"Rise in the presence of the aged, and show respect for the elderly."

Wettlaufer Nurse Killer

Home > Blog Dependent Adult Abuse > Wettlaufer Nurse Killer


Wettlaufer told police she would emit ‘a cackling from the pit of hell’ after giving lethal injections

A middle-aged woman in sensible slacks sits quietly with her hands on her thighs and a pink purse on the table beside her. She’s waiting to confess. “Sorry about that,” a detective says when he finally joins her. “Too many people moving and shaking around here, and you can’t really keep track of who’s doing what … ”

That’s OK,” she says.

The two go on to make some small talk—they chat about the price of Toronto Blue Jays playoff tickets, among other things—and then Bethe Wettlaufer begins to tell her story. “It seems so stupid now,” she says, referring to the eight murders and six attempted murders she committed between 2007 and 2016 while caring for elderly patients at a series of nursing homes. She then clambers to her feet and tries to clear her head. “Sorry, this is pretty major,” she explains. “I’ve only ever had parking tickets.”

Wettlaufer goes on to describe an urge to kill that came on during her nursing shifts like a “red surge” of pressure in her chest, a compulsion that went away only when she’d injected someone with an overdose of insulin. “I thought this was something God, or whoever, wanted me to do,” she tells the detective. Later she adds, “I’m so embarrassed.”

Wettlaufer, who pleaded guilty to her crimes and was sentenced to life in prison, is said to be among Canada’s most prolific serial killers. Yet this dowdy cat lady from Ontario—dubbed the “shadow of death” by the judge who sentenced her—seems about as far away as humanly possible from the classic image of a murderous predator.

Wettlaufer did not seduce her victims, nor did she torture them so she could linger over their demise. Instead she’d tell them, “The doctor wants you to have a vitamin shot.” Then, after administering a dose of slow-acting poison, she’d go home to play computer games.
Another sort of serial killer—the more cinematic type—might have left some cryptic clues for the authorities. But Wettlaufer was neither coy nor even particularly careful about her criminal conduct. During the nine-year murder spree, she confessed to her pastor, to a co-worker, to a friend from a support group, and then, finally, to the police. (“Maybe they didn’t believe me,” she says to the detective.)

Another sort of serial killer might have preened in jailhouse interviews, haughty and self-serving to the end. Wettlaufer, by contrast, talked about her violent acts like she was an addict in recovery. “I had some anger issues that I’ve had to deal with,” she told a friend.
But while Wettlaufer may not fit the ubermensch-y mold of those who hunt and kill for sport, she is fairly emblematic of another well-established (but much less widely covered) type of killer: the homicidal nurse.

The idea that homicidal nurses might compose a special class of criminals, however, has been very slow to form. That’s in part because killer nurses aren’t often caught or put in prison. As scholars of the type have pointed out, hospital-based serial killers don’t need to be that brilliant or conniving to get away with murder.

First, they tend to work alone, in close contact with potential victims who may be very old, very young, or otherwise unable to defend themselves. (When serial killers strike in health care settings, about 70 percent of their victims are elderly; in other locales that proportion is more like 5 percent.) Second, they have access to a broad array of deadly drugs and other killing tools. Third, they commit their violence in a milieu where patients die of natural causes all the time and where frequent cleaning means evidence of a crime may quickly be destroyed. Fourth, even when they become suspects, rules of patient privacy can make investigations difficult.

The legal case against a killer nurse is often weak and based on little more than circumstantial evidence.

“I was always putting this pressure on myself to be a really good nurse and do everything perfectly.”
—Bethe Wettlaufer
Wettlaufer went to rehab twice, first in the fall of 2014, several weeks after killing 75-year-old Arpad Horvath; she didn’t kill again until the fall of 2015, by which point she says she was using drugs again.

She returned to rehab in 2016 after having been assigned to work with diabetic children. “I was afraid that I might get that feeling of wanting to give them insulin overdoses,” she tells the detective.

Faced with her breaking point—“I panicked; those were just kids”—she quit her nursing job and checked into Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. That’s where she finally made the statements that led to her eventual discovery by the police. “I needed help with whatever this was,” she says. “I didn’t want this to keep going on.”