Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Michael Swango: Doctor of Death

Physician on Trial

Michael Swango.
In 2000, 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.

Pulitzer Prize winner James B. Stewart's 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



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