A serial killer nurse injected 20 patients a lethal dose of insulin in a killing spree between 2017 and 2018.
Reta Mays was a former Army National Guard who completed non-combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When Mays returned to civilian life, she worked as a correctional officer at a jail and a carer for adults with disabilities.
Then, in 2015, she was employed by the VA (Veteran's Health Administration) hospital as a nursing aide at the Louis A Johnson Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
As an assistant, Mays wasn’t allowed to administer medicine but she monitored patients’ vital signs and helped staff.
She worked the quiet night shift, 7.30pm to 8am, on Ward 3A. The fragile patients weren’t well enough to be discharged but weren’t ill enough for intensive care.
In June 2018, hospital staff noticed that since July 2017 there had been an unusually high number of deaths on Ward 3A caused by hypoglycaemia – severe low blood sugar.
Previously, the hospital had recorded just one death caused by low blood sugar in a four-year period.
A shocking realisation dawned. The hospital had an “Angel of Death” – a member of staff was killing elderly patients by giving them a fatal dose of insulin.
The hospital’s supply was stored in an unlocked refrigerator and left on trolleys in hallways, meaning anyone could access it.
The victims were aged 81 to 96 and had served in the army, navy and air force.
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Robert Edge Sr was the first fatality in July 2017.
Six more followed in the first six months of 2018. In spring 2018, there were four hypoglycaemic events in just three weeks.
The ward even ran out of glucose as nurses repeatedly tried to raise the blood levels of various patients – yet no alarm was raised.
After an investigation, it was revealed that at the time of every death, Mays was working an overnight shift on Ward 3A.
In the early hours there were no visitors, fewer staff and plenty of opportunity to act. The victims all experienced a sudden and drastic drop in blood sugar levels while in Mays’ care.
Staff members recalled that after a quick succession of patient deaths while she was on duty, they exchanged texts about the eerie coincidence – but nothing was done.
Other staff recalled that while they were trying to save one of the patients, Mays had said, “Something always happens when I’m in the room and I don’t know why.”
The bodies were exhumed and all had unexplained needle marks. Mays, who by then was no longer working at the hospital, was brought in for questioning by the police and denied everything.
She’d inject the fatal dose of insulin into intravenous saline drips, then sit by the bed, watching for it to kick in, knowing no one would be notified.
Sometimes Mays would even spike medication ready for another nurse to unwittingly administer.
Doctors would arrive in the morning to find the patients in crisis and Mays would linger as they tried to save them – listening in on chats with family members.
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There were 20 deaths relating to fatal low sugar levels, but Mays was only charged for the seven cases that authorities believed would ensure a conviction.
The hospital had repeatedly failed its patients. Insulin wasn’t properly tracked and there were no surveillance cameras on Ward 3A.
Staff didn’t do tests to discover why certain patients had severe sugar episodes – and didn’t file reports that might have raised alarms.
The hospital also failed to look into Mays’ past when they hired her. While working in the prison, she’d been named in a lawsuit after an inmate accused her of using excessive force.
In 2020, Mays pleaded guilty to seven counts of second-degree murder.
She admitted giving insulin to patients but said she believed her victims were suffering and she wanted them to die “gently”.
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In May this year, Mays faced sentencing. Her legal team highlighted a history of depression and mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder linked to her military service.
But the prosecution said Mays’ actions were “predatory and planned” and were certainly not a mission of compassion.
In court, a sobbing Mays made a statement, saying, “I know that there’s no words that I can say that would alter the families’ pain and comfort. I don’t ask for forgiveness because I don’t think I could forgive anyone for doing what I did.”
Relatives spoke in the court or through video links and shared stories of the victims. Robert Kozul “loved to dance, to sing and to play his harmonica”.
Norma Shaw, the widow of George Shaw, said they had been married for 59 years. “I don’t know why Reta did what she did… but she took my life away from me,” Norma said.
The family of Felix McDermott said he’d been preyed on while he was at his weakest. “For that you are a coward,” they told Mays.
The judge told Mays she had known exactly what she was doing when she turned medication into a weapon.
Mays, 46, was given seven consecutive life sentences – one for each veteran – and an additional 20 years for the assault charge. There is no chance of probation and she will die in prison.
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