Former nurse admits to killing 100 patients

Prosecutors say ‘vanity’ drove actions of man accused of administering medical overdoses to victims so he could bring them back to life

Former nurse Niels Hoegel hides behind a folder as he arrives in the courtroom
Former nurse Niels Hoegel hides behind a folder as he arrives in the courtroom
Image: AFP

Former nurse Niels Hoegel admitted to killing 100 patients in his care, on the first day of his trial in the biggest serial killing case in Germany’s post-war history on Tuesday.

Hoegel, 41, has already spent nearly a decade in prison on a life term for other patient deaths, and is accused of intentionally administering medical overdoses to victims so he could bring them back to life at the last moment.

As the trial opened in the northern city of Oldenburg, the judge, Sebastian Buehrmann, asked whether the charges against him were accurate. Hoegel replied quietly “yes”.

“What I have admitted took place,” he told the courtroom crowded with dozens of grieving relatives.

Buehrmann said the main aim of the trial was to establish the full scope of the murder spree that was allowed to go unchecked for years at two German hospitals.

“We will do our utmost to learn the truth,” he said.

“It is like a house with dark rooms – we want to bring light into the darkness.”

After a minute of silence for the victims, the bearded, heavyset Hoegel listened impassively, his head lowered, as prosecutor Daniela Schiereck-Bohlmann read out the name of each dead patient and the charges against the defendant.

Prosecutors say at least 36 patients were killed at a hospital in Oldenburg where he worked, and about 64 more at a clinic in nearby Delmenhorst, between 2000 and 2005.

More than 130 bodies of patients who died on Hoegel’s watch have been exhumed, in a case investigators have called “unprecedented in Germany to our knowledge”.

One of the more than 100 co-plaintiffs in the trial, Christian Marbach, said it was a scandal that Hoegel was able to kill with impunity for so long without hospital authorities or law enforcement intervening.

“They had everything they needed [to stop him] – you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes,” Marbach, the grandson of one of the patients, said.

He later expressed surprise about Hoegel’s quick confession, which was broadcast on two large screens to the courtroom audience.

“I didn’t expect it to happen today. We now have a chance to make some real progress.”

Marbach said the defendant seemed remarkably composed as he admitted to the extraordinary list of killings.

“He looks like a little, vulnerable mass murderer.”

Caught in 2005 while injecting an unprescribed medication into a patient in Delmenhorst, Hoegel was sentenced in 2008 to seven years in prison for attempted murder.

A second trial followed in 2014-15 under pressure from alleged victims’ families, who accused prosecutors of dragging their feet.

He was found guilty of murder and attempted murder of five other victims and given the maximum sentence of 15 years.

Hoegel then confessed to his psychiatrist at least 30 more murders committed in Delmenhorst, prompting investigators to revisit suspicious deaths in Oldenburg.

After he took the stand on Tuesday, Hoegel said he began taking painkillers shortly after becoming a nurse in 1999 as he felt overwhelmed by the job in intensive care.

“It was the stress – I found [the work] easier on medication,” he said.

Investigators say the final toll could top 200 but fear they might never know for sure because the bodies of many possible victims were cremated.

Prosecutors say he was motivated by vanity, to show off his skills at saving human lives, and by simple boredom.

The choice of victim appears to have been entirely random, with their ages ranging from 34 to 96.- AFP