Police exhume body at cemetery in murder investigation
Nurse suspected of four murders and seven attempts
A 58-year-old basic care nurse in Helsinki is suspected of four counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder. The victims were female patients under her care aged 77 to 92.
Police are also looking into a number of other suspicious deaths. Some of the other deceased were men.
The nurse denies killing anyone.
The deaths were from poisoning, and took place in Helsinki from 2004 to 2009. The most recent ones were this spring.
The scenes of the suspected crimes were hospitals of the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital district, as well as the private hospital Mehiläinen, in elderly care facilities, and in private homes.
Police are not yet disclosing how the killings were executed and what the substance was. Arto Karalahti, the head of the police investigation, did say that insulin was not involved.
Police have exhumed the body of one possible victim at Helsinki’s Hietaniemi cemetery.
“Ten cases are under investigation. We will see if we have to open more graves because of them”, says police inspector Kari Tolvanen.
“This is one of the darkest cases in Finnish criminal history, if the suspicions are borne out. I know of no such cases in peacetime.”
Police are not talking about a serial killing, because the motive is not known. The key factor in serial killings is the enjoyment of the act itself.
“As the suspect denies the act, no motive is known.”
Forensic pathologist, Professor Pekka Karhunen, notes that it is possible to poison a person with many different substances available in the medicine cabinet of an ordinary hospital ward.
“Usually they are pain medicines, or substances affecting the central nervous system.”
Suspicions of pharmaceutical poisoning arise when an old patient in care declines faster than the disease would usually warrant, or if other inexplicable changes take place in a patient’s condition.
Toxic analysis is not routinely performed on every deceased person.
The suspect was given a suspended prison sentence in May last year for stealing jewellery form a patient in home care.
She is also under suspicion for another case of theft, and for assault on a colleague, involving the administering of drugs. She also has convictions for vandalism and a drug crime.
In some of the poisoning cases, the nurse is believed to have stolen the victims’ property.
“However, that is certainly not the only motive. Taken as a whole, the value of the property is not huge”, Tolvanen says.
Police go onto the trail of the nurse in March, when an alleged attempted murder came to light. The police began to look into the nurse’s professional history and came up against a number of suspicious deaths.
“When the matter was made public, victims and families of victims issued criminal complaints”, Tolvanen says.
Colleagues had made note of the nurse’s behaviour earlier, because of suspicions of theft. However, there is no suspicion of neglect of supervision at the workplace.
According to the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (VALVIRA), it was not informed by Helsinki District Court about the nurse’s criminal convictions.
“We learned about it from the media. It is that there are cases when the information is not passed on”, says VALVIRA director Tarja Holi.
If a crime comes to the attention of VALVIRA, the person who is convicted can lose the right to use the title of basic care nurse. However, Holi notes that this does not prevent the person from working at the same kinds of jobs in the future.