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Top 10 Serial Killer Physicians

by Mary Fetzer
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

A physician is a person who is trained in the art of healing. Unfortunately, these ten medical doctors preferred to apply their training and skills to the art of killing…again and again. Here’s a look at some of the most vicious serial killer doctors in history.

Related: Top 10 Sinister Tricks Serial Killers Used To Trap Their Victims

10 Christopher Duntsch: Coke-Snorting, Sociopathic Spine Surgeon

Plano’s ‘Doctor Death’: The Christopher Duntsch case

What do you call a surgeon who botches 33 of 38 surgeries? Dr. Death.

American neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch was barely a doctor: He completed his residency with fewer than 100 surgeries (a tenth of what’s typical) and spent a portion of his training in a program for impaired physicians, thanks to his fondness for cocaine.

Duntsch was hired by Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano in Texas and immediately began doing harm. His very first surgery patient was left partially paralyzed, and subsequent patients were equally disabled or maimed by his incompetence and carelessness. In all, Duntsch was accused of injuring 33 of 38 surgery patients over two years. But Dr. Death didn’t just maim… he killed.

When Duntsch performed a vertebrae fusion on longtime friend Jerry Summers in 2011, he botched the surgery so badly that the patient lost the use of his limbs. Summers remained a quadriplegic until 2021, when he died from an infection related to complications from the operation.

In 2012, Kelli Martin went to Duntsch for what should have been a 45-minute, minimally invasive procedure to relieve back pain. Martin lost a massive amount of blood and went into cardiac arrest during what turned out to be a three-hour surgery. She later bled to death in the ICU.

Martin’s operation was the first time surgery tech Anson Fulton worked with Duntsch. “When he walked in the room, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the presence of a sociopath, but it’s a very ominous feeling,” Fulton said. “The vibe he gave me was just not good. It was very dark, and it just wasn’t a good feeling.”

At a Dallas hospital, Duntsch killed Floella Brown by severing her vertebral artery and causing a massive stroke that left her brain dead. She was removed from life support a few days later. Around the same time, he performed an elective procedure on 74-year-old Mary Efurd that left her paralyzed.

Duntsch left a trail of injured patients at still more hospitals. In 2013, when a fellow surgeon who’d been tasked with repairing Duntsch’s damage complained to the Texas Medical Board, Dr. Death’s license was revoked. Civil lawsuits were filed. And in 2015, Duntsch was arrested on criminal charges that showed intent: six felony counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, five counts of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury, and one count of injury to an elderly person (Efurd). In 2017, Duntsch was found guilty of intentionally maiming Efurd and sentenced to life in prison.[1]

9 Linda Hazzard: Enema-Wielding Homeopath

The Doctor, the Mortician, and the Murder

Long before Gwyneth Paltrow made fasting fashionable, “Dr.” Linda Hazzard was licensed to practice as a “fasting specialist.” Hazzard had no medical degree but, due to a legal loophole, was able to practice medicine in the state of Washington.

Hazzard authored Fasting for the Cure of Disease and promoted the notion that food caused diseases and illnesses could be cured with a lifestyle of minimal food consumption. In 1902, she opened a sanitarium called “Hazzard’s Institute of Natural Therapeutics.” Patients were fed only a few spoonfuls of broth or juice and given daily enemas. While many walked away pleased with their “treatment,” an estimated 40 patients died while in Hazzard’s care. Hazzard told her critics that if someone died during a fast, they had something that was going to kill them soon anyway.

In 1912, Hazzard was convicted of manslaughter for the death of a wealthy woman who weighed less than 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms). Prosecutors showed that while starving the woman to death, Hazzard had stolen her jewelry and forged her will. She was sentenced to 20 years but served only two years, thanks to a pardon from the governor. She opened another sanitarium in 1920 and continued her fasting practice until the facility burned to the ground in 1935. When Hazzard fell ill in 1938, she starved herself to death.[]


8 Kermit Gosnell: Baby-Killing Abortion Provider

Abortion Dr. Kermit Gosnell Guilty of First-Degree Murder

The grand jury report regarding Kermit Gosnell read, “This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy—and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors.” Gosnell called it “ensuring fetal demise.”

Gosnell had been performing illegal, late-term abortions since the 1970s. Then, in 2011, a drug raid of his Philadelphia clinic uncovered the remains of fetuses and babies. Infant body parts were found in cabinets, refrigerators, and even a garbage disposal.

The grand jury report added that Gosnell’s lucrative practice was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels, and on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.

One of these deaths was that of Karnamaya Mongar, 41, who went to Gosnell for an abortion and died from an overdose of the Demerol he administered. Her 19-week fetus was later discovered intact in a freezer at the clinic.

In 2013, Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder of babies, hundreds of lesser abortion violations, and one count of involuntary manslaughter (for Mongar’s death).[3]

7 Harold Shipman: Heartless Lethal Injector

Harold Shipman: Doctor Death Who Killed 250 Patients (Crime Documentary) | Real Stories

As a teenager, Harold “Fred” Shipman watched his mother suffer from lung cancer. Shipman was mesmerized by the effect morphine had on this very sick woman, bringing her relief even as she died. Thus began the future doctor’s obsession with opiates.

In 1974, just one year into his medical practice, Shipman was caught forging prescriptions of Demerol for himself. After paying a small fine and serving a short stint in rehab, he returned to medicine and, over the next two decades, became a respected member of his community.

In 1998, the coroner was alerted to the high death rate among Shipman’s patients. Even a local taxi driver alerted authorities that seemingly healthy women died after he took them to Shipman. But there was insufficient evidence to charge him with anything.

Kathleen Grundy was Shipman’s last victim. Suspicion mounted when Grundy’s will excluded the family but left £386,000 to the doctor. Suspicion soon turned to an investigation, Grundy’s body was exhumed, and heroin was found. Her medical records had been faked, and her will was created on Shipman’s typewriter. Further exhumations and investigation revealed Shipman’s pattern: administer lethal doses of heroin, sign death certificates, and falsify medical records to show an alternative cause of death.

In 2000, Shipman was given 15 life sentences for the murders of 15 women by lethal heroin injections between 1995 and 1998. Over the course of his practice, Shipman killed more than 218 patients in this manner, making him Britain’s most prolific serial killer. In 2004, he hanged himself in his prison cell.[4]


6 William Husel: Fentanyl-Administering Intensive Care Doctor

WILLIAM HUSEL CASE: Full timeline of murder trial acquittal

This Columbus, Ohio, doctor committed bloodless murders: William Husel was accused of killing dozens of patients with pain medication.

In November 2018, the Mount Carmel Health System removed Husel from patient care after determining that at least 34 patients (all now deceased) were affected by the doctor’s actions. Twenty-eight of the deaths (from February 2015 to November 2018) were reportedly caused by excessive and potentially fatal doses of medication ordered by Husel.

The prosecutor’s office was contacted by a hospital attorney who told them that Husel was “administering doses of fentanyl at a level that they internally believed were inappropriate and not for a legitimate medical purpose.” The investigation revealed that the doses of the pain-relief opioid “were designed to hasten the death of the patients that were being treated.”

Husel was charged in court with 14 counts of murder. The remaining cases (which involved smaller doses of fentanyl) were dropped, much to the dismay of the families of the deceased. One man said that the doctor was supposed to give his loved one something to make him comfortable. No one said, “I’m going to give him 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl, and he’ll be dead before you enter the room.”

Husel, whose trial ended in an acquittal, filed a defamation lawsuit against Mount Carmel, stating he “has suffered perhaps the most egregious case of defamation in Ohio’s recent history” and claiming that all the deaths were caused by natural causes.[5]

5 H.H. Holmes: Cadaver Collector and Thief

H. H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer

Herman Webster Mudgett changed his name to Henry Howard Holmes (aka H.H. Holmes) after graduating high school. While studying at the University of Michigan Medical School, Holmes—who was obsessed with death and money—stole cadavers, staged them to look like they’d been killed in an accident, and collected insurance money on fraudulent policies he’d taken out on them.

Holmes’s first job after medical school was in a Chicago pharmacy. The doctor eventually purchased the business (after which the previous owner’s widow mysteriously disappeared) and erected a hotel across the street. The “Castle” opened in 1891 and was promoted as a place where young women could find work and lodging. Holmes meanwhile placed ads presenting himself as a wealthy man in search of a wife.

Holmes required employees, hotel guests, fiancees, and wives to have life insurance. He paid the premiums if they listed him as the beneficiary. Most of the insured would suddenly disappear—neighbors reported seeing many women enter but never exit the Castle.

When Chicago hosted the World’s Fair in 1893, Holmes took advantage of the fact that many women would need lodging. His Castle had more than 100 rooms, many of which were soundproofed. The building also housed trap doors, peepholes, dead-end stairways, and chutes to the basement. The basement contained a dissecting table, stretching rack, and crematory. Some of the bodies Holmes sent down the chutes would be stripped of their flesh and sold to medical schools. Others would be cremated or dissolved in acids. Holmes asphyxiated his guests with gas lines fitted into the guestrooms.

After the Fair ended, Holmes abandoned the Castle and focused on insurance scams and “random” murders. He was briefly jailed—not for murder or insurance fraud—but for making a fortune by stealing and reselling horses.

Holmes resumed scamming insurance companies before being arrested again. This time, the police raided the Castle and discovered many bodies and partial bodies. He was eventually convicted of murdering the children of an acquaintance and confessed to another 28 murders. Investigators believed, however, that Holmes was responsible for as many as 200 murders. Considered one of America’s first serial killers, he was hanged in 1896.[6]


4 John Bodkin Adams: Angel of Death or Angel of Mercy?

The Permanent Cure of Dr Adams: John Bodkin Adams, 1957 by Mark John Maguire

Before Harold Shipman, there was John Bodkin Adams. Between 1946 and 1956, more than 160 patients of the British doctor died of suspicious deaths. And 132 of these patients put Adams in their wills before they passed away.

In 1957, Adams was tried for the murder of one of those patients. Newspaper headlines read, “Murder Trial of the Century,” “Enquiry Into 40 Wills,” and “Massive Dosage of Drugs to Wealthy Widows.” The doctor was accused of targeting elderly female patients, changing their wills, cutting them off from their families, and killing them with lethal injections of morphine and heroin. In the end, he was found not guilty of murder.

Despite the verdict, the press continued to vilify Adams. They suggested that the police rushed to prosecute, even though their case was not quite ready because the doctor had killed so many and would likely kill many more.

While many regarded Adams as a mass murderer, some believed he was carrying out mercy killings by administering painkillers to alleviate terminal suffering. He told police that it wasn’t a crime to ease the suffering of dying patients. Whether for money or mercy, Adams was the wealthiest physician in the UK, living in a large house and driving the Rolls Royce of one of his deceased patients.

A later trial, however, found him guilty of thirteen offenses, including prescription fraud, lying on cremation forms, obstructing a police search, and failing to keep a register of dangerous drugs. Bodkin was stripped of his medical license, but it was reinstated in 1961. He continued practicing medicine until 1983 when he died of natural causes.[7]

3 Leonardo Cazzaniga: Italy’s “Diabolical Lover” Doctor

Photo credit: The Times

In April 2021, a Milan court upheld the prison sentences of a convicted emergency room doctor and his nurse lover.

Leonardo Cazzaniga, 65, was convicted of killing 10 people (and acquitted of three other murders) and sentenced to life in prison. His mistress, Laura Taroni, was sentenced to 30 years for murdering two members of her family. Dubbed the “diabolical lovers” by the Italian press, the lovers have been incarcerated since 2016.

Cazzaniga was found guilty of the voluntary manslaughter of eight patients in the Saronno Hospital. Prosecutors said the doctor killed in a “delirium of omnipotence” by administering overdoses of anesthetic and sedative drugs to his patients. Police had investigated 40 deaths between 2011 and 2014 that aligned with Cazzaniga’s work shift. (One of the patients was Cazzaniga’s own father.) Defense attorneys argued that the practices were consistent with standard palliative care. But the prosecution pointed out that one of the victims had died after being admitted with nothing more than a dislocated shoulder.

The doctor was also convicted of killing his nurse-lover’s father-in-law and acting in conjunction with her to kill her husband. Taroni, a 44-year-old mother of two, was found guilty of murdering her husband and her own mother. “From time to time, I want to kill someone. I need it,” she said in a police wiretap. Taroni convinced her husband that he had diabetes and administered lethal doses of insulin to him.

Further appeals by the couple are anticipated.[8]


2 Shiro Ishii: Germ Warfare Enthusiast

Unit 731 – Japans Secret Human Experiments

During World War II, the United States and Great Britain tested biological weapons on animal subjects. But Japanese medical officer Shiro Ishii was not restrained by ethics. He used humans to test some of nature’s deadliest pathogens.

Ishii became a doctor in 1920 and, in 1921, was commissioned into the Imperial Japanese Army as a military surgeon. When the 1925 Geneva Protocol banned the use of biological and chemical weapons in war, Ishii urged the Japanese army to develop them. He traveled through the U.S. and Europe to research the biological and chemical warfare developments that followed World War I.

In 1936, Ishii was given formal control over Unit 731 in China. The Unit was intended for research that would benefit Japanese soldiers, such as learning how the human body withstands hunger and thirst and fights disease. Early experiments were conducted on consenting volunteers, but the methods changed under Ishii’s purview. A doctor’s “God-given mission” was to block and treat disease, he said, but the work he took on was “the complete opposite of these principles.”

In this research facility, Ishii and his men performed experiments on live humans. Chinese prisoners and Allied POWs were used as guinea pigs, forced to breathe, eat, and receive injections of deadly pathogens: anthrax, gas gangrene, smallpox, typhoid, cholera, plague, botulism, and dysentery bacteria among them. The researchers induced frostbite and pregnancies and conducted vivisections without anesthesia. It is estimated that more than 10,000 died during these experiments.

When the war ended, Ishii faked his own death and went into hiding. He was found by American forces and offered to reveal the results of his program in exchange for immunity from war crimes prosecution. The Americans accepted the offer but found little of value among Ishii’s records. Biological weapons were not mentioned in the Japanese war crimes trials, and Ishii died a free man in 1959.[9]

1 Josef Mengele: Twins-Obsessed Nazi Physician

In Vivo: The Horrific Experiments Performed By Josef Mengele | Destruction (Nazi Doctors) | Timeline

Before he became a Nazi physician, Joseph Mengele—with doctoral degrees in physical anthropology and genetic medicine—worked as a legitimate research assistant studying twins at the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene. But Mengele fully embraced the nationalist, racist, and antisemitic views of the Nazi party and aimed to utilize his skills and training to that end.

Mengele joined the Nazi Party in 1937 and earned his medical degree in 1938. In 1940, he was drafted into the army, where he volunteered for the medical services of the Armed SS. By the end of 1943, SS Captain Mengele became the chief camp physician at Auschwitz II (Birkenau). He and about 30 other physicians made regular “selection” rounds on “the ramp” to determine which incoming prisoners would be retained for work and which would immediately perish in the gas chambers.

Mengele’s brutal demeanor in this role earned him the title “Angel of Death.” Mengele even appeared in the selection area while off duty, always searching for twins and individuals with remarkable physical attributes (dwarfism, heterochromia) to use for medical research. He was free to conduct research as he desired, performing “agonizing and often lethal experiments with Jewish and Roma (Gypsy) twins, most of them children.”

About 3,000 twins—most of them children (Mengele’s children)—were pulled from the ramp. They endured daily blood draws and mass transfusions. Mengele injected harmful chemicals into their eyes to fabricate blue eye color. He would inject one twin with diseases and kill the other to perform side-by-side post-mortem examinations. Mengele administered spinal taps, castration, organ removal, and amputation without anesthesia. Only about 200 of these twins survived.

Mengele was never arrested for his war crimes. He fled and evaded capture for the next 34 years. In 1985, German police located his grave in South America and exhumed his corpse.[10]

Dishonorable mentions: Jayant Patel and Michael Swango

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

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