What Motivates Killer Nurses?
British neonatal nurse Lucy Letby was recently convicted of murdering seven babies, in a years-long case that has horrified the United Kingdom. But serial-killer nurses, it turns out, are more common than many would like to believe.
LONDON – Recently convicted of murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six others at the Countess of Chester Hospital between June 2015 and June 2016, neonatal nurse Lucy Letby has the grisly distinction of being the United Kingdom’s most prolific child serial killer. Over the course of Letby’s ten-month trial, believed to be the longest murder trial in UK history, prosecutors detailed how she had harmed the infants in her care by injecting air and insulin into their bloodstreams, infusing air into their abdomens, and dislodging their breathing tubes.
What would provoke a nurse – a caregiver by profession – to inflict such terrible suffering? Even after covering the trial and spending months in Letby’s presence, BBC journalist Judith Moritz struggled to understand her motivations. One text message hints at a possible god complex: “…sometimes I think, how do such sick babies get through & others just die so suddenly & unexpectedly?” Letby wrote. “Guess it’s how it’s meant to be.” But, in Moritz’s view, this does not provide a satisfying answer.
An examination of similar cases could offer insights into Letby’s psychological state. Serial-killer nurses, it turns out, are more common than many would like to believe. Consider Niels Högel, who admitted to killing 43 people while working as a nurse at two clinics in the northern German cities of Oldenburg and Delmenhorst between 2000 and 2005.
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