Killers Who Talk Might Reveal or Conceal

Once caught, some serial killers open up, but possibly not entirely.

Posted Sep 24, 2018

In The Mind of a Murderer, I wrote about mental health experts who’d extensively interviewed extreme offenders. Some of these killers were forthcoming, but others played games. Even when the expert was certain he’d gained the killer’s confidence, it remained unclear how much solid information was actually gathered. Ted Bundy, for example, gave different victim counts to different people. Richard Speck did not have the amnesia he’d faked, and Tommy Lynn Sells doled out details as they suited him. Todd Kohlhepp only recently came clean about murders unmentioned during his early interrogations.

K. Ramsland
Source: K. Ramsland

Among healthcare workers who become serial killers (HCSKs), Charles Cullen struck a deal in order to dump the death penalty, although he’d initially wanted no deal. He provided victim names and offered advice about how to thwart someone like him, but officials believe he still has many secrets.

This month, during a hearing in Canada, Beatrice Crofts Yorker, an expert on HCSKs, testified about Elizabeth Wettlaufer’s fatal and near-fatal crimes in healthcare facilities. Crofts Yorker was impressed with how much Wettlaufer had revealed (Casey, 2018). “Nobody has given as much detail as she has," she told the media. "We have some information from family members, health-care workers about personalities and about issues, but when it comes to premeditation, she’s given more insight than any other health-care serial killer.”

After her arrest in Canada in 2016, Wettlaufer had initially claimed she’d acted from compassion, to end suffering on request. However, when she’d pleaded guilty in a videotaped confession after an investigation by Canada’s Ontario Provincial Police, it was clear that compassion was not in the equation.

She began with the statement, “It seems so stupid now.” Then for two and a half hours, she discussed the five women and three men she’d murdered with insulin overdoses, as well as the other four attempts and the two patients whom she had assaulted.

Apparently, Wettlaufer was stressed, frustrated and addicted to drugs. Having been diagnosed with “major depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial adult behavior,” Wettlaufer admitted to binging on hydromorphone. In fact, she would steal it from patients and substitute a laxative.

She’d killed, she said, to reduce her heavy workload, as well as to punish patients she disliked. She claimed that before each murder, she’d received a “sense” of a supernatural command. The knowledge that someone must die came to her as a “red surge,” which hindered her ability to control her need to fatally inject someone. She felt better only after she killed.

"I knew the difference between right and wrong,” Wettlaufer told an officer, “but I thought this was something God, or whoever, wanted me to do.” Still, she was not entirely certain. "I was starting at that point to doubt that it was God."

That was a cover story. Essentially, she was a predator. She’d tell those patients she’d targeted that the doctor had ordered a vitamin shot. Some patients accepted this “peacefully,” but several resisted. For those patients who were just annoying, Wettlaufer had hoped to induce an insulin coma, but if they died, she was indifferent.

Crofts Yorker reviewed the records and testified about Wettlaufer’s crimes. A professor of nursing and criminal justice at California State University – Los Angeles, Crofts Yorker said that since 1970, 131 health-care workers from 25 countries have been prosecuted for 2,600 suspicious deaths. Ninety have been convicted.

Those offenders who’ve offered details, as Wettlaufer has done, can assist medical facilities to improve their safety practices. However, even when they seem forthcoming, Crofts Yorker says we should use other methods for detecting suspicious deaths. They’ve already been routinely duplicitous, so why fully trust them just because they appear to be sincere?

Crofts Yorker's research suggests that health-care professionals who've preyed on patients were often caught in other types of deception, such as hiding a past criminal record or lying about previous employment. “They were liars more often than they were criminals,” she said in interviews. Wettlaufer, too, had shown a pattern of dishonesty relating to her work history and problems with employers. In one instance, she’d lied to a prospective employer about the end of her first nursing job. She’d said she’d quit, but she’d been fired for stealing narcotics.

Crofts Yorker suggests listening to the offenders when they’re willing to talk, but don’t stop there. Hospitals and care facilities should identify unique clusters of death, conduct toxicology screenings, and install video surveillance. She also called for more education among health-care workers about the red flags of HCSKs.


Ramsland, K. (2007). Inside the minds of healthcare serial killers. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Casey, L. (2018, Sept 12.) Wettlaufer murder confession a boon to research, expert tells public inquiry. The Canadian Press.