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Angels of Death: 6 More Medical Murderers

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In this third installment of Angels of Death, we'll take a look at several serial medical murderers you may have never heard of. They each left a trail of victims behind them and a lot of unanswered questions.

Small Town Nurse

The locals were shocked when nurse Vickie Dawn Jackson was arrested for a series of murders at Nocona General Hospital in Nocona, Texas. After almost a year of exemplary service, Jackson began injecting patients with mivacurium chloride, a muscle relaxant. Over a two-month period, she may have killed twenty patients. The victims included people she had known for years. Her husband's grandfather was a victim. Jackson was fired after a would-be victim survived and complained that she gave him unauthorized medication that made him pass out. An investigation led to ten murder charges. However, the trial was stopped before it began when Jackson pleaded no contest to the charges, and received a life sentence. Jackson still says she is innocent.

The Would-be Hero

250angelo.jpgMost of the medical killers profiled today killed for reasons that will remain a mystery. Richard Angelo had a motive. He wanted to play the hero by rescuing patients in distress, only he caused the distress by injecting victims with the muscle relaxer Pavulon and sometimes couldn't save them. Angelo worked as a night shift nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital in New York, where 37 code blue emergencies saw the deaths of 24 patients during his shift. One patient managed to call for help after Angelo injected him with Pavulon and Anectine. An investigation followed, in which the nurse's home was searched and the drugs in question were found. Angelo was eventually charged in four deaths. His defense was that he suffered from multiple personality disorder, but the evidence was the result of polygraph tests, which the judge did not allow. He was convicted and sentenced to 61 years to life.

Murder as Sexual Thrill

200graham_g.jpgGwendolyn Gail Graham was a nurses aide at Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walker, Michigan. She had a lesbian relationship with her immediate supervisor, Catherine May Wood. The couple practiced erotic asphyxiation, and began killing elderly patients to achieve a sexual thrill. Graham would smother a victim while Wood stood guard, then they would stop for a sexual interlude together. They even bragged about their activities, but coworkers did not believe them. Eventually, Graham put pressure on Wood to commit a murder herself, which led to the couple splitting. Graham left town, and Wood confessed to her ex-husband. A year later, he approached police with the story. The following investigation unearthed eight suspicious deaths, five of which yielded enough evidence to take to trial. Wood testified against Graham in return for a reduced sentence. Graham received six life sentences; Wood drew 20 to 40 years.

Two-month Nursing Spree

100DIAZ.jpgRobert Diaz wanted to be called Dr. Diaz, even though he was a nurse. Diaz held a series of temporary nursing jobs in Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Berardino Counties in California in 1981. At each hospital, an unusual spike in the death rate coincided with his employment. Twelve dead patients exhibited a high level of the heart drug lidocaine. A search of Diaz' home found vials and syringes of lidocaine in concentrations ten times as high as their labels indicated. He was arrested on twelve counts of murder committed in a two-month period. A judge found him guilty of all counts in 1984 and sentenced him to execution. Diaz is still on death row at San Quentin.

Don't Breathe

244Saldivar.jpgEfren Saldivar was a respiratory therapist who confessed to killing around 50 people between 1988 and 1998. Saldivar would inject one of several paralytic medicines into his patients, which caused breathing, or the heart, to stop. His early victims were undetected because he killed only patients who were near death, so the death rate on his shift wasn't noticeably abnormal. Still, the staff at Glendale Adventist Medical Center had suspicions. Co-workers once broke into Saldivar's locker to play a prank and found drugs and syringes he did not have legal access to. They didn't report the find for fear of getting into trouble. After an informant approached the hospital with second-hand knowledge of the staff's suspicions, police were called in to investigate. During his first contact with police, Saldivar, who was connected to a polygraph, started telling stories of how he killed terminal patients out of compassion. Within a few days, he recanted his confessions. Police spend a year and a half looking for evidence in exhumed bodies, and built a murder case around six suspicious deaths in which the bodies had high levels of Pavulon, a derivative of curare that paralyzes the respiratory system. In 2002, Saldivar pleaded guilty to six counts of murder and received life in prison.

Orderly Murder

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Donald Harvey claims to have murdered 87 people during his 17 year career as a hospital orderly. He began working at Marymount Hospital in London, Kentucky when he was eighteen years old. Harvey later confessed to killing at least a dozen people in his ten months there. The first victim, according to Harvey, rubbed feces in his face, angering the orderly so much he strangled the patient. No investigation followed. Harvey used a variety of methods to kill patients: poison, overdoses of medication, strangulation, turning off or misusing equipment, and introducing infections. He was arrested for burglary, served a short time in the army, and  was in a mental ward for a time before working at a couple of Lexington, Kentucky hospitals where he had little opportunity to kill. Harvey later worked at the Cincinnati V.A. Hospital and Drake Memorial Hospital in Cincinnati. At both hospitals, unusual numbers of deaths took place during his shift. He also used poison on his lover, Carl Hoeweler, and both of Hoeweler's parents. Hoeweler's father died as a result. After one suspicious patient death, Harvey's home was searched. Police found various poisons and his incriminating diary. Harvey confessed to dozen of murders in order to avoid the death penalty. He pleaded guilty to 25 counts of murder and received four consecutive life sentences. Harvey earned an additional eight life sentences with a guilty plea in Kentucky. Later, an Ohio court added another three life sentences. There were also sentences for attempted murder and assault. His first scheduled parole hearing will be in 2047.

For stories of more medical mayhem, see Angels of Death: 8 Medical Murderers and Angels of Death: 7 More Medical Murders.

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How Cambodian Refugees Started the Pink Doughnut Box Trend
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Like the red-and-green cardboard pizza boxes or white Chinese takeout containers, many doughnut boxes share a certain look regardless of where you buy them. This is especially true in Southern California: Order a dozen crullers from one of the region's many independently-run doughnut shops and you’ll likely receive them in a glossy pink box. According to Great Big Story, this trend can be traced back to an influential immigrant business owner.

In the 1970s, Ted Ngoy moved to Southern California as a refugee from Cambodia. Much of Los Angeles's current doughnut scene is thanks to him: He opened dozens of doughnut shops of his own and helped fellow Cambodian refugees in the area get started in the business. Along with passing down entrepreneurial advice, he also inspired them to choose the light pink boxes that he used in his stores. As Ngoy recalled years later, either he or his business partner, Ning Yen, started the trend after asking their supplier for a cheaper alternative to the traditional white boxes. The company was able to offer them pink boxes at a discount. Because red is considered a lucky color in many Asian cultures, the distinctive shade stuck.

Today, many doughnut places in L.A. County are still owned by Cambodian-American immigrants and their families, and they still use the same old-school packaging Ngoy and his partner popularized 40 years ago.

You can get the full origin story in the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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Pop Culture
Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
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There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.

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Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

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