Lainz Angels of Death
Also Known As: Waltraud Wagner, Maria Gruber, Irena Leidolf and Stephanija Meyer
Born: 1960, 1964, 1962 and 1940 respectively
Active: 1983 to 1989
Method of Disposal: Morphine, Insulin or Rohypnol Overdose; Drowning
- At least 49 patients at Lainz General Hospital (aka the Death Pavilion or Murder Station of Lainz)
Waltraud Wagner became a nurse because she wanted to help people, to make them comfortable and ease their pain and suffering. She chose to work at Lainz General Hospital’s Pavilion 5, where many of the hospital’s elderly and infirm resided. A lot of the patients in this particular Pavilion were suffering from terminal illnesses. Consequently, it was a relatively high, but not entirely unexpected, death rate.
It was perhaps inevitable that, during her working life in Pavilion 5, Waltraud would encounter residents who felt they would rather leave this life than face another day of pain. She would ordinarily help the patient through their fear and denial, by talking to them or supplying them with pain relief.
But one day she was confronted with an appeal that was so impassioned that she was moved to give a second thought to the idea of assisting another person to die. After all, the point of her job was to provide palliative care for the residents, usually until death finally came to call. Surely it was better if the patient chose when they expired, rather than wait. Really, if death was inevitable, what did it matter when said death occurred?
Having decided that five minutes of internal dialogue was enough time to completely evaluate all the pros and cons of what she was about to do, Waltraud obtained a lethal dose of morphine from the medicine store. As the morphine worked its magic, the look of serenity on her charge’s face was all Waltraud needed to see to know she had done the right thing. She finished her shift feeling more energised than ever.
Over the next few days, Waltraud relived in her mind what she had done. She realised that it was a very powerful gift she had been given, to be able to take away someone’s pain like that. She also discovered, after performing a few more acts of kindness on other terminally ill patients, that the calling was bigger than one person could handle.
She needed to impart her wisdom on others.
Over the course of the next four years Waltraud was joined by three ‘recruits’: Maria Gruber, Irene Leidolf and Stephanija Meyer. With Waltraud as their mentor, each woman was taught the proper techniques that go into a successful mercy killing. Her students were understandably slow to begin with, but by the end of 1987 they had all perfected the art and were ‘assisting’ at a steady pace. Along with the morphine, the group eventually added Insulin and Rohypnol to their list of tools, just to mix things up every now and then.
It may have been that the medical supplies had rather dwindled after a while; for Waltraud decided that a new technique would be included in their repertoire. This procedure was called the “Water Cure”. It was a simple process really, requiring only a large jug of water to be poured into the mouth of the patient by one nurse while another held the patient’s nose and chin. It was heralded as a ‘natural’ alternative to their existing practice. This was due to the fact that elderly patients often ‘naturally’ had water on the lungs when they died. It also removed the need to complete pesky administration forms explaining the rapid depletion of medical stock.
This new method had come at a crucial time, as Waltraud had widened the definition of ‘patient in need’. It now included any patient who wet the bed, refused to take their medicine, or pressed the nurse’s button just when they’d popped the kettle on. Waltraud classed these as ‘annoyances’, and the Water Cure was employed as a rule whenever an ‘annoyance’ arose. To ensure that the procedure was followed correctly Waltraud always carried out the Water Cure herself, with the help of one of the other ‘students’.
As is the usual practice, rumours began to circulate about the regularity with which the undertaker was attending the hospital’s Pavilion 5. If the four women noticed that the abnormally high death rate on their ward had attracted the attention of other staff, they didn’t let on. Waltraud and her followers would often meet at a local pub, toasting their success. During these meetings they would reminisce about their past accomplishments, recalling in minute detail how they had helped their most recent patient towards the light.
As it happened, a doctor was sitting nearby. He was familiar with the jargon they were using and, upon realising what he was hearing, promptly sprinted to the nearest police station. The police quickly began an investigation. Surely the doctor must be mistaken, they reasoned. This is a state-run hospital; there was no chance anything like this could have gone on for so long.
Apparently, there was. After six weeks, all four women were arrested and immediately began pointing fingers. Mostly at Waltraud.
Waltraud admitted to all the killings that she could remember (she got as far as 39 before her memory escaped her). Stephanija helpfully added several more to that list. Not to be outdone, Irene and Maria insisted that there were hundreds more. Over the course of the next 18 months, all four suspects threw up more and more imaginative patient numbers (including a few figures that clearly exceeded the total patient population of the hospital at the time). Finally, in late 1990, Waltraud revised her patient list to a mere ten.
To which the Judge and jury replied, “We can make up numbers too.” Waltraud and Irene were sentenced to life imprisonment, while Stephanija and Maria each received 15 years.