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IN THIS EPISODE: H.H. Holmes allegedly killed as many as 200 people by luring visitors to his lair during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The 100 rooms of the house he built, were filled with trapdoors, gas chambers, staircases to nowhere, and a human-sized stove. But now, some historians say many of the gruesome stories about Doctor Holmes may be myth! (The Doctor And His Murder Castle) *** Michael Swango was an MD. He was a doctor. But the MD after his name could just as easily have represented “Master of Death”, or “Many Dead” – because there were. Up to sixty of his patients died by his own hands before he was stopped. (Doctor of Death) *** Dr. Buck Ruxton’s brutal deeds earned the surgeon a grim nickname… the Savage Surgeon. (The Savage Surgeon) *** During his 26-year reign at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, Dr. Henry Cotton performed over 645 twisted operations in which he tried to “save” the mentally ill. (The Horrifying Cures of Dr. Cotton) *** Stubbins Ffirth was so determined to learn about Yellow Fever in the late 1700s that he purposely exposed himself to those who had it. But HOW he exposed himself is an utter nightmare and will curl your stomach. (The Insane Experiment of Stubbins Ffirth) *** Horrifying medical experiments on twins helped Nazis justify the Holocaust, and at the center of it was Dr. Josef Mengele. (The Nazi Angel of Death) *** We’ll also look at a few other derailed doctors and nurses who had an unhealthy appetite for lobotomies, blisters, and the plague. (Doctors of Evil) *** Doctors killing or experimenting on patients isn’t confined to human victims, some animal experiments were equally as gruesome or bizarre. For example, what would happen if you gave an elephant LSD? (Strange Medical Experiments)

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“PenPal” episode: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/4730

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“The Doctor And His Murder Castle” by Becky Little for History: https://tinyurl.com/y842s6b5
“Doctor of Death” by Xavier Piedra for The Line Up: https://tinyurl.com/ycrhsvfu
“The Savage Surgeon” by Robert Walsh for The Line Up: https://tinyurl.com/ufhzmpf
“The Horrifying Cures of Dr. Cotton” by Laura Martisiute for All That’s Interesting: https://tinyurl.com/y987en4v
“The Insane Experiment of Stubbins Ffirth” from Alpha History: https://tinyurl.com/y8hknxsx
“The Nazi Angel of Death” by Erin Blakemore for History: https://tinyurl.com/uhecxjq
“Evil Doctors” by Kaitlyn Johnstone for The Line Up, https://tinyurl.com/y9ze8p4z; Linda Girgis, MD for Physicians Weekly, https://tinyurl.com/ya7po8qs and; Gabe Paoletti for All That’s Interesting, https://tinyurl.com/yaraqzod; and Ranker Crime, https://tinyurl.com/y76nebzh
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A person is supposed to be able to trust their doctor. A physician is the person you go to when you’re under the weather. While most doctors are perfectly wonderful people who only want to help the sick, some dark people are attracted to the medical profession. For some serial killers, working in a hospital is the perfect cover for their murderous ways. Since so many people already die in hospitals, many doctor serial killers use their patients as victims through poisoning or another undetectable method of murder. Due to their power, position and cover, some killer doctors have racked up hundreds of victims. While many doctor serial killers used their position to find victims, there are other doctors who killed outside of the workplace. There are various motives that most doctor serial killers have, including a need to be seen as a hero and for their own financial gain. A few doctors have used their medical curiosities as reasons to help commit genocide. Doctors have always inspired a strange mix of trust and fear. We give ourselves over to them when we’re at our most vulnerable, which in turn makes us uneasy at the thought that they could perhaps exploit that unique position of power.  We allow these people into our most private and defenseless spaces, granting them access to our bodies both inside and out. So we shudder at the idea that their intentions could be anything less than pure. Perhaps this is why, even among serial killers, those who were doctors or nurses chill us to the bone like few others.

I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.

* * * * * * * * * *

Welcome, Weirdos – this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.

Coming up in this episode of Weird Darkness…

H.H. Holmes allegedly killed as many as 200 people by luring visitors to his lair during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The 100 rooms of the house he built, were filled with trapdoors, gas chambers, staircases to nowhere, and a human-sized stove. But now, some historians say many of the gruesome stories about Doctor Holmes may be myth!

Michael Swango was an MD. He was a doctor. But the MD after his name could just as easily have represented “Master of Death”, or “Many Dead” – because there were. Up to sixty of his patients died by his own hands before he was stopped.

Dr. Buck Ruxton’s brutal deeds earned the surgeon a grim nickname… the Savage Surgeon.

During his 26-year reign at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, Dr. Henry Cotton performed over 645 twisted operations in which he tried to “save” the mentally ill.

Stubbins Ffirth was so determined to learn about Yellow Fever in the late 1700s that he purposely exposed himself to those who had it. But HOW he exposed himself is an utter nightmare and will curl your stomach.

Horrifying medical experiments on twins helped Nazis justify the Holocaust, and at the center of it was Dr. Josef Mengele.

We’ll also look at a few other derailed doctors and nurses who had an unhealthy appetite for lobotomies, blisters, and the plague.

Doctors killing or experimenting on patients isn’t confined to human victims, some animal experiments were equally as gruesome or bizarre. For example, what would happen if you gave an elephant LSD?

Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!

* * * * * * * * * *


H.H. Holmes is notoriously known as one of America’s first serial killers who lured victims into his hotel dubbed the “Murder Castle” during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. According to some claims, he killed up to 200 people inside his macabre hotel that was outfitted with trapdoors, gas chambers and a basement crematorium.

Born Herman Webster Mudgett, Henry Howard Holmes (better known as H.H. Holmes) was a physician in the 1800s, although he’s better known as one of the first documented “serial killers.” In 1893 Chicago, Dr. Holmes opened a hotel designed with murderous intent. On the first floor of the block-long building was Holmes’s pharmacy and various shops, but the higher you went, the stranger things got. Holmes had the hotel designed with more than a hundred windowless rooms, doors that opened to walls or only from the outside, staircases that led nowhere, and made very sure that only he knew the building’s layout. The doctor would lock his guests and employees in soundproof rooms designed to deliver death by some specific method. These included, but were not limited to, asphyxiation by gas, incineration by blowtorch, and suffocation. He would then drop the corpses down a chute to his basement laboratory where he would carefully remove usable organs and arrange their bones into skeletal models to be sold to medical schools. Anything he didn’t find useful was either incinerated or thrown in one of his pits of acid. Holmes was apprehended in 1894. Although he’s credited with only nine confirmed victims, he confessed to 27 murders and it is estimated that the real body count is about 200.

But now the actual story, while still horrifying, may not be quite as sordid as we’ve been led to believe.

“There’s a total of about nine [people] that we can say with some confidence he probably killed,” says Adam Selzer, author of H.H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil. “He confessed to 27 at one point, but several of them were still alive at the time.”

The inflated numbers of up to 200 victims likely started, Selzer says, with a pulp book published in 1940, called Gem of the Prairie by Herbert Asbury.

“It had kind of a throwaway line that some people suggested it may have been as many as 200 people,” Selzer says. “Nobody had actually suggested that, in fact. But thereafter everybody else who [retold] the story threw in that same line until people started deciding that that was a real estimate or a real possibility.”

There’s also no evidence Holmes trapped strangers inside his hotel in an attempt to kill them. The nine people he likely killed were all people he already knew, and the building he owned wasn’t a hotel. The first floor consisted of storefronts, and the second floor had apartments for long-term rental.

“When he added a third floor onto his building in 1892, he told people it was going to be a hotel space, but it was never finished or furnished or open to the public,” Selzer says. “The whole idea was just a vehicle to swindle suppliers and investors and insurers.”

Holmes was involved in a variety of fraud schemes, and it was actually his involvement in a horse swindle in Texas that led police to arrest him in Boston in 1894. Investigators soon began to suspect him of murdering his scammer associate Benjamin Pitezel in an insurance scheme, then murdering three of Pitezel’s children—who were roughly seven to 14 years old—in an attempt to cover it up.

After Holmes’ arrest, newspapers began printing lurid stories about his alleged Chicago “Murder Castle,” claiming he’d outfitted it with trap doors and secret rooms to torture and kill guests. According to Harold Schechter, author of Depraved: The Definitive True Story of H. H. Holmes, Whose Grotesque Crimes Shattered Turn-of-the-Century Chicago, these sensational details can be attributed to yellow journalism, the practice of exaggerating or simply making up news stories that flourished in the 1890s.

“It’s my belief that probably all those stories about all these visitors to the World’s Fair who were murdered in his quote-unquote ‘Castle’ were just complete sensationalistic fabrication by the yellow press,” he says. “By the time I reached the end of my book, I kind of realized even a lot of the stuff that I had written was probably exaggerated.” (His book was originally published in 1994 as Depraved: The Shocking True Story of America’s First Serial Killer.)

Without any evidence, newspapers claimed Holmes used his building’s chute to transport bodies to the basement (the fact that he had a chute was not unusual, since many buildings had laundry chutes connected to the basement). These stories turned Holmes’ building into an elaborate torture dungeon outfitted with gas pipes to asphyxiate victims and soundproof rooms to hide their screams.

“All these myths—which to some extent I myself, I think, helped perpetuate a little bit—grew up around Holmes,” Schechter says.

These myths can obscure the stories of Holmes’ actual likely victims. Two of the earliest were Julia Connor and her six-year-old daughter, Pearl. They disappeared around Christmas of 1891, after Holmes had an affair with Julia and involved her in his business schemes. During his life, Holmes alternatively denied killing Julia and confessed to accidentally killing her while performing an abortion. It’s still unclear what happened to her and Pearl.

Over the next two years, Holmes may have murdered Emeline Cigrand, Minnie Williams and her sister Nannie Williams. Both Emeline and Minnie appear to have had personal and business relationships with Holmes when they disappeared. But as with Julia and Pearl, it’s difficult to say for sure what happened to Emeline, Minnie and Nannie.

The evidence for Holmes’ murders of Ben Pitezel and his young children Howard, Nellie and Alice in 1894 is more solid. Even so, investigators only tried and convicted him for Ben’s murder. Holmes received the death sentence in 1896, and died by hanging in Philadelphia, about a week before his 35th birthday.

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Up next…

Michael Swango was an MD. He was a doctor. But the MD after his name could just as easily have represented “Master of Death”, or “Many Dead” – because there were. Up to sixty of his patients died by his own hands before he was stopped.

And… Dr. Buck Ruxton’s brutal deeds earned the surgeon the nickname of “The Savage Surgeon”.

These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.


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When you go to the doctor, you put your life in their hands. But what if your doctor can’t be trusted? Such was the case for the patients of infamous physician and serial killer Michael Swango. In July 2000, Swango was charged with the murders of three New York state patients. He soon confessed to the crimes, and would admit to one additional slaying. Yet investigators suspect that during his crime spree, which spanned 1981 to 1997, Swango may have claimed the lives of as many as 60 patients through poisoning. Even after Swango lost his medical license for poisoning co-workers in 1985, he managed to work his way into patient care again and again. It would take years—and a handful of deaths—before justice finally caught up with this doctor of death.

Michael Swango was born on October 21, 1954, in Tacoma, Washington, to Muriel and John Swango. Raised in Quincy, Illinois, middle-child Swango was considered by his mother to be the most academically gifted of the family.

John Swango was an Army officer, who served in the Vietnam War. He was a strict man who struggled with alcoholism, and the Swango household was in a constant state of tension until Muriel decided to divorce John.

As he became older, Swango excelled in school and was always involved in extracurricular activities. Swango graduated as the valedictorian from Quincy Catholic Boys High School in 1972, and went to Millikin University in Illinois on a full-ride scholarship. Despite doing well in school, Swango became depressed after a breakup and dropped out to join the Marines.

After finishing his term of service, he decided to return to school and pursue a career in medicine. Swango attended Quincy University, where he graduated summa cum laude and was awarded the American Chemical Society Award. Swango’s senior thesis centered on the poisoning of Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov.

As a promising doctor on the rise, Swango went on to attend South Illinois University School of Medicine, where his interest in poisons took a very dark turn.

During his time at SIU, Swango began to fall behind academically. He was often suspected of cutting corners in his work, exams, and projects, but somehow he continued to pass courses.

When Swango decided to accept work as an ambulance attendant during his first year, his obsession with death emerged. By the time his third year rolled by, Swango was engrossed in ambulance calls, prioritizing them over schoolwork in order to get closer to dying or critically injured patients.

It was during the third year that Swango started to have individual sessions with patients. During these sessions, a handful of patients suffered life-threatening emergencies, and five of them died under his care.

Just a month before his graduation, Swango’s recklessness caught up to him when professors learned that he was faking checkups with patients. He was nearly expelled for his behavior, but was ultimately allowed to stay for one more year to finish. Near his graduation date, Swango was fired from his ambulance job after he told a man who was having a heart attack to go to his own car and get his wife to drive him to the hospital.

Despite a lackluster reputation and academic career at SIU, Swango was granted a surgical internship at Ohio State University Medical Center in 1983. After he began his internship, healthy patients began to die when he was the intern on duty. One patient who survived a seizure reported that Swango injected them with medicine before the attack.

Nurses began to file complaints with the hospital about Swango going in to patients’ rooms at random hours of the day. But despite numerous complaints, Swango was cleared of wrongdoing. However, his residency offer from OSU was rescinded due to poor work.

After getting rejected from pursuing a second year at Ohio State, Swango returned to his hometown of Quincy and landed a job as an emergency medical technician for Adam County Ambulance Corp in 1984. A background check was never done on Swango, so his employers didn’t know that he was fired from his previous ambulance job.

Once he started his position, co-workers noticed that any time Swango brought food in to share with everyone, anyone who ate it became violently ill. After the workers tested positive for poison in their systems, a police investigation was conducted. When detectives searched Swango’s home, they found a large supply of drugs, books on poison, and arsenic. Swango was convicted of aggravated battery in 1985 and sentenced to five years.

Swango was released early from prison in 1987, only serving two of his five year sentence. He found work as a career counselor, but he quickly fell back into his old habits.

Shortly after Swango started, a couple of co-workers experienced symptoms of severe nausea and headaches. Then Swango started exhibiting strange behavior, such as working on a scrapbook of horrific news articles during office hours. Finally, he turned the building’s basement into his own personal bedroom. He was asked to leave in 1989.

He took another job at Aticoal Services in 1991, where he continued to poison other employees. A few of them were hospitalized, and one of the executives of the company nearly slipped into a coma.

While at Aticoal, Swango met Kristin Kinney, a nurse at Riverside Hospital in Newport News, Virginia, for whom he immediately fell. Kristin was already engaged, but called it off and pursued a relationship with Swango. It was also during this time that Swango decided to start applying to residency programs to get back into the medical field.

In 1991, Swango changed his name to David Jackson Adams and moved with Kristin to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he was accepted to a residency program at the University of South Dakota Medical Center. He was able to get through background checks by lying about his conviction and providing forged documents stating that he was imprisoned for a misdemeanor.

Surprisingly enough, Swango gained a positive reputation and was well-liked by his co-workers. However, his new life was shattered when Swango applied to join the American Medical Association. After an extensive background check, the AMA dug up Swango’s previous convictions and informed USD of Swango’s true identity and history of poisoning.

In addition to this, an interview that Swango had done while he was in prison aired on television. When all of this came to the forefront, Swango was asked to resign, and Kristen was shocked.

Although Kristen stayed with Swango for a few more months, she complained of having severe migraines and was withdrawn from work. After she was found naked and confused on the street, she was briefly placed in a psychiatric hospital.

In 1993, she finally left Swango and returned to Virginia, and her physical health immediately improved. However, Swango remained in her life, and charmed his way back into her heart.

Swango somehow managed to lie his way into a psychiatric residency program at the State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Medicine. He left Kristin to pursue the program, where yet again, patients began to die under Swango’s watch.

Swango and Kristin continued their long distance relationship. However, one conversation took a tragic turn when Swango admitted to Kristin he had emptied out her bank account. Upon hearing this news, Kristin shot herself in the chest the very next day and passed away.

After her tragic death, Kristin’s mother blamed Swango for her suicide, and was shocked to learn that he was still practicing medicine elsewhere. She got in contact with a nurse and close friend of Kristin’s in South Dakota, who then got in touch with the dean of the medical school at Stony Brook.

Swango was then fired, and notices were sent to over a thousand hospitals and medical schools across the country about Swango. The FBI also began to hunt for the criminal.

Feeling pressure from the FBI, Swango decided to flee the country to continue his career in Africa. Swango forged more documents, and moved to Zimbabwe in 1994, where he landed a job at Mnene Lutheran Mission Hospital.

Yet again, patients that were under Swango’s care mysteriously passed away. After complaints from nurses and patients about Swango’s concerning behavior, the hospital’s director Dr. Zshiri contacted the police and had them search Swango’s home.

When the police raided Swango’s property they found hundreds of different drugs and poisons. Swango was fired and had a week to vacate the hospital property.

When Zimbabwe police began to thoroughly investigate the deaths in connection to Swango, evidence of his guilt piled up. During this time, Swango was trying to restore his medical license. When news about his impending arrest reached him, however, he fled to Zambia. Using a false resume, Swango then applied for a position at the Royal Hospital in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Thankfully, Swango never made it to his next gig. In June 1997, Swango was arrested in the United States while on a layover at the Chicago-O’Hare airport. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents arrested him on fraud charges.

In 1998, Swango pleaded guilty to defrauding the government, and was sentenced to three years and six months in prison. During this time, investigators amassed a fuller report of Swango’s crimes. On July 11, 2000, just a few days before he was to be released, federal prosecutors on Long Island filed a criminal complaint charging Swango with a number of crimes, including three counts of murder, assault, and fraud.

Swango was formally indicted a few days later. He initially pleaded not guilty. By September, however, he pleaded guilty to the charges, thus avoiding the death penalty in New York for murder. He also admitted to poisoning Cynthia Ann McGee in Ohio in 1984.

Swango received three consecutive life sentences for his convicted crimes. At the time of this podcast’s recording, he is currently being held prisoner at the United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility (USP Florence ADMAX), a supermax federal prison in Colorado, informally known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”.

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It’s fair to say that Britain has had a long line of notorious felons and many of them have, by some means, secured an ignominious spot in criminal history. Doctor Buktyar Rustomji Ratanji Hakim, better known as ‘Buck’ Ruxton, is certainly one of them.

In the early morning hours of September 15, 1935, Ruxton brutally murdered his common-law wife Isabella Kerr and their housemaid Mary Jane Rogerson at his home in Lancaster, England, then travelled to the Southern Uplands of Scotland to dispose of the remains. The media dubbed him the Savage Surgeon. The twin murders he committed were together known as the Jigsaw Murders due to the mutilation Ruxton inflicted upon the bodies of his victims, and the meticulous efforts investigators were forced to take in re-assembling and identifying the women slain. One of early 20th century England’s most shocking crimes, Ruxton is largely forgotten today outside of Northern England where he did his grisly deeds.

Ruxton, who anglicized his birth name, was born in Bombay, India on March 21, 1899. He qualified as a doctor and came to England hoping to ply his trade, initially doing well. Ruxton was popular in the local community, especially with his poorer patients. In a time before England’s National Health Service provided medical care free to all, Ruxton often waived his fees if he felt a patient was too poor to pay. All in all, he was a respected, well-liked professional man.

Yet tragically, Ruxton also had a dark side. He was hot-tempered, perpetually jealous, possessive and sometimes violent. He constantly suspected his common-law wife Isabella of infidelity. The couple fought badly and often, and Isabella had already left him twice. On September 15, 1935 Ruxton’s dark impulses turned deadly. Isabella vanished and so, oddly, did the family’s housemaid Mary Rogerson.

According to Ruxton, Isabella had left him again. He denied knowing anything about Rogerson’s disappearance. The police believed he knew far more than he was saying and they were determined to find out what. A search for the women was mounted and police, discovering Ruxton’s jealous and violent history, had him firmly set as prime suspect.

The mystery of the two women’s disappearance was soon resolved. Susan Haines was out walking near Gardenholme Linn, a river in the Dumfries area of southern Scotland, when she found body parts from two separate people, scattered about and wrapped in newspapers. The newspapers used to wrap the remains were the Daily Herald from August 6 and August 31, 1935, the Sunday Chronicle, and a special local edition of the Sunday Graphic dated September 15. The Graphic pages came from a local ‘slip’ edition distributed only in the Morecombe and Lancaster area of Lancashire, not far from Ruxton’s medical practice. Noticing that the women had vanished on or around September 15, police examined the subscription list and soon found a familiar name: Doctor Buck Ruxton.

Questioned, Ruxton denied having been in Scotland at the time. This might have worked if he hadn’t accidentally run down a cyclist near the town of Kendal while returning from dumping the body parts. A traffic cop stopped Ruxton in Minthorpe, due south of Kendal; the officer had noted Ruxton’s car description and registration number. Police now had a date, time, car, and driver. Now they needed to conclusively piece together the identity of the bodies. They managed that using, for the time, highly innovative forensic techniques.

The body parts were taken to Edinburgh where leading pathologist Sir Sydney Smith and a team of experts used forensic entomology to date the age of the maggots on the body parts. This established a window of time between their deaths and discovery. The researchers then superimposed a photo of Isabella over her skull, thereby identifying her in conjunction with dental records. With Kerr and then Rogerson identified it wasn’t long before they again visited Ruxton, this time bringing a search warrant and a pair of handcuffs. Ruxton was arrested on October 13, and charged with Mary Rogerson’s murder.

A thorough search of Ruxton’s home revealed bloodstains and bloodstained medical instruments, evidence strongly suggesting the victims had been killed and dismembered there. Ruxton’s flimsy explanation for a recent injury leaving his right hand bandaged didn’t help him much, either. On November 5, 1935, Ruxton was charged with murdering Isabella Kerr as well.

Arrested and charged, Ruxton’s trial began on March 2, 1936. It was a showcase of fine legal minds and big legal names. Ruxton was defended by Norman Birkett, KC (KC being a King’s Counsel, a senior barrister) and Philip Kershaw, KC. Birkett is still considered one of the finest lawyers of his generation with a well-deserved reputation for winning difficult cases.

The prosecution were no less distinguished. Joseph Cooksey Jackson was a KC as was David Maxwell Fyfe, later to become Home Secretary (nowadays Minister of Justice). Hartley Shawcross would later be lead British prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. The presiding judge was Mr. Justice Singleton.

With circumstantial evidence so incriminating and forensic evidence so groundbreaking, it was no surprise that Ruxton was convicted of Isabella’s murder on March 13, 1936. He’s believed to have murdered Rogerson because she witnessed the crime. The verdict was unpopular locally, where Ruxton remained a popular figure. A petition with over 10,000 signatures went to Home Secretary Sir John Simon. Simon ignored it. Ruxton’s petition to the Court of Criminal Appeal was also denied. Unlike the United States where capital cases drag on for years, English law allowed only a minimum of three Sundays between sentencing and execution.

On May 12, 1936 he was taken from the special Condemned Cell at Strangeways Prison at 8:00 A.M. Only a short walk separated him from hangman Thomas Pierrepoint (uncle of Albert Pierrepoint) and Pierrepoint’s assistant Robert Wilson. The formalities lasted only seconds. As Ruxton reached the gallows the prison clock started chiming the hour.

Before it finished chiming, he was dead.

* * * * * * * * * *

When Weird Darkness returns…

During his 26-year reign at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, Dr. Henry Cotton performed over 645 twisted operations in which he tried to “save” the mentally ill.

Medical student (and later doctor) Stubbins Ffirth was so determined to learn about Yellow Fever in the late 1700s that he purposely exposed himself to those who had it. But HOW he exposed himself is an utter nightmare and will curl your stomach.

Plus, horrifying medical experiments on twins helped Nazis justify the Holocaust, and at the center of it was Dr. Josef Mengele.

These stories are up next.


* * * * * * * * * *


American psychiatrist Henry Cotton had an interesting insanity theory. He was convinced that by removing the infected teeth of mental patients he could cure them of their insanity. The doctor, who was the protégé of the great psychiatrist Adolf Meyer of John Hopkins, was convinced that insanity resulted from untreated infections in the body.

Henry Cotton became the medical doctor and superintendent of the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital in 1907. He wasted no time in proposing and carrying out his mad procedures that were to “save” many mental patients.

Immediately after taking over Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, Cotton began removing the infected teeth of his patients. But to his surprise, this did not always cure them of their madness, although it did stop them from speaking clearly and eating properly.

Undeterred, Cotton concluded that the reason his surgeries were not always successful was that the infection had spread too far. In this case, it was necessary to remove other infected body parts, including tonsils, stomachs, gallbladders, testicles, ovaries, and colons. Or so Cotton claimed.

Cotton reported that he managed to cure 85% of his patients. Naturally, his colleagues were impressed and eager to embrace his methods – surgery a la Cotton was regarded as the theory’s best practice. Parents of mentally unstable children were anxious to get a slot in Cotton’s tight schedule, and if that was not possible, they insisted that their own doctors replicate Cotton’s surgeries.

Cotton was now a famous man, acknowledged both in America and Europe for his radical and supposedly successful treatment of insanity.

However, as Henry Cotton continued to perform his bizarre surgeries, his patients’ death rate was rising. At one point, one in three patients died after undergoing Cotton’s treatment.

Many patients of the mental institution recognized the danger of Cotton’s surgeries and refused to make their way down to the operating theater. So they were dragged there, “resisting and screaming.”

At a mortality rate of 30 percent, Cotton recognized the risk but claimed that most of patients that died were already in poor physical condition.

Thankfully, not everyone had fallen under Cotton’s spell. Some psychiatrists were skeptical of Cotton’s surgeries. In addition, allegations surfaced that he was mistreating his patients.

Still, Cotton managed to appease his critics. On one occasion Cotton replaced all of his male nurses with female ones and thus escaped condemnation. In 1910, the New York Times wrote: “The men naturally are too rough with patients, and that male patients are not so excited by the approach of women nurses. [Cotton] believes the presence of women nurses is restful to the diseased mind.”

It was only in 1924 that a proper investigation into Cotton’s methods was initiated, with Dr. Phyllis Greenacre, another former student of Meyer, leading it.

Greenacre had a hunch that there was something not quite right about Cotton and his procedures. She found the hospital environment detrimental to the mental well-being of its patients, and she thought Cotton was “singularly peculiar.”

The patients disturbed Greenacre as well. It took her a while to realize that this was because most of Cotton’s patients had no teeth. Most importantly, Greenacre found that staff records were chaotic, and Cotton’s data was contradictory.

Determined to get to the bottom of the case, Greenacre singled out sixty-two patients that had been victims of Cotton’s aggressive surgeries. What she discovered was shocking.

She found that seventeen patients had died right after Cotton’s surgeries while several others suffered for a few months before finally passing away. Of course, those deaths were never included in the mortality rate.

Other findings showed that only five patients recovered completely while three improved but were still symptomatic. The remaining patients were unimproved.

This made Greenacre more suspicious than ever. She decided to get in touch with discharged former patients who had supposedly been either cured or improved. However, after interviewing these patients, Greenacre found that all were still mentally unstable.

At the same time that Greenacre was carrying out her investigation, a New Jersey State Senate Committee also developed an interest in the Trenton asylum. It turned out that Cotton was not as popular as he once was; what followed was a, “parade of disgruntled employees, malicious ex-patients, and their families, testifying in damning detail about brutality, forced and botched surgery, debility and death.”

During the investigations, Cotton suddenly went conveniently mad. However, after time, Greenacre’s damning report was ignored and buried while the New Jersey State Senate lost all interest in the asylum, leading to Cotton miraculously recovering.

Apparently, his madness was caused by a few infected teeth. Once he removed them, he felt much better. So he also removed his wife’s teeth, as well as the teeth of his two children.

Immediately, Cotton’s mad treatments were back in demand. Not only did Cotton continue his surgical procedures in Trenton and traveled around US and Europe giving lectures, he also opened up a private clinic where he welcomed wealthy patients desperate to have their loved ones cured of madness.

In the 1930s, Cotton had retired and became medical director emeritus. However, that didn’t stop him from concocting a new idea.

His new theory had become even more radical. He thought it was a good idea to carry out colectomies on children to prevent insanity and to stop them from engaging in bad habits such as masturbation. He also took to criticizing dentists, finding it strange that they tried to fix teeth instead of simply pulling them out.

At the same time, Cotton was still continuing his original controversial surgeries at Trenton and his procedures were still coming under fire. In the early 1930s, an investigation was initiated by the hospital’s board and was carried out by the director of the New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies.

When the records of 645 patients who had undergone Cotton’s surgeries were examined and compared to 407 patients who had not undergone surgeries, it was found that the recovery rate was actually higher among those patients who had not been treated by Cotton.

Naturally, Henry Cotton and his supporters fought fiercely against the allegations that their surgical procedures were harmful. However, to the shock of all, in the middle of this latest fight, Cotton died of a heart attack in 1933. Mental patients at Trenton could finally breathe more easily.

All in all, Henry Cotton and his assistants pulled more than 11,000 teeth and performed 645 major surgeries. Cotton killed hundreds of people and maimed many others. Yet the Times’ obituary declared that “[all must lament the loss of this great pioneer whose humanitarian influence was, and will continue to be, of such monumental proportions.”

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Stubbins Ffirth (who lived from 1784-1820) was an American doctor, best known for his bizarre self-experimentation while still a medical student. Born and raised in Salem, New Jersey, Ffirth commenced studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 1801. In his third year, Ffirth began to investigate the causes and communicability of yellow fever. This virus was a deadly constant in tropical areas but occasionally appeared in colder cities; a 1793 outbreak in Philadelphia killed several thousand people. The causes of yellow fever were then unknown. The most popular theory, propagated by prominent physician Benjamin Rush, suggested that it was spread by miasma or ‘bad air’. The young Stubbins Ffirth came to the conclusion that the fever was transmitted in body fluids and excrements, particularly vomit. In 1804 he undertook a series of experiments, summarising his findings in a brief manuscript. His first trials involved feeding or injecting animals with black vomit, harvested from the bedsides of dying yellow fever patients – but they failed to prove Ffirth’s theory:

“Experiment One: A small sized dog was confined in a room and fed upon bread soaked in the black vomit. At the expiration of three days, he became so fond of it that he would eat the ejected matter without bread; it was therefore discontinued…”

Ffirth also tried other methods of infecting dogs and cats, again without definitive results. One dog died ten minutes after having an ounce of vomit injected into its jugular vein, while others remained healthy. After five inconclusive experiments Ffirth stopped working with animals and began to experiment on himself:

“On October 4th 1802, I made an incision in my left arm, midway between the elbow and wrist, so as to draw a few drops of blood. Into the incision I introduced some fresh black vomit… a slight degree of inflammation ensued, which entirely subsided in three days, and the wound healed up very readily.”

Undaunted, Ffirth continued filling himself with the vomit of dying yellow fever patients, injecting it into veins, under his cuticles and into his eye. For his tenth experiment, he fried up three ounces of vomit in a pan and inhaled the steam. Next he constructed his own ‘vomit sauna’, sitting at length in a small closet with six ounces of steaming vomit. Ffirth eventually cut to the chase and decided to take his black vomit directly:

“After repeating the two last experiments several times, and with precisely the same results, I took half an ounce of the black vomit immediately after it was ejected from a patient, and diluting it with an ounce and a half of water, swallowed it. The taste was very slightly acid… It neither produced nausea or pain… My pulse, which was beating 76 in a minute, moderately strong and full, was not altered either in force or frequency… No more effect was produced than if I had taken water alone.”

Ffirth remained in perfect health but was not one to give up. He decided to repeat these experiments “a great number of times”, eventually drinking several doses of vomit, “half an ounce to two ounces without dilution”. Even this had no effect, leaving Ffirth to concede that yellow fever was not carried in human vomit.

But Ffirth had made a mistake: he only used the fluids of patients in the late stages of their illness, meaning they were no longer contagious. Plus, the primary source of the transmission of yellow fever – human blood plasma carried by mosquitos – was discovered by US Army physician Major Walter Reed in 1901.

Ffirth published his misguided findings in his 1804 thesis “A Treatise on Malignant Fever; with an Attempt to Prove its Non-contagious Non-Malignant Nature.”

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“Twins! Twins!” Ten-year-old Eva Mozes clung to her mother amidst the chaos of the selection platform at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Before arriving at the death camp, she had been stuffed into a train car on a seemingly endless journey from Hungary. Now, she and her twin sister Miriam pressed close as Nazi guards shouted orders in German.

Suddenly, an SS guard stopped in front of the identical girls. “Are they twins?” he asked their mother.

“Is that good?” she replied.

He nodded, and Eva Mozes’s life changed forever. The SS guard grabbed her and Miriam, whisking them away from their mother as they screamed and called her name. They never saw her again.

Eva and Miriam had just become subjects of a massive, inhumane medical experimentation program at Auschwitz-Birkenau—a program aimed solely at thousands of twins, many of them children.

Led by physician Josef Mengele, the program turned twins like Eva and Miriam into unwilling medical subjects in experiments that exposed about 3,000 children at Auschwitz-Birkenau to disease, disfigurement and torture under the guise of medical “research” into illness, human endurance and more.

Twins were separated from the other prisoners during the massive “selections” that took place at the camp’s massive train platform, and whisked off to a laboratory to be examined. Mengele usually used one twin as a control and subjected the other to everything from blood transfusions to forced insemination, injections with diseases, amputations, and murder. Those that died were dissected and studied; their surviving twins were killed and subjected to the same scrutiny.

Twin studies had helped scientists like Mengele’s mentor justify what they saw as necessary discrimination against people with “undesirable” genetic characteristics—Jews, Roma people, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities and others. But the twin experiments that had helped create the eugenics movement would, ironically, lead to the downfall of eugenics itself.

For eugenicists like Mengele, identical twins like the Mozes sisters were the perfect research subjects. Since they share a genome, scientists reasoned, any physical or behavioral differences in twins would be due to behavior, not genetics. Eugenicists held genetics responsible for undesirable characteristics and social conditions like criminality and poverty. They believed that selective breeding could be used to encourage socially acceptable behavior and wipe out undesirable tendencies.

By the time twin research began at Auschwitz-Birkenau in the 1940s, the use of twins in scientific experimentation was decades old. Though prior twin experiments had produced growing evidence that environment was as important as genetics, eugenics researchers clung to the idea that they could unlock new insights into nature and nurture through studying them.

One of them, Otmar von Verschuer, had significant power and influence in Nazi Germany. He authored texts that influenced Nazi policies toward Jews, Roma people and others, arguing that race had a biological basis and that “inferior” people could taint the Aryan race. An advocate for forced sterilization and selective breeding, von Verschuer collected genetic information on large numbers of twins, studying the statistics in an attempt to determine whether everything from disease to criminal behavior could be inherited. And he had a protege: a young physician named Josef Mengele.

Like his mentor, Mengele was vehemently racist and a devoted member of the Nazi Party. In 1943, he began working at Auschwitz-Birkenau as a medical officer. At first, Mengele was in charge of the Roma camp there, but in 1944 the entire remaining population of the camp was murdered in the gas chambers. Mengele was promoted to chief camp physician of the entire Birkenau camp, and became known for his brutal selections of incoming prisoners for the gas chambers.

Mengele wanted to continue the twin experiments he had begun with von Verschuer, and now he had a captive populace on which to do so. Though his earlier experiments had been legitimate, his work in Auschwitz-Birkenau was not. Abandoning medical ethics and research protocols, Mengele began conducting horrific experiments on up to 1,500 sets of twins, many of them children.

The “Mengele Twins” received nominal protection from some of the ravages of life at Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were not selected for the gas chambers, lived in separate quarters, and were given additional food and medical care. In exchange, though, they became the unwilling subjects of inhumane experiments at the hands of Mengele, who gained a reputation as the “Angel of Death” for his power, his mercurial temper and his cruelty.

For Eva, life as a Mengele twin meant sitting naked for hours and having her body repeatedly measured and compared to Miriam’s. She withstood injections of an unknown substance that caused severe reactions. “As twins, I knew that we were unique because we were never permitted to interact with anybody in other parts of the camp,” she later recalled. “But I didn’t know I was being used in genetic experiments.”

Eugenics itself was rooted in twin research. Frances Galton, a British scientist who coined the term “eugenics” in 1883, had used twin studies in his earliest eugenic research. Deeply influenced by his half-cousin Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of Species, Galton became intrigued by how and whether humans passed along traits like intelligence, and preoccupied with the potential of breeding “desirable” genetic traits into humans.

For Galton and other eugenics researchers, twins held the key to understanding which characteristics were genetic and which ones were environmental. Using data collected via self-reported questionnaires, Galton studied dozens of pairs of twins to determine how they were similar and different. He concluded that similarities between twins were due to their genetics. “The one element that varies in different individuals, but is constant in each of them, is the natural tendency,” he wrote. “It inevitably asserts itself.”

Though Galton’s twin research was biased and seriously flawed by modern standards, it helped lay the foundation for the eugenics movement. It also convinced other eugenicists that twins were the ideal way to study nature and nurture. But though eugenicists hypothesized that twins could help them create more perfect humans, the results of twin experiments kept confounding scientists. In the 1930s, for example, a group of American researchers who compared twins found a large variance in IQ in twins who had been raised apart but nonetheless shared similar personalities and behavioral traits.

Though twins were “the most favorable weapons” for the study of the “much-debated nature-nurture problem,” they wrote, their conclusions suggested that the very qualities eugenicists thought they could encourage by monitoring marriage and eliminating individuals with “undesirable” traits from the gene pool didn’t have to do with genetics at all.

The Nazis’ defeat ended Mengele’s experimentation on twins at Auschwitz. At the end of the war, the “Angel of Death” managed to escape prosecution. Shielded by Nazi sympathizers, he lived in South America until his death in Brazil in 1979.

In the aftermath of the war, scientists grappled with the aftermath of Nazi experimentation and the Holocaust’s use of eugenic principles in the name of genocide. In 1946, a group of German physicians who had carried out euthanasia and conducted medical experimentation in Nazi death camps were tried at Nuremberg during a 140-day-long trial. The trial resulted in seven death sentences and the Nuremberg Code, a set of research ethics that has influenced modern concepts of informed consent and medical experimentation.

Only 200 of the 3,000 twins subjected to medical experiments at Auschwitz survived. Among them were Eva and Miriam. In the 1970s, Eva Mozes Kor began lecturing about her experiences and seeking out other survivors. Eventually, she and Miriam formed a nonprofit called Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors (CANDLES) and tracked down more than 100 other twin survivors, documenting their experiences and the health ramifications of the often unknown experiments they had been subjected to at Auschwitz.

Most records of experimentation at Auschwitz were destroyed, but the lives of people like Eva Mozes Kor, who died in July 2019 at age 85, bear witness to the twin experiments’ brutality. Ironically, the very type of experimentation Nazi physicians thought would uphold the pseudoscience they used to justify genocide ended up undermining the field of eugenics. In the face of unconvincing data revealed by twin studies and worldwide condemnation of Nazi medical experiments, scientists abandoned eugenics en masse and the field died out.

Today, the concept of twin studies has been challenged by research that demonstrates genetic variations even among identical twins. But twin studies are still used to learn more about age-related disease, eating disorders, sexual orientation and more, while a groundbreaking study of twin NASA astronauts is shedding new light on how microgravity affects the human body. But though twins remain invaluable to researchers today, twin studies are still a subject of debate among scientists eager to sidestep their hideous history.

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When Weird Darkness returns…

We’ll look at a few other derailed doctors and nurses who had an unhealthy appetite for lobotomies, blisters, and the plague. And there are a LOT of them.


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When we think of evil doctors or monsters, we are likely to think of Frankenstein or Dr. Jeckell/Mr. Hyde. Although fictional horror can be scary, real-life depravity can be much more terrifying. It’s darkly ironic that someone who works so hard to obtain a license to practice medicine would then use that license to commit murder. Here a few more doctors and nurses who couldn’t abide by their oath to “do no harm.”

In December 2018, Dr. William Husel was fired from the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System after allegations that he is responsible for the intentional overdose of 25 hospital patients. In June 2019, he plead not guilty to the changes and his bail was set at $1 million. Husel’s case is one of the biggest serial offender suits against a health care professional in the US to date. He was found to have ordered “potentially fatal doses for dozens of patients over five years” though his lawyer claims he had no intention of ending anyone’s life.  Since these patients were not in fatal condition when the treatment was ordered, they likely could have recovered had Husel not intervened. As a result, more than two dozen lawsuits have been filed against the former doctor.

As a child, Harold Shipman became interested in medicine watching his mother suffer and die from lung cancer. After earning his medical degree, he began practice as a GP in Lancashire, England. However, in 1975, he was forced into drug rehab after becoming addicted to the opiate pethidine and having writen many fraudulent prescriptions for it. In 1977, he moved to Hyde, where he started a thriving general practice. A local undertaker soon noticed that Shipman’s patients were dying in unusually high numbers and often found in similar positions: sitting up or reclining on a settee. Another colleague noticed the same and the coroner was notified and referred it to the PD. At first, Shipman was cleared of suspicion until an 81-year-old died under suspicious circumstances. Her family noticed that her will had been changed to make Shipman the primary beneficiary and suspected it was forged. They were also concerned that the death occurred shortly after a home visit from the doctor, despite her being fine before he came. They requested the body be exhumed, and her cause of death was found to be a morphine overdose within 3 hours of her death, overlapping the time Shipman had been at her home. An investigation ensued, and it was discovered that Shipman encouraged families to cremate, and if they raised questions, he would show them computerized medical notes that corroborated his cause of death listed on the death certificate. The police discovered that the altered note happened directly after killing the patient, as each alteration had been time stamped. While Shipman claimed to have called emergency medical services in front of the families and then calling back to cancel the request after the patient died, telephone records showed that no calls were made. He also exhibited drug-hoarding behaviors, falsely prescribing morphine to patients who didn’t need it, overprescribing it to those who did, and visiting homes of the recently deceased to collect unused medications for “disposal.” Shipman was eventually found guilty of 15 counts of murder and one charge of forgery. An audit after his conviction put the number of victims he murdered around 236. He committed suicide by hanging in his jail cell shortly after his conviction.

Italian nurse Daniela Poggiali killed as many as 38 patients because she thought they – and their visiting families – were annoying. She snapped selfies with several of the corpses after they had passed. Police believe Daniela Poggiali, who worked at a Lugo hospital, killed her victims with hefty doses of potassium chloride. She was arrested after an autopsy on 78-year-old Rosa Calderoni revealed dangerous levels of potassium in her body. 38 of the 86 patients she treated died within a three month period.

Dr. Morris Bolber was part of the infamous “Philadelphia Poison Ring,” led by Italian immigrant cousins, Herman and Paul Petrillo in the 1930s. The cousins had contacts in the criminal world. Harold was an expert counterfeiter and arsonist, while Paul ran an insurance scam business from the back of his tailor’s shop. Dr. Bolber was a Russian-Jewish immigrant who subscribed to “la fattura,” a magic believed by many South Philadelphia Italians of the time. When the Petrillos aspired to “la fattura,” they recruited the help of the doctor, who frequently gave potions to patients to better their lives. The cousins started issuing insurance policies without medical exams and then would pay the doctor to poison them with his potions (arsenic). The insurance policies were made out to the gang rather than the wives who had been widowed. They also hired killer thugs who murdered others through various means, such as drowning, bludgeoning, and running over the victims by car. The murders began in 1931, and an estimated 30-50 people were killed. Dr. Bolber, the mob doctor, was arrested in 1939 and turned state’s evidence on the cousins, who were sentenced to death.

Dr. Francis Willis was a Lincolnshire physician and clergymen during the 1700s. He was admired for his seemingly successful treatment of the mentally ill, or “wrongheads,” as they were called at the time. His treatment included impressive and neat attire, exercise, and fresh air – all to be accomplished through well-dressed manual labor on the good doctor’s estate. Willis’s results were perceived well enough to attract the king himself. When King George III went mad, he was taken to the renowned doctor for treatment. Willis prescribed the usual physical labor method, but also tried restraining his royal patient in a straightjacket as well as having the king’s skin covered in blisters. George’s eventual recovery was credited to Willis who consequently became an incredibly sought after physician. To accommodate so many eager patients, Willis opened a second establishment. The grounds were very well kept.

Dr. Kervorkian is a well-known US pathologist and advocate of euthanasia. While many may debate his addition to this list of evil doctors, the fact is that he is responsible for the deaths of more than 100 patients at a time when no laws allowing him to do so existed. He ended up being sentenced to 8 years in prison for his actions. Early in his career, he fell under criticism when he proposed medical experiments on death row inmates while they were still alive. He presented a paper to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1958, arguing that condemned criminals could provide a service to humanity before their death. These experiments would be performed while the inmates were conscious and end in their fatality. For his views, his peers nicknamed him “Dr. Death.” He followed this research with the invention of what he called a “suicide machine.” He made it with materials that cost $45 and included three bottles of successive doses of saline, followed by a pain killer, and finally a fatal dose of potassium chloride. In 1990, he became infamous after using his device on Janet Adkins, who sought him out after she learned she had Alzheimer’s disease but before it took full effect. He carried out the assisted suicide in a public park inside his Volkswagen. Charges against him were dropped, but his medical license was suspended. However, this did not stop the doctor on his wave of assisted suicide. Legal action was taken to stop him, but he slipped through on loopholes in the law until he was convicted in 1999. After serving 8 years of a 25-year sentence, he was released on good behavior. He died in 2011 at the age of 83.

Dr. Farid Fata delivered devastating news to over 500 people – he told them they were sick and dying. The problem is, they weren’t. Fata knowingly misdiagnosed hundreds of healthy patients with various deadly diseases, then put them through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, looking to cash in on their treatments. Fata lied his way to a sprawling mansion and millions of dollars. But he didn’t just tell well people they were dying – he also told sick people that they weren’t dying. Fata promised his terminal patients that they were getting better, he gave them hope so that they would keep padding his pockets. While his truly ill patients died with no preparation, hundreds of once healthy people were suffering the side effects of the unnecessary cancer treatments. Their teeth fell out, they lost their hair and their strength, they trembled all the time – and for nothing. Victims’ family members mourned the coming loss of their loved one, some going into depression and turning to substance abuse. Victims gave away their belongings to be remembered by and spent their savings on expensive treatments. When the truth came out, many were left broke and actually sick. With information from a suspicious colleague, authorities put a stop to Fata’s appalling schemes. Although prosecutors sought a 175-year sentence, on July 10 of 2015, Fata was given only 45 years for his crimes.

Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard was not an actual medical doctor but received a license to practice medicine through a loophole that grandfathered practitioners of alternative medicine under the regulations of the state of Washington. She was a well-known advocate of fasting and wrote two books on the subject: “Fasting for the Cure of Disease” and “Scientific Fasting: The Ancient and Modern Key to Health.” She believed all illnesses were the result of excessive eating. She created her own sanitarium, where inpatients fasted for days, weeks, and months on small amounts of tomato and asparagus juice and an occasional teaspoon of orange juice. The patients were also given daily enemas, as well as massages that the nurses said sounded more like beatings. Under her care, 40 patients died. She claimed they died of previously undiagnosed conditions, while others stated the cause was starvation. In fact, locals called her place “Starvation Heights.” In 1912, she was convicted of manslaughter for the death of a wealthy British woman who weighed less than 50 pounds at the time of her death. It was discovered that Hazzard forged the woman’s will to make herself the beneficiary, as well as stole all the patient’s valuables. Along with her husband, she gained power of attorney over her patients, sometimes by declaring them mentally incompetent, and took over their estates. She was sentenced to hard labor at the penitentiary of Walla Walla but was pardoned 2 years later for unknown reasons. She moved to New Zealand with her husband and practiced as a “dietician and osteopath.” Her license there was soon revoked for practicing without appropriate credentials. She died in 1935. In an irony, the son of one of her victims went on to establish a successful seafood restaurant in Seattle.

With the rise of Walter Jackson Freeman II, came the rise of the lobotomy. Freeman idolized Swiss psychiatrist Gottlieb Burckhardt, the man who performed the first psychosurgery, but he had other ideas for how the procedure should be performed. With the help of his neurosurgeon partner, James Watts, Freeman began performing hundreds of frontal lobe lobotomies. After hearing of another physician operating through the patient’s eye-socket, Freeman followed suit… with an ice pick he grabbed from his kitchen. He found that by inducing seizures with electricity, he could easily operate on patients, using a pick to sever connections to the prefrontal cortex. It was convenient that he no longer had to drill holes in their skulls. This procedure often left patients in a vegetative state or reduced their behavior to child-like. He would demonstrate the surgery to doctors working at state-run institutions. Sometimes, he would show off by ice-picking both eye sockets at once, with an ice pick in each hand. His most notorious surgery was performed on Rosemary Kennedy, who was left in a vegetative state at age 23. One of his former patients, Howard Dully, went on to write the book “My Lobotomy,” discussing his experience with the procedure at age 12. Freeman allowed the media to watch a procedure in which a patient died when the ice pick slipped into the brain. He was noted to act indifferently and move on to the next patient. Watts eventually separated from Freeman, finding his methods cruel and overzealous, but Freeman continued with his procedures, touring the country in his “loboto-mobile” and performing thousands of lobotomies. While operating, he never wore gloves or a mask, and in one case, the patient was killed when Freeman posed for a picture and accidentally stuck the pick too far into the victim’s brain. After many patients died from his questionable methods, Freeman was banned from performing surgery.

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream first started practicing medicine in Chicago, frequently performing illegal abortions for prostitutes. In 1881, several patients died, including Daniel Slott, who was found to have died of strychnine poisoning after a supposed remedy for his epilepsy. Slott’s wife was the mistress of Cream, who subsequently turned state evidence on the doctor, confessing she supplied Cream with the poison to kill her husband. Cream was sentenced to life in Joliet Prison but was released in 1891 after his brother bribed authorities. Cream moved to London and resided on Lambeth Palace Road. Several prostitutes soon died of strychnine poisoning after Cream gave them a drink. Cream wrote a letter to one doctor accusing him of poisoning one of the victims and demanded money from him. In another case, he wrote a letter to the coroner, offering to name the murderer. PD at Scotland Yard soon became suspicious of him and put him under surveillance. He was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death. At his execution, his last words were, “I am Jack the…” Speculation arose that he was Jack the Ripper, although that was impossible, as he had been in prison at the time of those murders.

Surgeon General Shiro Ishii of the Imperial Japanese Army had some curious companions during his years of study at the Kyoto Imperial University. The medical student had the odd habit of growing bacteria as pets rather than research. By the late 1920s, his fascination with germs had led to his development of a bio-weapons program. Ishii conducted germ warfare trials, testing various methods of dispersion including firearms and bombs. His test subjects? Chinese prisoners of war, captured civilians from Chinese cities, and even active battlefields. It’s estimated that tens of thousands died from Ishii’s dispersion of bubonic plague, cholera, and anthrax. The rapidly promoted surgeon was also an enthusiastic supporter of human experimentation. His procedures included vivisections, simulated strokes and heart attacks, forced abortions, and induced frostbite and hypothermia. Ishii’s research was the Imperial Army’s secret. When the Pacific War was coming to an end and Japan’s defeat in sight, Ishii’s research headquarters were blown to bits to destroy evidence. To sell the cover-up, Ishii had 150 remaining subjects executed. Upon his arrest, Ishii received war crime immunity in exchange for his research and other information.

Dr. John Bodkin Adams was a general practitioner in the British community of Essex. He was considered compassionate, especially to his elderly patients. However, it was also noted that he liked to use dangerous drugs and expressed an abnormal interest in his patients’ wills. In 1956, police began investigating Adams under suspicion that he was murdering elderly patients to acquire some of their inheritance. Although they found dozens of suspicious cases, they charged him for only two. The patients had willed large sums of money to Adams, and the causes of their deaths were not clear. Ultimately, Adams was not convicted of those deaths but found guilty of forging prescriptions and falsifying medical forms. He was eventually able to reopen his practice, but many of his elderly patients left him. His case had a significant impact on criminal trials in England.

Dr. Carl Clauberg worked in the Nazi concentration camps – the perfect place to find his test subjects. Clauberg thought he could solve the Nazi’s biggest problem: sterilizing the Jewish race out of existence. Looking for a cheap and easy way to sterilize women, the creepy Clauberg injected formaldehyde directly into their uteruses. He used no anesthetic and was not concerned about the raging infections the women developed. Many died from his experiments and those who lived – estimated at 700 women – suffered permanent damage and were sterilized for life. When the Red Army approached Auschwitz, Clauberg fled to Ravensbrück concentration camp to continue his horrifying work on the Romani women. There, he was captured by the Soviets in 1945. He received 25 years, but only served seven. However, his boasting about his “accomplishments at Auschwitz” caused public outcry and he was rearrested in 1955. He died of a heart attack in his cell.

Later called by some “Doctor Satan”, as a child, Marcel Petiot was seen to be highly intelligent although exhibiting some abnormal behavior. In fact, he was expelled several times from school. At the age of 17, he was arrested for mail fraud but found mentally unfit to stand trial. He joined the army and was caught stealing blankets but found not guilty by reason of insanity. The army discharged him because of mental unfitness. Eventually, he was able to earn a medical degree in 1921 and started his practice in Villaneuve, France. He became the mayor in 1926 but was suspended more than once. Two of his patients were murdered, but he never was charged. He lost his seat after he was found stealing power from the city. In 1933, he moved to Paris, where he soon developed a good reputation as a doctor, while he continued his crimes. When WWII struck, he came up with a plan to enrich himself. He offered help to Jews wishing to escape Nazi-occupied France. He injected them with poison, telling them it was medicine to protect them against disease. After he watched them die, he stole their money and valuables and placed their bodies in a furnace in the basement of his specially soundproofed house. In 1943, he was arrested by the Gestapo but released after several months. After the liberation of Paris in 1944, he was arrested, and 30 corpses were found in his basement. He admitted to killing 60 people and was convicted for 26 murders. He was guillotined in 1946.

Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein had some real-world competition. In 1818, the year of the novel’s publication, Scottish scholar, doctor, and chemist Andrew Ure revealed that he had been hard at work… on the corpse of hanged murderer Matthew Clydesdale. Ure believed that he could restore life to victims of hanging, suffocation, and drowning. The secret, he theorized, was the phrenic nerve. In a report of his experiments, Ure claimed that, upon stimulating various nerves with electricity, the late Clydesdale had become violently animated, nearly sending one of the doctor’s assistants to the ground. As Ure wrote, “At this period several of the spectators were forced to leave the apartment from terror or sickness, and one gentleman fainted.” Ure went on to publish multiple works on his various studies and continued to be a generally respected man of science.

Dr. Jayant Patel is a surgeon born and trained in India. In 1984, he started practicing in Buffalo, NY, where he was soon fined and placed on 3 years probation for not examining his patients prior to surgery. His NY license was eventually revoked in 2001. He moved to Oregon in 1989 and soon fell under scrutiny. Eight cases led to malpractice or wrongful deaths. Claims of his coworkers stated that he operated on patients who were not on his roster (ie, other doctors’ patients), that he operated unnecessarily, and caused serious injury and death. In 1998, Kaiser Permanente restricted his practice, prohibiting him from operating on the liver or pancreas and requiring a second opinion for other surgeries. The Oregon Board of Medicine made the restriction state-wide in 2000 after reviewing four cases resulting in three patient deaths. Patel became the director of surgery in 2003 at the Bundaberg Base Hospital in Australia. He had been hired by Queensland Health under the “area of need” program, not disclosing his actual credentials. His inadequacies were soon noticed, and nurses were said to hide their patients from him when he was in the hospital. In 2005, news of the injuries and deaths connected to him hit the media, and soon the outlets were flooded with other stories. He returned to Portland in 2006. A few months later, a magistrate issued a warrant for his arrest and extradition. Charges included manslaughter, causing grievous harm, and fraud. Patel was extradited in 2008 and convicted. However, his conviction was overturned on appeal. Upon pursuing outstanding charges in 2013, Patel pleaded guilty to four charges of fraud and was ultimately sentenced to 2 years in prison, but that was wholly suspended because of the time he already served in jail for the convictions that were overturned by the High Court of Australia.

And here are a few more deadly doctors and nasty nurses…

British doctor Harold Shipman was only charged with the deaths of 15 patients, but he is believed to have killed up to 250 people. He was sentenced to life in prison. In 2004, Shipman hung himself.

Robert George Clements worked as a surgeon in Ireland. He was suspected of killing his four wives through morphine overdoses. Before he could stand trial he killed himself with his own overdose.

Maxim Petrov killed 17 patients while working as a doctor in Russia. He stole from his victims as well. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Kermit Gosnell is a former American physician from Pennsylvania. In 2013, Gosnell was charged with three murders. Three babies were born alive, then killed by cutting the infant’s spine with scissors. One mother died due to complications. Testimony indicated hundreds of similar procedures carried out by Gosnell and his staff. Steven Massof, who worked in Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic, testified that he snapped the spines of more than 100 babies after seeing them show signs of life. He was active from 2003-2008.

Miyuki Ishikawa was a maternity nurse in Japan in the 1940s. During this time, abortion was prohibited in Japan, so she killed infants born to parents unwilling to care for them. It is estimated that she killed more than 103 newborn children. She was arrested in 1948 and sentenced to four years in prison.

Donald Harvey is an American serial killer who claims to have murdered 87 people. He claims he started out killing to “ease the pain” of patients. As he progressed in his murders, he began to enjoy it more and more and became a self-professed “Angel of Death.” He died in prison.

In 1966, multiple people in a New Jersey hospital were poisoned with curare by the mysterious Dr. X. Years later, officials figured out that Mario Jascalevich was the culprit. However, he was acquitted at trial due to lack of evidence.

Dr. Louay Omar Mohammed Ai-Taei is an Iraqi medical doctor who murdered 43 wounded policemen, soldiers, and officials between October 2005 to March 2006. Pretending to treat his victims, Dr. Louay was actually administering anti-coagulants that made their bleeding worse and eventually killed them.  His killings were politically motivated – after he was arrested, he admitted to being a part of an Iraqi Sunni insurgent group that fought against US troops and their allies during the Iraq War. The wounded patients he cared for were all Pro-coalition forces that had cooperated with the US.

In 1901, US nurse Jane Toppan confessed to poisoning 31 patients for her own sexual gratification. After overdosing them she would get in bed and lie with them as they died. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity and interned in a mental institution until her death in 1938.

German nurse who killed at least 28 patients while he worked at a hospital in Sonthofen, Bavaria, between January 2003 and July 2004. He killed patients by administering a lethal mix of drugs. The acts have been described as Germany’s largest number of killings since WWII. He was sentenced to life on November 20, 2006.

Norwegian nurse Arnfinn Nesset is considered the most prolific known serial killer in Scandinavian history. He was convicted on March 18,1983, of poisoning at least 22 patients with Curacit. He initially confessed to killing 30 patients. He was sentenced to 21 years, the maximum punishment possible by Norwegian law.

Charles Cullen was a New Jersey nurse who, over a 16-year nursing career, murdered 40 patients by sneaking in to their rooms and adding drugs into their IV bags. He initially confessed to the death of 40 patients, but in subsequent interviews with police, psychiatric professionals, and journalists, it became clear that he had killed many, many more–an estimated 400 people. If this figure is accurate, it would make him the most prolific serial killer in American history.

Joan Vila is a Spanish nursing home worker who fatally poisoned 11 elderly residents or more. In the trial he claimed they were mercy kills intended to spare the victims further suffering, but at least three of them were administered caustic cleaning materials that caused severe burns and a long agony.

Born Carl Milnarik, Dr. Fredrick Mors killed eight elderly patients in New York by poisoning them. He was sent to an asylum and escaped. He was never caught.

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Coming up…

Doctors killing or experimenting on patients isn’t confined to human victims, some animal experiments were equally as gruesome or bizarre.

Also, we’ll step into the Chamber of Comments.


Today’s bonus audio for patrons is: “Paranormal Weather” It was a dark and stormy night…. There is perhaps no introduction to a horror story as clichéd as this line, and with horror films there is also quite often bad weather involved as well, with thunder and lightning, darkness and rain. While this may be just for dramatic effect, there are enough instances of ghosts appearing during storms that one may begin to wonder if there is anything to it at all, whether there perhaps really is a connection between the ghostly phenomena and weather. Find a link to today’s bonus audio, “Paranormal Weather” in the show notes! For just $5 per month you can become a patron at WeirdDarkness.com! As a patron you get commercial-free episodes of Weird Darkness every day, bonus audio, and chapters of audiobooks as I narrate them! But more than that – by helping me pay for expenses, you are also helping to reach people who are desperately hurting with depression and anxiety. Get the benefits of being a patron, and benefit others who are hurting at the same time. Become a patron at WeirdDarkness.com.

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In a cartoon by former NASA roboticist Randall Munroe, a man reaches out and pulls a lever. Immediately a bolt of lightning strikes him from the sky. When the man is a “normal” person, he sensibly thinks, “I guess I shouldn’t do that.” When he is a scientist, however, he scratches his head and asks, “I wonder if that happens every time,” and reaches again for the lever. Curiosity is what makes scientists tick. This curiosity can lead to great discoveries, but it can also inspire bizarre experiments that appear highly peculiar to the rest of society. Such experiments come in a number of different varieties. At one end of the spectrum are the experiments that, in the words of Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, “first make you laugh, and then make you think.” The research is serious, but the subject matter contains hints of the absurd. For example, a 2006 study at the University of Western Ontario sought to find out if the average dog would seek help in an emergency. Cooperative dog owners pretended to have a heart attack while walking their pet. At a pre-determined spot, they clutched their chest, cried out dramatically, then collapsed to the ground and feigned lifelessness. The dogs were not impressed. Most of them sniffed their owner a few times before wandering around aimlessly — except for one toy poodle. This bold pooch rushed over to the nearest person, jumped up on her lap, and offered his belly to be petted. The researchers concluded that most dog owners should not expect their pet to turn into Lassie during an emergency. Then there are the bizarre experiments that make you cringe, not laugh. The classic example is the 1962 elephant-on-acid experiment. A trio of Oklahoma City researchers became curious about what would happen if they gave an elephant LSD. There was just one problem. They had no clue how much LSD to give it. Elephants are really big creatures, so the researchers figured their subject would need a really big dose. They settled on 297 milligrams, about 3000 times the level of a normal human dose. They shot the drug into the elephant’s rump. It trumpeted angrily, woozily rocked back and forth, then keeled over. Soon, tragically, it was dead. In the article that appeared in Science a few months later, the researchers euphemistically noted, “It appears that the elephant is highly sensitive to the effects of LSD.” The lesson is that having three researchers work on a problem does not make it three times more likely someone will display common sense. The history of science is full of bizarre experiments. Many of them, for all their weirdness, display a touch of genius. In 1978, Russell Clark published results of an experiment in which students from his psychology class sexually propositioned strangers in public places to find out if men and women responded differently. No surprise, almost all men accepted the invitation, and all women rejected it. Initially ridiculed by the scientific community (journals refused to publish it for years), the study now earns widespread praise for demonstrating the importance of gender differences in sexual attitudes, something to which psychologists had previously paid little attention. Unfortunately, if you’re designing an experiment that makes your colleagues raise their eyebrows in surprise, it can be very difficult to know if you’re heading down the path of genius or madness. The difference usually only becomes apparent in hindsight.

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We’ll step into the Chamber of comments in just a moment.

If you made it this far, welcome to the Weirdo Family. If you like the podcast, please tell your friends/family about it however you can and get them to become Weirdos too! And I’d greatly appreciate you leaving a review in the podcast app you listen from, that helps the podcast get noticed! While you’re listening, you might want to check out the Weird Darkness website. At WeirdDarkness.com you can find transcripts of the episodes, paranormal and horror audiobooks I’ve narrated, the Weird Darkness store, plus you can visit the “Hope In The Darkness” page if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide. And if you are an artist and find inspiration through the podcast, you can submit your work to the Weirdos Art Gallery. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.

Now… let’s step into the Chamber of Comments….

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Here in the Chamber of Comments I answer your emails, comments, podcast reviews, tweets, letters I get in the mail, and more. You can find all of my contact information, postal address, and social media links on the CONTACT page at WeirdDarkness.com. While you’re there, join the Facebook Group, “Weird Darkness Weirdos” and hang out with me and the rest of our Weirdo family! Or drop me an email anytime at: darren@weirddarkness.com.

(YouTube comment from Wilfredo Stretz): This is a weird one folks when I was married me and my wife had sleep paralysis at the same time; while we were having it we didn’t know the other was experiencing it until we both came out of it. We were both very very scared and we both saw a black figure or like a mist.

REPLY: You BOTH had sleep paralysis at the same time?!?!? I don’t think that has ever been reported before! You should write out your full story and send it in to the podcast! WOW!

(Email from Amber): Darren, i appreciate what you do. I wish i didn’t feel like talking to people about depression would have them believe I’m a burden. I don’t want to burden anyone about how i feel, so i don’t talk about things. The stories assist in bringing in the light. I have a cousin who needs assistance and I mentioned she listen because it helps. She won’t listen. Then another cousin was just placed into mandatory psych hold. I wish that I could figure out how to assist them both. After everything they’ve been through, I’ve been through, there needs to be a light. You are someone’s light and you assist in saving lives. Thank you. Thank you for everything. I appreciate you and all you do.

REPLY: Thank you, Amber. It’s sad to hear your cousins suffer and aren’t willing to reach for help. But they don’t have to listen to Weird Darkness in order to get help – I’m more of a messenger. The real help comes from those who are doing the counseling and treatment for those suffering from depression. Maybe suggest your cousins check out iFred.org (the International Foundation for Research and Education of Depression). There’s also a mobile app called “7-Cups” which also focuses entirely on depression and anxiety alone, nothing else. The important thing isn’t where they get the help – it’s THAT they get the help!

(YouTube comment from Raul Manderson regarding the story “Siren Head” from the Harry Price episode): Love these podcasts. Great sound, from voice to background/ambient music. SCP’s though… not my thing. I mean “Siren Head” ….. really? The rest was great. Interesting story about the voice in the wall and really like hearing stories new to me. Keep it up chief!

REPLY: Yeah, Raul. I didn’t care for the Siren Head story much either – just wanted to include it to see how it would be received. From the very beginning of the story I knew it had to be fake – some things are even too oddball for a paranormal podcaster to take them seriously! I’ll place a link the episode containing the “Siren Head” story in the show notes.

(Email from Larry Clermont – one of my beloved Weird Darkness patrons, commenting on the episode “American Hellhounds”): I was listening to the chamber of comments today and I heard you say, “a nobody like you”.  Grrrr don’t say that!  You mean so much too so many of us, you are a special person to me, a friend even though I have never talked to you or even emailed you.  Take a Weird Darkness poll on how many would put you as a nobody, wait I already have the answer, NOBODY would.

When you told us of the recent financial difficulties you have encountered due to COVID-19, I felt that empty feeling in the pit of my stomach.  It is the same feeling one gets when this happens to a friend or family member, after all these years listening, I’m not surprised it affected me this way. Depression, yep, I’m also part of that club. About ten years ago, I was put on antibiotic meds after dental work, first time on antibiotics that I knew of.  The meds killed the good and bad bacteria in my body and ravaged my immune system.  Enter H1N1 which I contracted, ended up in the hospital only to contract Clostridium Difficile or C-Diff with no immune system and little to no chances. I said my goodbyes to my family and prepared. I woke up later to find out a brave doctor saved my life.  He had to remove my bowels, colon, large intestine and 90% of my small intestine to do it but I’m here.  I was told by my wife I died twice and was on life support, no I didn’t see the white light etc, that doesn’t change the fact that the Lord watches over me always. So why am I depressed? My health has been terrible since then, I have had many surgeries, severe illnesses and I constantly deal with severe back pain which is simply a blessing from the family genes.  I am in a good frame of mind most of the time but some days I feel so sick and so sore it’s hard. I lean on a nobody like you on those days, you are in my headphones, new episodes,  patron episodes, old episodes I have heard many times over, PenPal anyone?  I listen everyday, but I binge on those days. You Darren are a hero, one of my heroes and you are a selfless, giving, kind soul.

REPLY: You give me too much credit, Larry – but thank you so very much for the giant vote of confidence! I’m amazed the doctors were able to do all of that to you and you came out alive. That in itself is a miracle if you ask me. I really like that you mentioned that you lean on people during the hard times – that’s great news. You may be feeling like death warmed over, but you have someone to lean on – even just a disembodied voice telling creepy stories. A lot of people with depression have no one to lean on, which makes organizations like iFred so crucial. For those who have not heard the creepypasta tale, “PenPal” that Larry refers to here, it’s a single story over 2-and-a-half hours long. I’ll place a link to that episode in the show notes.

I’ll answer more of your emails, comments, and more next time! Again, you can find all of my social media and contact information on the CONTACT page at WeirdDarkness.com.

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Do you have a dark tale to tell of your own? Fact or fiction, click on “Tell Your Story” at WeirdDarkness.com and I might use it in a future episode.

All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise), and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.

“The Horrifying Cures of Dr. Cotton” by Laura Martisiute for All That’s Interesting:

“The Doctor And His Murder Castle” by Becky Little for History:

“Doctor of Death” by Xavier Piedra for The Line Up:

“Strange Medical Experiments” by Alex Boese for The Scientist:

“The Savage Surgeon” by Robert Walsh for The Line Up:

“The Insane Experiment of Stubbins Ffirth” from Alpha History:

“The Nazi Angel of Death” by Erin Blakemore for History:

“Evil Doctors” by Kaitlyn Johnstone for The Line Up, Linda Girgis, MD for Physicians Weekly, Gabe Paoletti for All That’s Interesting, and Ranker Crime

Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music.

WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2020.

If you’d like a transcript of this episode, you’ll find a link in the show notes.

Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… John 16:33 = “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

And a final thought… from Regina Brett. “God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.”

I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.


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