Unsolved Mysteries Wiki
Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Michael Swango

Real Name: Joseph Michael Swango
Aliases: The Doctor of Death, Michael Kirk, David Jackson Adams, Jack Kirk, Michael Swan
Wanted For: Questioning in Murders
Missing Since: January 1994


Details: In July 1983, Michael Swango, a recent medical school graduate of Southern Illinois University, went to Ohio State University Hospital, but his poor performance during the first six months there put him on probation, meaning that he might never receive a medical doctor certificate. On February 7, 1984, shortly after he was put on probation, a sixty-nine-year-old patient named Rena Cooper suffered a mysterious seizure just after Swango checked on her recovery after surgery. As she was stabilized, she wrote that he had put something into her I.V.. A used hypodermic needle was found in a nearby room that he was seen leaving. A nurse reported that he had a "funny grin" on his face as he left the room. Three different doctors confronted him, and each were told a different story of what happened by him. At one point, he even claimed that he was never in her room. However, Rena and her roommate claimed otherwise.
Although Rena survived, five other patients died mysteriously at the hospital during the spring. Swango tended to each of these patients shortly before their deaths. It was believed that he was responsible, but instead of calling the police, all the hospital officials did was monitor him closely for the last few months of his internship. Although the hospital decided to let him go, his coworkers noticed that he did not seem to be troubled about it or the allegations of murder. In fact, he brought several of them "extra-spicy chicken" as he called it. After eating it, several of the doctors became violently ill with their symptoms being similar to arsenic poisoning. Swango left the hospital in June of 1984 without being investigated; no charges were ever filed.
One month later in Illinois, Swango began working as a paramedic and on September 14, 1984, he brought donuts for the whole crew; forty-five minutes later, they became violently ill. When they wanted to test the donuts, they found that the box was empty. The following night, Swango and co-worker Brent Unmisig went to a football game. He bought Brent a soda; shortly afterwards, he became violently ill. These incidents made his co-workers suspicious; they were also suspicious because Swango was obsessed with accidents and death. He told Brent that his "ideal call" as a paramedic would be a busload of children hitting head-on with a tanker truck, igniting; as he would approach the scene, he would see charred bodies everywhere.
These strange incidents led Swango's co-workers to take action. One night, they faked a call and got him out of the building to check his locker. In his gym bag, they found two bottles of ant poison; one filled and one empty. They immediately contacted police. When police later searched his apartment, they found more bottles of poison along with books on it, recipes for making it, and several syringes; one was filled with ant poison. The evidence was overwhelming; Swango was arrested, tried, and convicted of six counts of aggravated battery and sentenced to five years in prison. However, he was released after just two years for good behavior.
Amazingly, after his release, Swango was still able to find work in the medical field. He went to medical vocational school in Newport News, Virginia, convincing employers that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. While there, three of his colleagues apparently fell ill. He later found work at the University of South Dakota Hospital where he was later dismissed due to his past. Finally, in August 1993, he resurfaced at Stony Brook University in New York and was assigned to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Long Island where he was under the alias of Michael Kirk. For reasons unknown, he was never checked with a central registry for medical residents; they had a file on him "an inch thick".
On September 29, 1993, Swango met Elsie and Barron Harris. Barron was a sixty-year-old Long Island cabinet maker who had a fever of 104 degrees and slight case of pneumonia. Elsie initially felt that Swango was professional and concerned about Barron. However, her feelings changed soon after. She claims that sometime during the night, Swango gave Barron a sedative. By the next morning, he had gone into a coma and was moved into intensive care. When Elsie questioned him, he said that "he hoped it wasn't anything we did" with a smirk on his face. The eventual publicity of the incident led Swango to flee, but before he vanished, he told Elsie that Barron would never come out of his coma. He was correct; Barron died on November 9, 1993.
Surprisingly, Swango has never been charged in connection with the mysterious deaths of his patients; he is wanted only for making false statements on a job application to a government hospital.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the November 3, 1995 episode. It was also profiled on America’s Most Wanted during his flight from justice and on Very Scary People after his arrest.

Swango after his arrest

Results: Captured. In June 1997, Swango was discovered working in a rural hospital in Zimbabwe, where he could not be touched. He had been working there since November 1994. However, he was apprehended in July at Chicago's O'Hare Airport when he returned to the USA to renew his work VISA. In January of 1998, he was charged with the murders of five patients in Zimbabwe. However, he first faced charges in the United States. He was convicted of making false statements and defrauding a government agency; he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.
In July 2000, he was charged with the murders of Thomas Sammarco, George Siano, and Aldo Serini, along with assault against Barron Harris. They had all been patients of the Long Island Veteran's Administration Hospital, where Swango had worked during the early 1990s. He was also later charged with the 1984 murder of nineteen-year-old Cynthia McGee, who had died at the Ohio State University Hospital. Investigators had exhumed their bodies and found poisonous chemicals in them. Swango's diaries were also used as evidence against him. In them, he talks about how he enjoys committing murder.
In October 2000, Swango pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and was given three life sentences. He also pleaded guilty to Cynthia's murder. In return for the plea deal, Zimbabwe agreed not to pursue charges. He is now imprisoned at Supermax ADX Florence, and is in 23-hour solitary confinement. However, investigators note that circumstantial evidence links him to at least thirty-five deaths; they fear that he may be responsible for over sixty poisoning deaths, including several deaths in Zimbabwe and the United States. One of those victims was twenty-two-year-old Anna Mae Popka, who died under his care in 1984. His mother sued him, claiming that he was responsible for her death. However, he was never criminally charged.