“It’s a small step from killing the terminally ill to the killing of insolent, burdensome patients”
Lainz General Hospital is the biggest of its kind in Vienna and many of its patients are old or suffering from terminal illnesses. It would, therefore, not be too difficult for a determined killer to get away with murder. No one could imagine that in 1983 there were four killers at work at Lainz.
It would be six years and more than 40 deaths before the quartet, comprising leader Waltraud Wagner and her cohorts Maria Gruber, 19, Ilene Leidolf, 21, and 43-year-old grandmother Stephanija Mayer, was brought to justice. Wagner was 24 when she was asked by a 77-year-old patient to “end her suffering”. Wagner was more than happy to oblige and found that she enjoyed having power over life and death.
She recruited the others and they planned whom they were going to kill while they worked on the night shift. The foursome murdered their patients through drug overdoses and “oral hygiene treatment”, where one nurse held the patient’s head back while a second poured water down their throats until they drowned. It was an agonizing way to die and almost undetectable as murder. When examined, many elderly patients had fluid in their lungs.
At first the women euthanized (as they saw it) patients but that progressed to killing anyone who annoyed them by soiling the bed or asking for help. They were caught not through police work or a hospital investigation, but because of their own big mouths. One day the four were having drinks and boasting about what they had done when a doctor overheard them.
He immediately went to the police and, after an investigation lasting six weeks, the women were arrested on 7 April 1989.
Pavilion 5, Lainz General Hospital, Vienna, Austria
The women confessed to 49 murders with Wagner giving a “free bed with the good Lord” to 39 of them. One of the others believed that Wagner had actually murdered more than 200 in the previous two years. Awaiting trial, Wagner claimed that in fact the death toll was just ten and they were all mercy killings. The trial opened on 28 February 1991 and on 28 March all were found guilty.
Wagner was convicted of 15 murders, 17 counts of attempted murder and two counts of assault. She was jailed for life. Leidolf was convicted of five murders and also received a life sentence. Gruber and Mayer were both jailed for 15 years for manslaughter and attempted murder. Ernst Kloyber, the state attorney, said, “It’s a small step from killing the terminally ill to the killing of insolent, burdensome patients, and from there to that which was known under the Third Reich as euthanasia. It is a door that must never be opened again.”
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Wagner and Leidolf were paroled on 7 August 2008 and given new identities at taxpayers’ expense. Gruber and Mayer had already been released and provided with new names.