Who Is Elizabeth Wettlaufer, The Serial Killer Nurse Who Murdered 8 Patients?

Elizabeth Wettlaufer is one of the worst serial killers of the 21st century — and she killed her elderly victims at their most vulnerable. Her horrific crimes will be featured on the new Oxygen show, "Living with a Serial Killer."

Elizabeth Wettlaufer was born in Ontario in 1967. She originally studied religion in college, but she started her medical career as a registered nurse in 1995. Around 2007, she began taking night shifts at several nursing homes in Woodstock and Paris in Ontario, Canada. It was here that Wettlaufer had access to the older adults who tragically became her victims.

According to Global News, Wettlaufer began her crimes in 2007, though the first two were unsuccessful. The first victim was 87-year-old Clotilde Adriano: Wettlaufer gave her insulin — which police later called aggravated assault — and she died a year later. However, police said the death was not attributed to Wettlaufer. Unfortunately, Adriano's sister was also one of Wettlaufer's targets. The nurse injected Albina Demedeiro with an insulin in 2007, and the patient died over two years later. However, the death was again not attributed to Wettlaufer (police also deemed the act aggravated assault). The nurse then targetted James Silcox, age 84, killing him on August 11, 2007. Days before the winter holidays, she killed another 84-year-old named Maurice Granat.

A 2011 killing spree

Elizabeth Wettlaufer liked to kill with insulin because it was basically undetectable, according to CBC. She had easy access to the uncontrolled substance as a nurse, and she could easily conceal an insulin pen in her pocket without anyone noticing. She also admitted to occasionally stealing Ativan for her own use.

The Toronto Star reports that over a two-year span between 2011 and 2013, Wettlaufer murdered numerous people. The first was 87-year-old Gladys Millard on October 14, 2011, per Global News Canada. Just days later, on October 26, Wettlaufer killed again, this time taking the life of Helen Matheson, age 95. Then on November 7, the killer nurse murdered 96-year-old Mary Zurawinski. After this rapid killing spree, Wettlaufer kept a low profile until 2013. 

Wettlaufer had a lengthy history of medical errors

In March 2013, Elizabeth Wettlaufer began murdering her patients again (via the Toronto Star). Wettlaufer used insulin to kill Helen Young, age 90, in July. By March 2014, she still hadn't gotten caught, so Wettlaufer killed 79-year-old Maureen Pickering. She was fired — but it was for a different reason. Aside from the horrific murders of some of her patients, Elizabeth Wettlaufer wasn't even taking good care of her others, according to the Toronto Star. When she was hired by Caressant Care in Woodstock, she had been given the job even though the College of Nurses of Ontario knew that she'd put patients in danger with her behaviors before. But by 2014, her employer had had enough of the dangerous errors the nurse was making. 

Wettlaufer had shown an "extensive disciplinary record for medication-related errors," her employer wrote in a letter to her (via the Toronto Star). The killer nurse had been suspended at least four times and was given numerous warnings about her behavior as well. Caressant Care knew that she had nearly killed one patient through a medication error. Finally, the facility penned a detailed letter to her that said that she was putting her own patients at risk, and they fired her on March 31, 2014. Shockingly, Wettlaufer kept her nursing license.

Wettlaufer sought help — but no one took her seriously

Elizabeth Wettlaufer has blamed the anti-psychotic prescription medication she was taking for her motivation to kill, per CBC. She claimed she didn't realize what she had done until she stopped taking the meds (but that realization allegedly came once she was already in jail for murder). Wettlaufer also claimed that she chose to target people with dementia to avoid getting caught.

However, Wettlaufer didn't really try to hide her murders from everyone — in fact, she told friends and colleagues from 2007 on. She thinks most of them just didn't believe her. The Toronto Star reports that Wettlaufer even confessed to her pastor and his wife, hoping to be stopped from killing again. They prayed for her but told her if she murdered again, they would turn her in. She told her ex-girlfriend, who responded in almost the same way. She even sought help from Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous to address her addictions, but it didn't help her urge to kill.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

She felt euphoric after every murder

Global News reports that in 2015 and 2016, Elizabeth Wettlaufer attempted to kill two more patients, ages 77 and 68, but both survived the attacks. The latter attack, which was in August 2016, was Wettlaufer's last. The Washington Post reports that Wettlaufer's killing spree came to an end in 2016 — she finally decided to check into a mental health facility to get the help she needed.

As she explained her murders to a psychiatrist, she also penned a four-page confession. The hospital contacted the police to investigate the matter further. Before attacking her victims, Wettlaufer explained that she would feel a "red surge" of anger and would then attack or kill her patients (via CBC). Then she would feel euphoric. For her, every killing was an escape from a failed marriage and her humdrum day-to-day life (per The Washington Post). She had been through numerous struggles in her life that caused her unhappiness, from drug addiction to mental health issues to confusion over her sexuality.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

She's serving eight life sentences

CBC reports that in 2016, Elizabeth Wettlaufer finally had to give a confession to police: she had killed people in her capacity as a nurse. If she hadn't informed them, no one would have ever found out about her heinous crimes. Wettlaufer pled guilty to two counts of aggravated assault, four counts of attempted murder, and one count of first-degree murder, according to The U.S. Sun. CBC reports that today, Elizabeth Wettlaufer is serving eight consecutive life sentences in prison. She will be eligible for parole in 25 years, per The U.S. Sun.

In 2018, Wettlaufer once again voluntarily confessed to additional attacks on her patients during a police interview. But they denied bringing any additional charges against Wettlaufer, citing her ongoing life sentences. Still, The Washington Post reports that the medical community was shocked to learn that if Wettlaufer hadn't confessed to killing her patients, she might have continued to get away with murder. In the aftermath of her disclosures, a government-appointed commission recommended more than 90 steps that nursing homes could take to keep Canadian patients safer.