Stephan Letter (1 Viewer)

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Stephan Letter




Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Nurse - "Angel of Death"
Number of victims: 28 +
Date of murders: 2003 - 2004
Date of arrest: July 2004
Date of birth: September 17, 1978
Victims profile: Men and women (patients aged between 40 and 94)
Method of murder: Poisoning (by injecting a cocktail of drugs)
Location: Sonthofen, Bavaria, Germany
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on November 20, 2006


Stephan Letter is a German serial killer known to be responsible for the killings of at least 29 elderly patients while he was working at a hospital as a nurse in Sonthofen, Bavaria. In December 2006, Stephan Letter was found guilty for 29 murders and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Germany's Angel of Death sentenced to life in prison

November 20, 2006

The broad shoulders of male nurse Stephan Letter, Germany’s Angel of Death, quivered today as he was sentenced to life imprisonment for killing 28 patients, making him the country’s worst serial killer since the war.

It marked the end of a nine-month trial that has stunned the sleepy mountain community of Sonthofen which was pronounced "The Alpine Town of 2005".

Choking back tears the milky-faced 28-year-old turned first to his lawyer - who had presented him as a mercy killer tormented by the suffering of others - and then to the public gallery where relatives of the dead had come to see justice done. He seemed to mouth four short words in their direction: "Es Tut Mir Leid" - I’m sorry.

Judge Harry Rechner, found Mr Letter guilty of murder in 12 cases, manslaughter in 15 and killing on demand in another as well as attempted manslaughter and causing grievous bodily harm.

In a highly unusual decision for Germany, he ruled that no upper limit should be placed on the life sentence, ensuring that Mr Letter could not be released after 15 years for good behaviour.

When doctors first suspected that Mr Letter had been fatally injecting patients with a cocktail of tranquilisers and muscle relaxants in 2004, a massive process of exhumation began. Bewildered tourists would pass forensic scientists in white hooded overalls on their way to dig up corpses: over 40 bodies were examined, all patients who had died during Mr Letter’s shifts.

Waltraud Schoenberger, a 55-year-old mother of two was one of those who welcomed the sentence. Her 79-year-old mother Beata Giehl was taken to the Sonthofen Clinic on April 30, 2003 with a suspected heart attack. By late afternoon however Mrs Giehl was chatting cheerfully with her daughters. By 10 o’clock that evening she was dead.

"I hope that this murderer stays in prison to the very end of his life," said Mrs Schoenberger. "Sure, he had a difficult childhood but it can’t be that everyone like that becomes a killer."

Cases such as that of Mrs Giehl were crucial to the final sentencing. They exposed the weakness of Mr Letter’s mercy-killing defence. Many of the patients that he fatally injected on his night shift were recent admissions and even the doctors had not had a chance to make a definitive diagnosis.

Mr Letter had claimed he was relieving excruciating pain or responding to pleas for a quick death. Yet trial testimony showed again and again that this was not plausible. His last victim, a 73-year-old Spanish woman, Pilar Del Rio Peinador, had been admitted to hospital with breathing problems but was already well enough to be planning a holiday in her homeland when she was fatally injected in July 2004.

Defence lawyer Juergen Fischer had presented Mr Letter as a complex, disturbed man. Mr Letter’s coordination had been poor as a child and his plainly disturbed mother had become convinced that he was mentally handicapped: over a period of several years she took him from one doctor to another.

His first ambition was to be a casualty doctor but mediocre school marks meant that he had to settle for nursing. At one hospital he fell in love with a female nurse who was suffering from a borderline personality disorder. Mr Fischer who had ordered a psychological examination of the young woman - to show how a crime could evolve from a relationship between two psychologically damaged people - said he was disappointed that the judge had not taken into account all the mitigating circumstances. His client is considering an appeal.

Nurse Gets Life for Murdering 28 Patients in Germany

Monday, November 20, 2006

KEMPTEN, Germany — A nurse was convicted Monday of killing 28 of his patients at a hospital in southern Germany and sentenced to life in prison.

Stephan Letter was found guilty of 12 counts of murder, 15 of manslaughter and one mercy killing.

According to evidence presented at his nine-month trial, Letter, 28, killed his victims by injecting a cocktail of drugs.

Letter testified at the start of his trial in February that he had killed patients, but could not remember how many.

The deaths at the hospital in Sonthofen began in February 2003, less than a month after the nurse started working there. The last suspicious death occurred in July 2004, just before his arrest.

The patients were aged between 40 and 94, though most were older than 75. They included two gravely ill women, aged 40 and 47, but not all were seriously sick, authorities have said.

Police tracked down the nurse as they investigated reports that drugs were missing and compared the times when patients died with the hours he worked. Investigators said they found unsealed vials of the medicines at his apartment.

Germany's Angel of Death sentenced to life in prison

November 20, 2006

The broad shoulders of male nurse Stephan Letter, Germany’s Angel of Death, quivered today as he was sentenced to life imprisonment for killing 28 patients, making him the country’s worst serial killer since the war.

It marked the end of a nine-month trial that has stunned the sleepy mountain community of Sonthofen which was pronounced "The Alpine Town of 2005".

Choking back tears the milky-faced 28-year-old turned first to his lawyer - who had presented him as a mercy killer tormented by the suffering of others - and then to the public gallery where relatives of the dead had come to see justice done. He seemed to mouth four short words in their direction: "Es Tut Mir Leid" - I’m sorry.

Judge Harry Rechner, found Mr Letter guilty of murder in 12 cases, manslaughter in 15 and killing on demand in another as well as attempted manslaughter and causing grievous bodily harm.

In a highly unusual decision for Germany, he ruled that no upper limit should be placed on the life sentence, ensuring that Mr Letter could not be released after 15 years for good behaviour.

When doctors first suspected that Mr Letter had been fatally injecting patients with a cocktail of tranquilisers and muscle relaxants in 2004, a massive process of exhumation began. Bewildered tourists would pass forensic scientists in white hooded overalls on their way to dig up corpses: over 40 bodies were examined, all patients who had died during Mr Letter’s shifts.

Waltraud Schoenberger, a 55-year-old mother of two was one of those who welcomed the sentence. Her 79-year-old mother Beata Giehl was taken to the Sonthofen Clinic on April 30, 2003 with a suspected heart attack. By late afternoon however Mrs Giehl was chatting cheerfully with her daughters. By 10 o’clock that evening she was dead.

"I hope that this murderer stays in prison to the very end of his life," said Mrs Schoenberger. "Sure, he had a difficult childhood but it can’t be that everyone like that becomes a killer."

Cases such as that of Mrs Giehl were crucial to the final sentencing. They exposed the weakness of Mr Letter’s mercy-killing defence. Many of the patients that he fatally injected on his night shift were recent admissions and even the doctors had not had a chance to make a definitive diagnosis.

Mr Letter had claimed he was relieving excruciating pain or responding to pleas for a quick death. Yet trial testimony showed again and again that this was not plausible. His last victim, a 73-year-old Spanish woman, Pilar Del Rio Peinador, had been admitted to hospital with breathing problems but was already well enough to be planning a holiday in her homeland when she was fatally injected in July 2004.

Defence lawyer Juergen Fischer had presented Mr Letter as a complex, disturbed man. Mr Letter’s coordination had been poor as a child and his plainly disturbed mother had become convinced that he was mentally handicapped: over a period of several years she took him from one doctor to another.

His first ambition was to be a casualty doctor but mediocre school marks meant that he had to settle for nursing. At one hospital he fell in love with a female nurse who was suffering from a borderline personality disorder. Mr Fischer who had ordered a psychological examination of the young woman - to show how a crime could evolve from a relationship between two psychologically damaged people - said he was disappointed that the judge had not taken into account all the mitigating circumstances. His client is considering an appeal.

German male nurse admits killings

Tuesday, 7 February 2006

A male nurse on trial over the deaths of 29 patients in Germany has admitted killing some people in his care.

Stephan Letter, 27, told the court in Bavaria that his actions "cannot be justified under any circumstances" but said he had acted out of compassion.

He asked the court to convert the 16 murder counts he faces to manslaughter, which carries a lesser penalty.

He also faces 12 manslaughter counts, one of killing on demand and two of attempted manslaughter.

Mr Letter said the killings were designed to spare people suffering.

The nurse was arrested in July 2004 following a police inquiry into missing medication at the clinic in Sonthofen, where he worked.

Confession retracted

Mr Letter told police at the time of his arrest that he had killed 12 patients by lethal injection, but that he could not remember other cases.

On Tuesday, he retracted the statements and refused to say how many deaths he accepted responsibility for.

"I confessed to killings which I did not commit," he told the court.

He did, however, admit that he "took the rest of [the patients'] lives away without being asked, and took away what human dignity they had left".

Investigators found unsealed vials at his home containing enough medicine to kill 10 people, prosecutors told the Bavarian state court in Kempten.

Following Mr Letter's arrest, police exhumed and ordered post-mortem examinations on the bodies of 42 people who had died at the clinic in the 17 months he was employed there.

He was then charged in connection with the deaths of 17 female and 12 male patients aged from 40 to 94.

Most of Mr Letter's alleged victims were more than 75 years old, and their deaths raised no suspicions at the time, the court heard.

Lawyer Wilhelm Seitz, acting for the families of 11 of the dead, said: "He acted relatively indiscriminately and aimlessly.

"Not all of the patients were seriously ill, and he had no contact at all with some of them."

Families outraged as 'serial killer' faces manslaughter charges

November 21, 2004

A decision by German authorities to bring only manslaughter charges against a nurse suspected of being the country's worst serial killer since the Second World War has infuriated his victims' families, who want him tried for murder.

Stephen Letter, 25, has admitted killing at least 16 elderly patients at the clinic in the Bavarian town of Sonthofen where he worked, using a lethal cocktail of drugs. He is suspected of involvement in the deaths of another 26 people whose bodies have been exhumed for investigation.

Bavarian state prosecutors appear to have accepted his claim that he was seeking to "liberate their souls" during his 17-month killing spree and have ruled that he should be tried for manslaughter because he had no "malice aforethought".

They say there is insufficient evidence of evil intent to warrant his trial for murder.

Their decision will open a fierce debate over "mercy killing", a policy adopted widely under the Nazis for the elderly, sick and mentally handicapped. It led to the deaths of thousands of people in hospitals and other institutions.

The chief police investigator, Wolfgang Huber, said: "Many people are surprised that Letter has not been charged with murder..." Letter's lawyer, Wilhelm van Eckert, said: "He wanted to liberate their souls. For him, his patients were trapped in their sick bodies."

Petra Reindl, 48, whose 79-year-old mother Gertrud died suddenly in February last year, said: "Letter should be charged with murder, not manslaughter. He was trying to play God by deciding whether patients should live or die."

The nurse was arrested in July after a hospital investigation into the disappearance of narcotic drugs.

Staff compared the clinic's duty rota with the dates on which the drugs were removed and concluded that Letter was the culprit.

When he was confronted he admitted that he had used the drugs to kill at least 16 patients. He told police: "There may be more." One member of staff said: "It was incomprehensible for all of us. He killed right before our eyes."

As pathologists finished disinterring the bodies of 42 other Sonthofen patients, it appeared that Letter's claim was correct.

Post mortem examinations found that most of the corpses bore traces of muscle relaxants and the killer drug, Lysthenon, which he had given his other victims.

"We have the strongest suspicions that all 42 of the disinterred were killed by the accused," a police spokesman said.

Police are unable to check the causes of death of 38 other patients who were at the hospital during the same period, because their bodies were cremated.

Mrs Reindl's mother was admitted suffering from gallstones. The next day she telephoned her son in distress and said: "They want to kill me! I want to get out of here".No one took her fears seriously and the next day she was dead. Doctors attributed her death to intestinal complications but police investigations now suggest that she was a victim of Letter.

One 90-year-old woman who was admitted with bronchitis appears to have escaped death only because she pleaded with relatives to stay at her bedside.

Relatives of Letter's victims will be legally represented at his trial, which is expected early next year, and will press for the charges to be raised to murder.

They are also demanding an investigation of the German hospital system, claiming that sloppy ward practices and exhausted staff made the patients easy prey.

Mr van Eckert said his client's motives were still unclear but Letter had shown an interest in "saving lives" since leaving school. He worked for the Red Cross and attended a nursing college in Ludwigsburg before taking up a post at Sonthofen.

"One of his earlier jobs was to drive elderly patients from their homes to a clinic for treatment," he said.

"Many of them were covered in sores and dirty. Although their condition improved while they were in the clinic, they would came back again in the same condition. He found that all very upsetting."

Germany reels over hospital serial killer

October 18, 2004

Sonthofen, Germany, (UPI) -- Exhumation orders have been issued for 42 bodies in Sonthofen, Germany, where a hospital orderly has admitted to giving lethal injections to 16 patients.

Stephan Letter, 25, has admitted administering a cocktail of killer drugs to the patients, but has told police "there may be more," the Times of London reported Monday.

All the patients died while Letter worked the night shift at the Sonthofen Clinic between January 2003 and the day he was arrested in July.

Letter told investigators he injected elderly patients to relieve suffering but the prosecutor is pressing murder charges. The police priority is to establish how close the patients were to dying before Letter came to their bedsides. Some were apparently on the way to recovery or had insignificant ailments at the time of death, the newspaper said.

He told police that he would sometimes hear doctors discussing a patient and determine the patient was unlikely to survive the night.

His trial is expected to begin sometime next year.

Night shift killer gave fatal dose to at least 16 patients

October 18, 2004

THE townsfolk of sleepy Sonthofen avert their heads when they see the unmarked grey van outside the cemetery. Something sinister has entered their lives.

The community, designated to be Alpine Town of 2005, has become the scene of what appears to be Germany’s worst serial killings since the war.

Six men in white hooded overalls, face masks already drawn over their mouths, begin their work: the exhumation of corpses to establish exactly how many patients were fatally injected by a hospital orderly, a man praised for his gentleness and ready smile.

Stephan Letter, 25, has admitted administering a cocktail of killer drugs to at least 16 patients. “There may be more,” he told police.

Exhumation orders have now been issued for 42 bodies. This idyllic mountainside community is being ripped apart.

All the patients died while Herr Letter worked the night shift at the Sonthofen Clinic between January 2003 and the day of his arrest last July.

Herr Letter told the police that he acted to relieve suffering but the prosecutor is pressing murder charges. The exhumed patients should yield more clues: those bearing injection marks and traces of drugs will have their medical records examined again. To determine if they were really close to death or in great pain, as Herr Letter has claimed.

Germans are already fretting about the long-term effects of health service cuts on the quality of medical treatment. The trial of Herr Letter — likely to start in the new year — will prompt the question: how safe are old people in hospital? “The cemeteries have become uneasy places,” said Petra Reindl, 48, in a quavering voice. Her mother was one of the victims. “Every day someone else is being dug up and family wounds are being reopened”. Some relatives tried to stop the exhumations but the Kempten state prosecutor is determined to go ahead.

“Families have a right to know if the patient died a natural death or if they were deliberately killed,” said mayor, Hubert Buhl.

Herr Letter told his interrogators that he wanted to relieve the suffering of the patients but he is held on murder rather than manslaughter charges.

The police priority is to establish how close the patients were to dying before Herr Letter came to their bedside in the night. Some were apparently on the way to recovery or had insignificant ailments at the time of their death.

“Almost every country has had its ‘Angel of Death’ cases,” said a senior German policeman. “In almost all cases the assailant said he or she wanted to relieve pain and free people from suffering, yet behind these tragedies there is often a more complicated story.”

So far 100 witnesses have been questioned. The exhumation of the 25th body was completed at the weekend. “Why, mother, why?” reads the inscription of a card attached to flowers at a freshly turned grave.

Frau Reindl is convinced that the 16 or more deaths in the community should raise questions about the way hospitals are run. This is more, she said, than an isolated incident involving a disturbed killer. Herr Letter was arrested on July 10 yet it was known for months beforehand that large quantities of tranquilliser and muscle relaxant were disappearing from the surgical cabinets.

Andreas Ruland, the director of the clinic, emphasised that “the missing medicines did not come under the dangerous drugs law and they have to be freely available for medical personnel in case of emergency”.

Frau Reindl said: “Everyone has been working under stress there. People barely had time to exchange a few words between shifts.” In the town pubs, pensioners are still telling stories of how they too could have died. One 72-year-old farmer was released six weeks after Herr Letter began work in the clinic. “I had pneumonia,” he said over a beer. “If I’d got it six months later someone might have finished me off at night.”

Trust in the medical system has been seriously eroded. Herr Letter, described as shy but not reclusive, remains a mystery to the community. He told police that he would sometimes hear doctors discussing a patient and work out that the patient was unlikely to survive the night. Herr Letter would then act. The muscle relaxant mixed with tranquilliser stopped the patient breathing. On his second inspection he would then alert the doctors to the dead patient. Often, on the next day, he would comfort the family.




Stephan Letter, a nurse convicted of killing 28 of his patients at a hospital in southern Germany
and sentenced to life in prison.




Stephan Letter



Stephan Letter



Stephan Letter was found guilty of 12 counts of murder, 15 of manslaughter and one mercy killing.



Stephan Letter



Stephan Letter waits to hear the verdict at the state court in Kempten, southern Germany, Monday, Nov. 20, 2006. The former nurse was convicted Monday of killing 28 of his patients at a hospital in southern Germany and sentenced to life in prison. The 28-year-old was found guilty of twelve counts of murder, 15 of manslaughter and one mercy killing in what has been described as Germany's biggest series of killings since World War II.



Stephan Letter



Stephan Letter



Sonthofen Hospital
 

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