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Michael Swango
Birth name: Michael Joseph Swango
Also known as: David J. Adams
Born: October 21, 1954 (1954-10-21) (age 55)
Tacoma, Washington
Number of victims: 3-60
Span of killings: 1991 – 1997
Country: U.S., Zimbabwe
State(s): South Dakota, New York
Date apprehended: June 1997

Michael Joseph Swango (born October 21, 1954, Tacoma, Washington, USA) was a physician convicted of 3 murders, but is estimated to have been involved in between 30 and 60 fatal poisonings of his patients and colleagues. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and is serving that sentence at ADX Florence.


Early life

Swango was raised in Illinois and graduated as valedictorian for the 1972 Class of what is now Quincy Notre Dame High School. He played clarinet and was a member of the Quincy Notre Dame band. He served in the Marine Corps, receiving an honorable discharge in 1980. He then attended to Quincy College (now known as Quincy University), and later Southern Illinois University Medical School.[1]

Swango's troubles were first noticed during his time at SIU. Even at that young age, he had a noticeable fascination with dying patients. He was also known as lazy, and was nearly expelled for faking checkups during his obstetrics and gynecology rotation. Eventually, the school let him graduate on the condition that he repeat the course work.[1]


Despite a very poor evaluation in his recommendation letter from SIU, Swango got a surgical internship at the Ohio State University in 1983; he had originally wanted to be a psychiatrist. Nurses began noticing that apparently healthy patients on floors where Swango worked began dying mysteriously with alarming frequency. One nurse caught him injecting some "medicine" into a patient who later became strangely ill. The nurses reported their concerns to administrators, but were met with accusations of paranoia. Only a perfunctory investigation was conducted. Although Swango was inexplicably cleared by this investigation in 1984, he was not asked back to OSU.

In July 1984, Swango returned to Quincy, Illinois and began working as an emergency medical technician. Soon, many of the paramedics on staff began noticing that whenever Swango prepared the coffee or brought any food in, several of them usually became violently ill, with no apparent cause. In October of that year, Swango was arrested by the Quincy, Illinois Police Department, who found arsenic and other poisons in his possession. On August 23, 1985, Swango was convicted of aggravated battery for poisoning co-workers at the Adams County Ambulance Service. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment.

In 1989, Swango found work as a laboratory technician for ATICoal in Newport News, Virginia, now Vanguard Energy, a division of CITA Logistics. During his time there, several employees sought medical attention with complaints of persistent and increasing stomach pains. He was employed until 1991, when he resigned his position to seek out a new position as a doctor. The FBI questioned employees on several occasions several months after his resignation.

After his release in 1991, Swango forged several legal documents that he used to reestablish himself as a physician and respected member of society. He forged a fact sheet from the Illinois Department of Corrections that falsified his criminal record, stating that he had been convicted of a misdemeanor for getting into a fistfight with a co-worker and received six months in prison,[2] rather than the five years for felony poisoning that he actually served. He also forged a "Restoration of Civil Rights" letter from the Governor of Virginia, falsely stating that the Governor had decided to restore Swango's right to vote and serve on a jury, based on "reports from friends and colleagues" that Swango had committed no further crimes after his "misdemeanor" and was leading an "exemplary lifestyle."[3]

In 1991, Swango used an alias, Daniel M. Kirk, to apply for a residency program in West Virginia. In July 1992, he began working at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A few months later, in December of that year, Swango made the mistake of attempting to join the American Medical Association (AMA). The AMA did a more thorough background check than the medical center, and discovered the poisoning conviction in Swango's past. The AMA informed the medical center where Swango was working, and the medical center discharged Swango.

The AMA temporarily lost track of Swango, who managed to find a berth in the residency program at the Northport Veterans Administration Medical Center, affiliated with the State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Medicine. This time, Swango served as a psychiatry resident, and once again his patients began dying for no explicable reasons. Four months later, the dean at Sioux Falls finally learned that Swango had moved to New York, and telephoned the dean at Stony Brook, Dr. Jordan Cohen. Swango was discharged in October. This time, the residency director, learning from the past mistakes of other medical facilities, sent a warning about Swango to over 125 medical schools and over one thousand teaching hospitals across the nation.[4]

Now that most of the hospitals in the country had been warned about him, Swango had no choice but to practice in another country. In November 1994 he went to Zimbabwe and got a job at Mnene Hospital. There again, his patients began dying mysteriously. It took a year, however, for the poisonings to be traced to him, and he was arrested in Zimbabwe. He was charged with poisonings, but he escaped from Zimbabwe before his trial date, and hid elsewhere in Africa and Europe. A year and a half later, in March 1997, he applied for a job at the Royal Hospital in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, using a false resumé.

In June 1997, he embarked upon a double flight from Africa to Saudi Arabia. He had a layover between flights at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois, and it was there that he was arrested by United States federal authorities. V.A. OIG Criminal Investigator Tom Valery, consulted with Charlene Thomesen MD, a forensic psychiatrist, to help him with the case. Because of her considerable clinical expertise, she was able to review documents and evidence and give a psychological profile of Dr. Swango, along with her assessment why he had committed such horrendous crimes. Investigator Tom Valery was called by the F.B.I. to discuss holding Swango; Mr. Valery called then D.E.A. Basic Agent Richard Thomesen who was stationed in the Manhattan D.E.A. Office to discuss the case. Mr. Thomesen’s conversation focused on Swango lying on his government application to work at the Dept of Veterans Affairs, where he prescribed narcotic medications. This gave the Federal Authorities the ability to hold Dr. Swango in the U.S. Three years later, he was finally tried for the murders he had committed in his medical practices. On July 11, 2000, Swango pleaded guilty to killing three of his patients, and to fraud charges. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and was incarcerated at ADX Florence.

Modus operandi

Swango did not often vary his methods of murder. With non-patients, such as his co-workers at the paramedic service, he used poisons, usually arsenic, slipping them into foods and beverages. With patients, he sometimes used poisons as well, but usually he administered an overdose of whichever drug the patient had been prescribed, or wrote false prescriptions for dangerous drugs for patients who did not need them.

It is estimated that, over the course of his career, Swango killed anywhere between 30 and 60 people, even though he was only convicted of three murders.

See also


  • Stewart, James B. (1999), Blind Eye: The Terrifying Story Of A Doctor Who Got Away with Murder; Simon & Schuster

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