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Archive for Sunday, July 16, 2000

Trail of dead bodies catches up with doctor

July 16, 2000

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— At first glance, Dr. Michael Swango was everything a patient could want in a physician: confident and competent, with a good bedside manner.

Prosecutors took a longer look and saw something else: someone they believe fatally poisoned three patients at a Long Island veterans hospital and left a trail of dead bodies stretching from Ohio to Zimbabwe.

"Everything he did was designed to draw people in and make them trust him," said U.S. Atty. Loretta Lynch, who announced Swango's murder indictment.

Swango returns Monday to Long Island for his arraignment on the murder charges.

Authorities have charged Swango with three murders, but the best-selling book "Blind Eye: The Story of a Doctor who Got Away with Murder" suggested he may have killed as many as 35 patients on two continents.

"He's a charming, pathological liar," said Dr. Jordan Cohen, dean of the Long Island medical school that ran the facility where the alleged Swango slayings occurred.

Swango's lies continued right up until 1997, when he was arrested while boarding a plane for Saudi Arabia and another medical job, authorities said.

On Tuesday, the 45-year-old Swango -- just days from release at a Colorado prison on unrelated charges -- was accused of the 1993 murders of three patients at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Northport.

Swango allegedly injected the three with toxins.

"At first, he was a nice doctor," recalled Barron Harris Jr., whose father survived an alleged Swango attack on Long Island. "I remember shaking his hand -- he said he would do the best he could."

Swango graduated from Southern Illinois University Medical School in 1983. There, according to James Stewart's "Blind Eye," he was dubbed "Double-0 Swango" by classmates who joked that he had a license to kill after several of his cases ended in death.

While an intern at Ohio State University Hospital in 1984, Swango allegedly killed a 19-year-old gymnast with a fatal dose of potassium. Swango was never prosecuted for that death, or for another alleged poisoning of an OSU patient who survived.

Swango was not permitted to return for the second year of his residency. Instead he returned to his Quincy, Ill., home and took a job as an emergency medical technician. His stint ended with his conviction for lacing his co-workers' coffee and doughnuts with ant poison. Five of them became ill, and Swango served two years of a five-year prison sentence. He also lost his medical license.

His prison release coincided with various unsuccessful attempts to revive his career. He eventually landed a 1993 residency at the State University of New York at Stony Brook by lying on his job application. That lie resulted in a 42-month prison sentence in Colorado.

Three Long Island patients died between July and October 1993 while staying at the veterans' hospital run by the school.

Swango was dismissed by SUNY-Stony Brook after his past record became public knowledge, and he soon relocated to Zimbabwe.

Within a year of his arrival, patients in a hospital there were showing signs of poisoning, the indictment said. In July 1995, a Zimbabwe hospital suspended Swango from practice. He was finally arrested two years later at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, where he was boarding a flight to Saudi Arabia for a new medical job.

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