Two former coworkers recall how gleeful the doctor was when O.J. Simpson was found not guilty in the famous “Trial of the Century.” They said, “You don’t really believe he’s innocent, do you?”
And Swango’s answer gave them chills: “Of course he’s guilty. I just think it’s cool he got away with it.”
It was 15 years ago this weekend in Garden City New York that one of America’s nastiest serial killer-physicians finally confessed in federal court, that he had indeed been poisoning patients for fun and games.
In order to dodge the death penalty, Doctor Michael J. Swango admitted that he murdered three people while treating patients at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport Long Island – his most recent job. He had killed many, many more, of course – from Illinois to Ohio to Africa to New York. But the three poor gentleman at the Northport VA were merely his tally for 1993, and the ones most easily prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary R Brown.
Those closest to the rather secret negotiations between the prosecutor and Swango’s defense attorneys reported that the killer-doctor had agreed to a deal to avoid the death penalty in New York as well as extradition to Zimbabwe, where there was a warrant for his arrest. Zimbabwean police were convinced that Swango had poisoned at least five patients there, where he had worked for eight months beginning in November 1994. The FBI thinks the number of patients he actually murdered there is closer to 20.
The treacherous Swango, age 45, did confess to “assaulting” two patients in Zimbabwe; another elderly patient at the VA in Long Island and still another at Ohio State University Hospital, all of whom died under his care. For reasons only available in his twisted MD-brain, he refused to admit to killing them.
The FBI has concluded Swango was responsible for at least 35, and probably 60, deaths worldwide, making him one of the most notorious serial killers in U.S. history.
With Swango behind bars for life in a Colorado federal prison, law enforcement closed the book on one of the most prolific monsters in medical history. Because no matter where Swango traveled as he moved from hospital to hospital, he left a string of dead people in his wake. As far back as 1982, while a medical student at Southern Illinois University, a truly bizarre number of his patients turned up dead. His intern colleagues were baffled, giving him the nickname him “Double-oh Swango.” Like James Bond, they joked, he appeared to have a license to kill legally.
In our 30-year EMS career, we’ve known several “Double-0’s” ourselves. And isn’t it interesting how normal they look, wearing a lab coat?***
For years the medical school administration cover-up for an Ohio State University student doctor allowed him to kill dozens of patients in the United States and overseas, including a suspected five patients at the Ohio State Medical Center.
Investigators learned that as an intern at Ohio State University Hospital, Wacko Swango either killed outright – or tried to kill – many patients, and his weapon of choice was either poison or lethal drugs. He confessed that he had lied to hospital authorities about the death of 18-year-old Cynthia McGee,for example, in January 1984. The student-doctor murdered her with an injection of an electrolyte, potassium, which stopped her heart.
For two decades, the pattern continued unabated: a late-night visit by the doctor named Swango to a patient’s hospital room; an injection into the IV line; sudden death of a patient whose families expected to recover. The victims were men and women, young and old, and apparently chosen at random. And no matter where he worked or how often he was fired, he had little problem getting hired. Swango always managed to find a hospital to work at, in spite of the trail of death behind him.
Early in his career, after several unexpected deaths at Ohio State University, the medical school terminated Swango as a neurosurgical resident. Hospital administrators knew he was killing people but they chose not to alert police. Normal folks would be shocked at how often this happens. After all, why embarrass a school with a great reputation? So a serial killer dodged capture by agreeing to leave quietly; going home to Illinois and getting himself hired as an EMT with the Adams County Ambulance Service. The ambulance crews thought the new guy was creepy, and when he realized they were not going to accept him socially, he had a fall-back position: he sprinkled their doughnuts and coffee with ant poison. Five medics were sickened, but to his disappointment, nobody died. He was arrested and found guilty of poisoning his coworkers. His jail time? Hold your ponies – 24 months.
When Swango was released from prison he applied for medical residency in Iowa and West Virginia. But the med school administrators at both schools recognized that his previous school records had been falsified, so they both turned him down. But when he applied for a position at the VA in Northport, they were a bit less careful, and he was accepted. On his second day at work, his very first patient, Mr. Dominic Buffalino, fell into a coma for some strange reason and died. The deadly doctor was back in business.
Three more patients, all of Long Island – Aldo Serini, George Siano and Thomas Sammarco – died of lethal injections, too. After exhuming the men’s bodies, forensic examiners determined that they had been poisoned. Swango would eventually confess to those murders.
After Northport VA discovered that their newest doctor had a criminal record, they fired him. So once again, a hospital allowed a serial killer to slip away. Within two months he was hired at Mene Mission Hospital in Zimbabwe. That country is still seeking extradition for the American’s murder spree there.
Swango’s final arrest happened at O’Hare Airport in Chicago in 1997. He was minutes from getting on an airliner for a flight to Saudi Arabia,
He had just been hired. They were anxious for him to arrive at the world-renowned King Faisal Hospital in Riyadh and get him settled in. They said they needed a “highly competent, extremely caring doctor.”
The Saudi Royal Family – often treated at King Faisal – would learn later how lucky they were that Swango missed his flight. We suspect for a barbarian like Swango, killing a “royal” would be really cool.
Here’s another peek at this particular medical monster: