Killer nurse suspected in 24 more patient deaths

A German male nurse jailed for life last year for murdering two patients with a potent heart drug is a suspect in at least 24 more deaths, police said Wednesday.

Killer nurse suspected in 24 more patient deaths
Killer nurse Niels H. hides his face from photographers in court. File photo: DPA

The man, identified only as Niels H., 39, has claimed killing perhaps 30 patients with such lethal overdoses, which would make him one of Germany's worst post-war serial killers.

The tall and heavyset man, who was jailed for life in February 2015, has been found guilty of two murders and three attempted murders of intensive-care patients.

He has admitted to injecting some 90 patients with the drug so he could then try to revive them and, when successful, shine as a saviour before his medical peers.

He said he felt euphoric when he managed to bring a patient back to life, and devastated when he failed. Each time he would then vow to himself to end his deadly game, he said, only to strike again soon after.

After the shocking revelations of the nurse's murderous obsession, police and prosecutors launched a special forensic commission dubbed “Kardio” (Cardio) to look into other patient deaths.

They said Wednesday they had now exhumed and tested 77 sets of mortal remains of former patients who had been in the care of Niels H. at the Delmenhorst hospital near the northern city of Bremen.

SEE ALSO: Nurse jailed for life for serial patient murders

Aside from the 24 suspicious cases where traces of the unprescribed drug were found, they said, they were still awaiting test results from seven other bodies.

The sweeping investigation is looking into some 200 fatalities at the hospital and at the nurse's previous places of employment and is expected to take many more months.

The nurse had previously worked at another clinic, an elderly home and an emergency medical service.

The grisly case dates back to 2005, when a colleague witnessed Niels H. injecting a patient in Delmenhorst.

The patient survived and Niels H. was arrested and, in 2008, sentenced to seven and a half years in jail for attempted murder.

Amid the media publicity, a woman then contacted police, voicing suspicion that her deceased mother had also fallen victim to the killer nurse.

The authorities exhumed several patients' bodies and detected traces of the drug in five of them, declaring it either the definitive or possible contributing cause.

These results sparked the trial that sent the nurse to jail for life, but authorities fear the two confirmed murders may just be the tip of the iceberg.

SEE ALSO: Killer nurse tells court he's sorry

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Mystery of poisoned babies at German hospital deepens after probe blunder

Fresh questions emerged Tuesday in the mysterious case of five newborn babies who were drugged with morphine at a German hospital, after police said they made "a mistake" when they arrested a nurse on suspicion of attempted manslaughter.

Mystery of poisoned babies at German hospital deepens after probe blunder
Ulm's University Hospital. Photo: DPA

The five babies, aged between one day and five weeks at the time, all survived the attempted poisoning on December 20th and are not expected to suffer lasting harm.

The nurse was detained on Wednesday after investigators searching her locker at Ulm University Hospital discovered a feeding syringe containing breast milk and traces of what initial testing determined was morphine.

READ ALSO: German nurse 'poisoned babies with morphine'

But Ulm prosecutor Christof Lehr told reporters that the first test was now known to be wrong, after further analysis showed the syringe did not contain morphine after all.

The woman was released from custody on Sunday, with an apology from the prosecutor.

The decision to act based on the preliminary test result, which had not been checked against a control sample, “was in hindsight a mistake”, said Ralf Michelfelder, head of the state police of Baden-W├╝rttemberg, at a press conference.

The error became clear after the mother whose breast milk was in the syringe volunteered to give a control sample, which also inexplicably tested positive for the heavy painkiller.

The lab in Baden-W├╝rttemberg carrying out the analysis then discovered it was their own solvent used in the tests that had been contaminated with a tiny amount of morphine.

Follow-up tests by a lab in the neighbouring state of Bavaria confirmed that neither the syringe nor the control sample contained any morphine.

“I'm very sorry for the woman in question,” Lehr said. But given the urgent need to keep infants at the hospital safe, he said he had had to make a quick decision.

Night shift staff

The nurse remains a suspect in the case, however, along with two doctors and three other nurses who were on duty that night.

“There remains an initial suspicion against these six people because of their close proximity to the infants at the time of the act,” Michael Bischofberger, a spokesman for the Ulm prosecutor's office, told AFP.

The investigation is continuing “in all directions”, he said.

The December 20th incident saw all five babies, some of them born prematurely, develop breathing problems at roughly the same time.

It was only thanks to “the immediate action taken by the staff” that the babies' lives were saved, Lehr said.

Ulm University Hospital initially suspected the infants had caught an infection.

READ ALSO: German nurse under investigation for murdering patients

But this was ruled out by urine tests whose results came back on January 16th.

The tests did however show traces of morphine — although none of the infants had been due to receive the drug at that particular time.

The hospital notified the police the following day.

Often administered to treat severe pain, morphine is also used to treat withdrawal symptoms in babies born to drug-addicted mothers.

A morphine overdose can lead to life-threatening respiratory failure.