”

Of course. Clearly those ignorant country folk never understood the complexities of modern medicine. Who were they to deny a pregnant woman her arsenic!? Amazingly, news reports from the time seem to suggest he was eventually successful in suing his old employer.

With the help of his world-class victim complex, Dr Mike managed to get his community of white Christians on his side, and was even able to land a short-lived position at another hospital while his case was under review. 

One of his fellow churchgoers— widow Lynette O’Hare — even offered him a place to stay. Mike started renting a room in her home, which once belonged to the woman’s daughter. Whispers of murder and malpractice had started emerging in the papers by this point, but it never really bothered the landlady — her community vouched for Dr Mike as a good, christian young man.

I say “young man” because Mike had told the people in his new hometown that he was 27 years old, knocking a full 15 years off his actual age. That might have been to help his romantic prospects among the eligible young women of Bulawoya, but he wasn’t very lucky in love regardless. 

Shortly after moving into Mrs O’Hare’s place, Mike was rejected by a woman from his church, sending him into world-class sulk…

Tenant From Hell

After being shot down by his love interest, he locked himself in his room like an angsty teenager, with the curtains drawn. He only emerged to collect the breakfast left for him by his door, and to leave the empty plates afterwards. Despite repeated attempts to coax him out, nobody caught sight of him for a full five weeks.

When he eventually emerged from his muggy cave, he took to borrowing his landlady’s car, and found another woman to chase: a young divorcee across town. Over the next few weeks, O’Hare started noticing food, alcohol, and money missing from her cabinets — even some of her daughter’s underwear disappeared. Her good christian lad was turning out to be a tenant from hell. And things were about to get far worse.

One day, when Mike was out at work, the cleaning lady went into his room to tidy up, and made a horrific discovery. In her chilling retelling of her ordeal, O’Hare describes how the cleaner came to her, and said in a grave tone that she’d better come look. Together they crept into the doctor’s room, and over to his dresser in the corner. 

Inside, “cunningly concealed” were… some bacon sandwiches. Yep, a pile of foosty, stale bacon sandwiches pieced together from breakfast leftovers. But to hear O’Hare tell it, you’d think she’d found a pile of severed hands:

“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.”

It’s hardly a case-breaking development, but this was the tipping point that made the landlady live in fear of Dr Mike from then on out. She paid her cleaner and cook to come live with her, terrified of what the bacon sandwich psychopath’s next move might be.

Time Running Out

As we already know, he was capable of far worse stuff than stockpiling breakfast goods. After Dr Mike realized his relationship with O’Hare had soured irreparably, he turned his poisonous tactics against her. One day, after inviting a friend over for a meal, the landlady and her dinner guest started violently vomiting. They went to a clinic in town, where the resident physician Dr Michael Cotton suspected arsenic poisoning. 

He encouraged the widow to send samples of her hair down to South Africa for testing. Meanwhile, she asked her lodger to kindly GTFO. He never showed a flicker of emotion during the eviction, and O’Hare thought the ordeal was finally over. 

However, two days later, she started having car issues. A mechanic found the problem: 2kg of sugar had been poured into her fuel tank. She reported it to the police. Not long after, the lab results came back — toxic levels of arsenic were detected. O’Hare was terrified that the doctor would come back to finish the job, so she hired a security guard for her home.

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The police came to investigate the car first, but Mike wasn’t available for questioning. The landlady never knew where he disappeared to after moving out of her house, but she was certain he would be coming back for her. When the proof of poisoning arrived, a warrant for Mike’s arrest was issued.

While the search was still ongoing, the Zimbabwean CID filed a report with the FBI via Interpol, informing them that one of their citizens was terrorizing the locals. The moment the file reached their desk, mentioning the blonde, American doctor with a penchant for poisoning, alarm bells started blaring.

For the past couple of years, they had been on the hunt for this murderous doctor, after he had simply vanished off the face of the earth…

Welcome back to our deep dive into the life and times of America’s worst-ever MD. When we left off, the Zimbabwean cops had just tipped off the FBI about a potential serial killer, imported to Africa from the States. The stories of poison and murder suggested that the killer running amok in Africa may have been a wanted fugitive in the USA as well.

In part two, we’ll be looking a the crime spree which put him in the FBI’s sights in the first place…

Dr Death: Origins

As it turned out, this Dr Michael Swango was actually a suspected serial killer, and known fraudster, high up on the FBI’s wanted list. He was suspected of using a wide range of aliases and false documents to defraud his employers — not unlike the fake reference letters and CV he used to land the Zimbabwe job. 

Originally, Swango e hailed from the two of Quincy, Illinois, where he was born in 1954. From an early age, he was obsessed with gore and catastrophe, with a particular affinity for stories from the Holocaust. With his mother’s questionable encouragement, he would compile scrapbooks of newspaper clippings detailing car wrecks and murders. Jesus, how awful — sounds like your average true crime fan.

After an aborted attempt to follow his father’s footsteps in the marines, Mike decided to go into the medical field, eventually studying at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. It was there that his peers first started noticing that something wasn’t quite right with his bedside manner. One report mentions that “he was known as lazy, preferring to work as an ambulance attendant rather than concentrate on his studies”.

Christ, if volunteer EMT work is considered lazy, what the hell would they make of my student days? It was during these ride-alongs that young Swango got his first taste of death — biographies mention that he was visibly fascinated with watching people pass away; it gave him a bigger rush than actually saving people. The more violent the injury, the more desperate he was to be at the scene.

It’s not exactly clear when he decided to start expediting the death process himself, but we do know that an unusual number of patients ended up in a critical condition whenever he was on the wards. At least five of them died within the first couple of years. In fact, so many sick folk died under his care, his classmates dubbed him Double-O Swango (license to kill). 

Apparently he took the joke pretty damn literally — getting a medical degree was the perfect cover for someone obsessed with ending lives, essentially just for the sake of it. Yet he came extremely close to losing his golden ticket early on.

It was discovered that Swango was faking check-ups during his hospital rounds, and he was almost kicked out of the university. A unanimous decision was needed from the disciplinary committee to send him packing, but under pressure from Swango’s lawyer, one member decided to give him a second chance. 

Has to rank up there near the guy who denied Hitler’s art school application…

Internship 

Swango got his act together and started a surgical internship at Ohio State University Hospital in 1983. After he was entered into the rotation, the nurses started noticing an alarming spike in unexpected deaths. But just like the sisters in Zimbabwe, they were dismissed as paranoid. 

Rhodes Hall at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Rhodes Hall at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. By Ohio State University Wexner
Medical Center, is licensed under CC-BY-SA

Some of the other odors noticed that, when Swango brought in a bucket of fried chicken to share around the staff room, anyone who ate it started violently vomiting. That would seem like a harmless prank compared to what he did next.

On 11pm on the 14th of January 1984, Double-O Swango was called to the bedside of Cynthia Ann McGee. She was clocking a fever of over 39 degrees (102 Fahrenheit, for our American friends). He was supposed to just take a blood sample from the teenager, but once the nurses left the room, he slipped a secret syringe out of his coat pocket.

At midnight, the alarms started blaring a “code blue” — Cynthia was dying, fast. The nurses found her unresponsive, and her face pale blue. Nobody could figure out why the heart of a generally healthy young woman had suddenly stopped — nobody but Swango, of course. His diagnosis: a deadly injection of potassium.

This was exemplary of Swango’s modus operandi. He would stalk the wards, looking for patients to murder without raising suspicion. Those on potentially lethal medications were the easiest — all he had to do was administer a slightly larger dose than usual. 

If that wasn’t possible, he’d prescribe them with something strong enough to do the job. Be aware: if you go to your doctor with a headache and they suggest a whopping dose of morphine, he’s probably not to be trusted. If that wasn’t possible, Swango would just straight-up poison his victims with recipes from his handwritten poison cookbooks back home. Eventually he was caught doing just that. 

On February 7th 1984, 69-year-old Rena Cooper awoke to find Swango injecting something into her IV just moments before she suffered a seizure. A nurse reported that he had a “funny grin” on his face as he left the room. It couldn’t have been any more obvious is he was rubbing his hands together and laughing like a cartoon villain.

This was enough for the administrators to launch an investigation into Swango’s months-long spree of malice… which cleared the young doctor of any wrongdoing. They asked him to take the rest of the week off, then shifted him to another wing. The only real repercussions were that Swango was placed under increased observation for the last few months of his residency, and was told they wouldn’t be keeping him on afterwards.

The increased scrutiny did nothing to deter him. In fact, this is when his patients started deteriorating and/or dying at even more alarming rates than before; he was taking out his frustration on the people he was supposed to protect…

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Donuts of Death

Somehow, despite his gross incompetence and alarming kill count, Swango just kept swanning into medical positions without any issues. After his internship finished, he worked as an ambulance EMT in Adams County. It didn’t take long until his colleagues to grow sick of him, like pretty much everyone else in his professional life.

It might have had something to do with his questionable social skills. For example, one of his old colleagues, Brent Unmisig, recalled how Swango once described his ‘perfect accident’: a school bus crashing with a petrol tanker, spreading charred bodies over the road. Bit of a conversation killer.

In October, he tried to make amends for all his uncomfortable weirdness. Swango brought in a peace offering of coffee and doughnuts for five of his colleagues. You can probably guess what happened next: the entire crew fell violently ill. By the time they figured out why, the remaining donuts were gone. 

Still, it didn’t take a genius to crack the case, all they needed was some evidence. When Swango was out on a call later that week, they forced open his locker. Inside were two bottles of ant poison, and a handful of syringes.

After Swango was arrested, detectives found a stockpile of these poisons at his house, including copious amounts of arsenic. When the news broke, the nurses at his old internship collectively shouted “told ya so”, and the hospital was torn to shreds for ignoring the potential poisoner on their payroll. Still, the worst of his crimes — all that horrible murder stuff — remained undetected. 

Swango was just sentenced to five years for aggravated battery…

Curriculum Morte

A stretch of jail time for poisoning should be enough to exclude someone from medical work forever. And sure, Michael Swango had lost his coveted license to kill (and/or cure), but it only took a little bit of ingenuity to get right back in the game. His talent for forgery and fraud meant that he cut continue a brazen campaign of poisoning and murder throughout the late eighties an nineties. Here’s how his resume form those days reads:

Counselor, career advice center, Virginia, 1989. 

After serving just two years of his sentence, Swango left prison behind and took on work as a career advice counselor in Virginia. His own career was going so damn well, after all. However, he was fired at the end of the year when his bosses discovered he was sleeping in the basement, and working on his tragedy scrapbooks on company time. Shortly after, he met his future fiancé, nurse Kristin Kinney, who broke off an engagement to get together with him. Swango himself had recently married his university sweetheart, but it would only last a short while.

Lab technician at ATI Coal, Virginia, 1989 to 1991. 

Some employees reported mysteriously falling sick with stomach pains and dizziness during his time there. The mystery illnesses got progressively worse — one of the executives nearly slipped into a coma in the hospital. However, nobody ever traced the cause back to the disgraced MD.

Meanwhile, at Aticoal Services several employees, including the president of the company, began suffering from sudden bouts of severe stomach cramping, nausea, dizziness, and muscle weakness. Some of them were hospitalized and one of the executives of the company was nearly comatose.

Poisoning was fun and all, but Double-O Swango was desperate to get back in the field. After leaving the lab tech job, he divorced his wife, shacked up with Kinney, and set his sights on regaining his license.

Resident doctor, Sanford USD Medical Center, South Dakota, 1992. 

Mike legally changed his name to Daniel J Adams, and started seeking out a fresh medical license in a new state. His employers were under the impression — thanks to some forged prison documents, and a fake letter from Virginia’s governor — that he was only locked up for 6 months for fist fighting with a colleague (a misdemeanor, rather than a felony). Just like that, Dr Death was back treating patients. 

It was then that he made the acquaintance of 60-year-old carpenter Barron Harris. He came in with a simple case of pneumonia, but slipped into a coma overnight. His wife claimed that Swango injected him with an unknown sedative in the small hours of the morning. When he asked the doctor about her husband’s death, he put-on his trademark psychopathic smile, and replied “I hope it wasn’t anything we did”.

Barron died less than two months later.

Starring role, Justice Files, 1993. 

On Thanksgiving Day, the Discovery Channel aired an episode of this popular true crime show. The staff at Stanford USD recognized a familiar face in a segment on a certain convicted poisoner — it was the guy currently mixing up medicines to inject into their patients… This episode was released around the same time as a background check from the American Medical Association came to light, as Swango had tried to join them earlier that year. 

They weren’t the only ones shocked by his horrific track record — Swango’s fiancé also had no idea about the nature and severity of his crimes. She threatened to leave him, then over the next few months, she too started suffering the same chronic migraines and nausea. At one point, a policeman found her wandering the streets, naked and confused. When she eventually ran away to her mother’s place in April 1993, her strange ailments stopped. 

Unfortunately though, her abuser showed up to take her back just a few days later.

Resident doctor, New York State University Medical School, 1994. 

With his career quite deservedly in ruins, Swango dropped off the radar for a while before landing this job on the east coast. Kinney was to stay behind in Virginia until he got himself established. At first he was posted in a Veteran’s Affairs clinic in Northport. A few months into this placement, Swango was short of funds, so he selfishly emptied out his partner’s bank account, and called to let her know. 

That would be the last time he ever spoke to her. A few days later, Kristin killed herself — shot herself in the chest. The mental stress of his betrayals must have been too much to bear.

This would prove to be Dr Death’s undoing, because the young woman’s grieving mother went on the warpath. Before Kristin committed suicide, she revealed where her ex-lover had disappeared to, and so Swango was once again outed as a fraud when the mother reported him to the medical authorities. He was immediately dismissed, and when the story reached the press, he deans of both colleges which hired him soon followed.

The New York State University dean’s last act in post was to send out a mass warning to every single teaching hospital and med school from coast to coast. Double-O Swango was now finally blackballed from the profession… in America, that is.

Fugitive from the FBI, on the run, various locations, 1994 to 1996. 

Shortly after Swango landed back on the unemployment line, the FBI announced they had a warrant for his arrest. He was wanted on suspicion of using fake credentials to enter the government-run VA hospital — a federal crime. 

He went on the run, and they managed to track him down to a water treatment plant in Atlanta. But by the time hey kicked his door down, he had already slipped away. And basically, you know the story from then on…

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On the Road Again

It would be years before the FBI could pick up the trail again, halfway across the world, in the last place they expected to find their man. Yes, we’re back in Zimbabwe. But do you know who isn’t? Michael Swango. 

In late 1996, the doctor sensed that his time was running out. The local police were looking to charge him with pouring the sugar into his landlady’s car, so he fled across the border to Zambia. We don’t know much about what he got up to there, but I think we can quite easily fill in the blanks. 

Bit of fraud, bit of poisoning, couple murders, etc. etc. Swango was a compulsive killer, who rarely changed his methods. Who knows how many more lives he ruined during his last months on the run. It’s believed he then set up for a time in Namibia, once again walking into medical jobs in a country which was desperate for doctors.

The FBI issued renewed appeals for information, and sent out warnings to all ports of entry in the USA, in case the doctor tried to return to home soil. But nothing came in — the trail was going cold once again. For a time, it looked like Michael Swango might have slipped through the authorities’ fingers forever.…

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That was until a man was stopped at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in March 1997. Amazingly, Swango just walked right into their net willingly, while trying to transit through Chicago on his way to Saudi Arabia. Using the same old tricks, he had recently landed a medical job there. Thankfully, for the people of the Middle East, Dr Death’s killing spree would be cut short at just 4 countries and two continents.

The federal fraud charges against him were extremely strong. With the extensive paper trail of forgeries he left behind, it wasn’t exactly difficult to put together a convincing case, and Swango was sent behind bars once again.

So how much time are we talking? Surely after potentially killing dozens of patients, he was due a hefty stretch of prison time. You’d think so, but at this point, the poisonings were still just suspicions — the only thing the FBI would prove was fraud, so that’s what Swango went down on. 

His sentence was a meagre 3.5 years, handed out in July 1998. The judge stipulated that he wasn’t allowed to work anywhere near the prison kitchens or clinic for the duration of his sentence. Although at this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he was running the infirmary by the end of it…

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Justice Finally Served

It’d be a pretty anticlimactic end to this story if Swango just served that short little sentence, then went on to live the rest of his life a free man. So thankfully, the FBI weren’t just sitting on their hands while he was inside. The investigation started properly looking into all the similar claims from throughout the years — claims which revealed a trail of destruction that was glaringly apparent in retrospect.

Proper autopsies were finally carried out on some of his victims, revealing trace amounts of poison still in their systems. Through witness testimony and lab testing, the prosecutors painted a picture of a cold and calculating psychopath, fond of paralyzing his victims, and watching the life slip out of them. Among their evidence were some of his notebooks, seized from a storage locker, in which he described the pleasure he got from killing.

Swango was once again set for an early release in July of 2000, but the promise of freedom was snatched away from him at the very last moment. Just one week before the end of his sentence, the FBI swooped in and slapped him with 3 murder charges, and one count each of assault, making false statements, mail fraud, and attempted wire fraud. Back to jail it was then.

In September that year, Swango was dragged before a judge. His white coat was replaced with an olive prison jumpsuit, and his blonde hair cropped into a short buzz cut. Dr Death pled guilty to all charges — including emotionlessly admitting to killing the teenager Cynthia McGee all those years ago. She would have been well into her thirties by then, perhaps with a family of her own.

It wasn’t remorse that inspired Swango’s honesty, but fear. Pleading guilty allowed him to avoid the threat of extradition to Zimbabwe, where prosecutors had just filed their own set of charges: seven poisonings and five murders. In terms of bare quantity, it was probably best to go down on three murders, rather than five. 

Especially since the discovery of a white, foreign doctor essentially executing impoverished locals was going down about as well as you might expect. The death penalty was very much on the cards there. However, the justice department in Harare agreed to not pursue extradition, so long as Swango pled guilty, and spent the rest of his life behind bars.

So that’s exactly what he got. The good doctor is currently safe and sound in his home country, serving three consecutive life sentences at AX Florence Supermax Prison, Colorado. Hardly a satisfying conclusion given the amount of families out there left devastated by his crimes — and even worse, forever left without the closure of knowing the truth of what really happened to their loved ones…

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Wrap Up

That brings us to the end the sickening story of Dr Michael Swango — the last person you’d want to see hovering over your hospital bed. But there’s one last question to answer: just how many people did he kill? I haven’t been very precise with the numbers throughout, and there’s a good reason for that: we don’t really know the precise numbers.

As I mentioned at the beginning, there’s a good chance he may be among the worst killers in US history (even though 9 or more killings happened abroad). All in all, despite only being convicted of three murders, Double-O Swango could possibly be responsible for as many as 60 deaths.

We can arrive at that estimate by looking back through his history, and identifying unexplained or unexpected deaths which occurred under his care, from medical school until his capture. It’s often impossible to say with certainty though, because his methods could be so subtle: killing patients with drugs they were already taking anyway.

At any rate, it’s fair to say Michael Swango earned the Dr Death nickname, but how does he stack up against the prior title holder? If you cast your mind way back to episode two, you’ll remember that the UK’s Harold Shipman racked up a potential 250 victims. Of course, I’m not saying it’s a competition. That would be sick… but if it were, we would win. 

Just saying.

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Dismembered Appendices

1. As part of their investigation into Swango, the FBI raided a storage locker he rented in Virginia. Inside they found stacks of his macabre scrapbooks, a perfectly-tied noose, and stockpiles of military gear and ammunition potentially collected during his time with the marines. Given his genocidal fascinations, this made them pretty worried about what might happen if he was set free before the murder charges were served. Probably a good thing they never let his imprisonment lapse.

2. The family of one of the victims succeeded in suing the doctor long before he was ever tried for murder. In 1984 at the hospital in Ohio, 21-year-old Ricky DeLong was found dead, with a lump of gauze stuffed down his throat. It was ruled a homicide at the time, and Ricky’s parents successfully sued Swango for the death in 1986. Which once again begs the question, how the hell did he get away with this for so long!? 

3. Swango tried to whip up some public sympathy after poisoning his fellow paramedics in 1984. He even had the gall to request a TV interview with ABC journalist John Stossel while behind bars. In it, he maintained that he was completely innocent of any wrongful deaths or illnesses (despite knowing himself that there were dozens more victims left undiscovered!).

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