Very Scary People (2019–…): Season 2, Episode 11 - Dr. Death Part 1: A License to Kill - full transcript

The two-part series finale tells the story of Dr Michael Swango - a high school valedictorian, distinguished Marine, and a cunning serial killer.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -

Sackman: Let's say you're so inclined

to commit a series of murders.

So what profession and what location might you choose?

You'd want to choose a location

where death is a common, everyday occurrence.

If somebody dies in a hospital, nobody raises an eyebrow.

You could take that curtain

and put that curtain around you and the patient,

and no one's gonna see what's going on there.




Welcome to "Very Scary People."

I'm Donnie Wahlberg.

Physicians take an oath to do no harm,

but Dr. Michael Swango did just the opposite.

From his early days in medical school

until the time he was captured,

Michael Swango preyed upon the most vulnerable ...

helpless patients and unsuspecting co-workers.

In his nearly 20-year career, he left a trail of death

across several states and two continents.

What could make a well-respected,

charismatic physician become

one of the most prolific medical serial killers in the country?

Here is part one of "Dr. Death: License to Kill."



Sharkey: Cindy McGee was a 19-year-old gymnast

from a suburb of Columbus,

and she was at the Champaign, Illinois, campus.

Montanari: I met Cindy when I was student-teaching in college.

She was one of my gymnasts.

She was a team leader.

A lot of energy.

A lot of fun.

Just a great all-around kid.

She had a full-ride scholarship to University of Illinois.

She was gonna do great things.

She'd gotten through her first year of college,

and her second year is when this happened.

She was riding her bike on campus...

[Tires screech]

...and a young man hit her with his car...

and pinned her between the curb and the wheel of the car.

And she had head injuries.

[Siren wailing]

O'Brien: She had been taken to medical facilities

around the University of Illinois.

Montanari: She was in a trauma unit.

It was very, very scary.

We went to visit her, and she was getting stronger.

Her body was healing.

Decision was made to bring her back for rehab at a facility

at Ohio State University hospital.

She gets here, and, I don't know,

within, what, a day or two, she was dead.

It was... Yeah, it was devastating.

And it was a complete mystery ... somebody who was that young,

who was recovering, for her to just die that fast.

Jordan: The last doctor to see Cindy McGee

was Dr. Michael Swango.


Unmisig: I started working as a paramedic

full-time when I was 18.

One of my first shifts

when I walk in to the paramedic quarters,

the director of the ambulance says,

"Here's your new partner, Dr. Michael Swango."

He's a doctor.

In my mind, I'm thinking,

"Why is this guy working as a paramedic for $10 an hour

when he could be working as a physician

for $100 an hour?"

I remember I asked him, and he said,

"Oh, I got burned out.

I had to take a leave of absence."

Unmisig: Technically, he was very sound.

I'm working side by side with him.

I'm watching in detail as to how quickly he can assess the injury

and how quickly he can manage the trauma.

Cullumber: He was a hard worker and very proficient

and he loved to work

and he loved to deal with medical crises.

We were friends. We all got along.

He fit in.

He was just a down-to-Earth kind of guy like the rest of us.

I was getting off shift that morning,

and Mike come in

and he set a box of doughnuts on the table.

Unmisig: I thought, "Well, this is a pretty good guy,

bringing in some doughnuts."

So I sat down at the table there.

I ate one of the doughnuts.

Probably 15, 20 minutes later, I am feeling sick.

Down the hall, there was a bathroom,

and I'm vomiting, vomiting, sweating,

and I can hear somebody else retching.

Out walks Alan Ingerson.

I said, "You're sick, too?" I said, "I'm sick, too."

Myers: The health department went to the doughnut shop

to see if there'd been any other complaints

or any other problems or anything, and there wasn't.

Unmisig: The doughnuts are gone.

There was really nothing they could test.

The health department came in and analyzed the tea

and the coffee and anything else

that may have been in the refrigerator.

Myers: And after their investigation, they determined

that it had to be something else that's causing the sickness.

Unmisig: The next night, we had a local football game here.

The state of Illinois requires an ambulance to be

on standby at football games.

I was on the ambulance.

Swango also signed up to be on that football game with me.

At halftime, he offers me a Coke.

He said, "I'm gonna run up get a Coke. Do you want one?"

I said, "Sure."

I'm drinking this soda,

and start of the third quarter, I'm like,

"Oh, my God, I feel like I'm gonna get sick again.

This is unbelievable."

And Mike Swango comes up to me, and he goes,

"What do you feel like?"

I said, "I feel like very similar to the previous day."

And he says, "Nausea, vomiting?"

He snickers a little bit, laughs a little bit.


Very, very odd.


I have tried my utmost to be the best person

and the best physician I can be, and that's all anyone can do.

Kreth: I've written to Michael Swango for over 10 years.

He is an extremely charming person.

This is how he sees a story about him.

Dr. Michael Swango graduated with a degree in chemistry

with high honors from Quincy College.

Valery: Michael Swango ... this is a guy

who was an award-winning chemist when he graduated.

Walker: I remember talking to his professor.

He was the guy that always had the answers.

Cook: One of the brightest students I ever had.

Now, I don't know if he was the most intelligent,

but he worked extremely hard at his studies.

Myers: He could read a book

and go through that book in no time

and close it, and you could open it up

and ask him any questions out of it,

and he could tell you exactly what he read.

And after college, he went into SIU to become a doctor.

He would come back to Quincy

and work as a paramedic part-time during the holidays

and then his vacations and time off.


My partner and I had just gotten to the hospital from a call.

Mike came in.

He was working one of the other rigs.

He said, "I'm going after sodas.

Would anyone want one?"

I said, "Sure."

And I seen Mike walking down the hallways

carrying a soda and he stopped and darted

and went into a bathroom.

Pretty soon he came in,

and he set the sodas on the table.

And he set mine down, and it was open.

And I looked at it, and I looked at him and I said,

"What, did you go in the bathroom

and pee in my soda?" jokingly.

And he says, "No, no, no, I wouldn't do that."

What he told me was that his stomach was upset,

so he drank a little bit to settle his stomach.

Okay, I believed him.

I poured it into a glass with ice,

drank probably three, maybe four big drinks of it.

Pretty soon, I was getting sick to my stomach.

So I ran into the restroom and I started vomiting

and I really thought I was gonna die.

I really did.

A lady friend of mine came in to check on me

and I looked up and I told her, I said,

"I think something's not right.

Go out and get the rest of my soda."

She came back in and she said,

"Well, Mike dumped it down the drain.

He thought you was sick and didn't want any more of it."


The next morning, my phone rang at home, and it was Mike.

He started questioning me.

"How did you feel? What did you feel like?

What did it make you do? How do you feel now?"

He wanted to know the symptoms and everything.

And I'm thinking, "This isn't right."

Meyer: The paramedics said,

"We think we got something really suspicious going on,

and we got to get to the bottom of this."

And they got together themselves

and started discussing and comparing notes.

Myers: I was telling the secretary,

who was the aunt of one of the other paramedics.

I was telling her about my soda,

and I'll never forget the expression on her face.

Her eyes looked at me, and her mouth dropped open.

She said, "The same thing happened to Brent,"

her nephew at the football game.

Mike went and purchased soda,

came back, Brent drank it, in 10 minutes,

he was behind the ambulance vomiting.

Unmisig: My aunt, she was putting two and two together.

She looks at me.

She says, "I think Mike's behind this.

Every time he's around, people are getting sick.

He's the only one that doesn't get sick.

Don't take anything from Mike."

And we thought, "No way."

It was hard to accept 'cause if you knew Mike,

you would've never guessed him to do something like this.

Cullumber: Michael Swango, he seemed to get along

with his co-workers just fine.

Now, they did admit that he had, really, an odd sense of humor

that would turn the stomach of most people.

He had this intense fascination with death and dying.

I recall one time where I'm on a call with him and he says,

"Brent, what's your favorite or ultimate ambulance call?"

He says, "Well, mine would be a busload of children

hitting head on with a tanker truck full of gasoline.

It'd blow up."

And as he's approaching the scene,

seeing the charred bodies hanging out of the buses,

the blast blowing kids up against barbed-wire fences.

So he's very graphic in detail

about this ultimate ambulance call.

You hear someone say things like that, you know he's not right.

Stewart: He was obsessed with violence and death

from as early as the second grade.

He started keeping scrapbooks of violent crimes,

accidents, homicides.

Unmisig: And these scrapbooks,

they had articles out of magazines.

And he was taking a highlighter,

and he would highlight the graphic details

about that individual's death or about that scene.

Scrapbooks of disasters.

The more gory, the better.

Neer: I think that this interest grew and, over time,

just became a part of who he was.

I want you to understand how demented

I think this gentleman was.

Man on television: Right now, I got eyeball on him.

Unmisig: Greg and I are working, and we're watching CNN.

They're getting ready to go in. We're watching them.

And it the mass shooting that occurred

in San Diego at the McDonald's.


22 people die that day.

Michael Swango just watches with a big smile on his face.

He goes, "Wouldn't that be great to see?

My God, you know, this is ... this is unbelievable.

I wish I was there to see it all."

Myers: And he got so excited

and ran over and turned the TV up.

We looked at him, "What's wrong with you?"

He wanted to see the death and destruction.

For him, violence and death was sexually arousing.

Stewart: As he got older,

he became ever more fixated on this,

working as an emergency medical technician,

so he'd be there at these scenes of these horrible incidents.

He just loved being an EMT, appearing on the scene.

The more cars involved in the crash,

the more bodies, the better.

Unmisig: There was another bizarre incident

where there was a call in the middle of the night.

They get a report of a car accident.

The ambulance races to the scene only to see that Swango

was on top of the vehicle.

He's not there to help them out.

He's just there to take pictures of these individuals

inside this car. Who thinks like that?

Saathoff: Death and destruction were fantasies for him

but fantasies that also became realities.


Cullumber: I was a newspaper reporter

and editor in Quincy, Illinois.

We had a call that some paramedics had been getting sick

while they were on the job,

and that's basically all we knew at the time.

You know, I thought, "Well, there's a flu going around

or something," and I kind of blew it off.

We're suspicious.

There's something weird going on.

Then Greg gets sick.

Then, from there, the story just kind of unraveled.

Jordan: Paramedics suspected that their colleague,

Dr. Michael Swango, could be responsible

for their mysterious illnesses, but apart from their suspicions

and his bizarre fascination with death,

there really was just no evidence

that this charismatic man could be responsible

or do them any harm.

Unmisig: He's a doctor. He's one that you trust.

Here he has the hands to heal and to help.

He is an engaging, personable, smart, articulate person.

Why would he do something like that? This is crazy.

Jordan: Michael Swango was born on October 21, 1954,

in an Army base in Tacoma, Washington.

His given name was actually Joseph Michael,

but he went by his middle name.

According to family members, in his mother's eyes,

Michael Swango could do no wrong.

He had a half-brother, an older brother, younger brother.

McCarthy: His family moved to Quincy, Illinois.

His dad was a military man.

Served a long time in Vietnam.

And then when he retired from the military,

he went back to Vietnam with the USAID.

Neer: His father was known to be a very strict

and authoritarian figure.

When they would have guests to the house,

the kids would be marched in formation

into the living room to meet the guest and then told,

"At ease, attention, at ease," and then, "Dismissed."

His mother, by all accounts, favored him.

He was the only child of the three

who was sent to a private school.

He's very bright.

He was valedictorian of his high-school class.

And he was considered pretty much the star of the family.

Saathoff: He really was quite an excellent musician.

When he first went to college in Millikin, it was in music.

Gifted with the clarinet. He got a music scholarship.

Wolfe: Mike was just kind of a normal guy.

He was pretty straight-laced, but he was easily agitated.

People would just kid him all the time.

And, of course, rooming with him,

I would hear about it.

And, boy, there would be times

where he would be absolutely lit.

He would pace the floor, you know, and I would tell him,

I said, "You know, you just got to let that go."

But Swango did not take slights very well at all

because everyone held him up as this example of perfection.

Saathoff: For someone who is super sensitive,

that feels humiliating,

and that caused him to do something dramatic.

Neer: He surprised everybody.

Left his music scholarship

and then joins the United States Marines.

In the Marines, he received an honorable discharge

after two years.

McCarthy: When he got out of the Marines,

he went to continue his education back in Quincy.

And at some point, he liked the idea of medicine.

He finished college and was accepted

to Southern Illinois University medical school.

Saathoff: In the first half of medical school,

he was pretty disciplined

in terms of having to do well enough on his tests and exams.

McCarthy: But he had several problems.

There was always somebody dying or coding when he was around.

[Monitor flatlines]

There were people who immediately pointed to him

as having engaged in highly suspicious behavior.

And the reason for it was he had the highest death rate

of any of the interns down there,

and they felt it was more than just coincidence.

When he was in medical school,

his fellow students referred to him

as "Double-O Swango ... license to kill."

Students petitioned the university not to graduate him.

And they wrote a letter to the Dean, and the Dean said,

"I think we should give this young man another chance."

The matter was settled when he was asked just to repeat

his last year of his education, which he did.

And then he got a really good offer of a residency

at Ohio State University.

Jordan: Dr. Swango spent a year

at the Ohio State University hospital

before returning to Quincy,

and there his fellow paramedics started getting really sick.

His colleagues believed that he was responsible

for their mysterious illness,

but they just didn't have any proof.

Meyer: The paramedics themselves started saying, "You know,

why is it that it seems like anytime you work with him,

you get sick, I work with him, I get sick?"

It was apparent to them that,

"Hey, this guy's doing something to us."

But, at that point in time, I think that there was

no indication that we're being poisoned.

We just wanted to find out what was going on.

These paramedics set up a fake ambulance run

so that they would have an opportunity

to go through Dr. Swango's possessions

that were in the paramedic headquarters without him there.

I'm working with Swango.

They sent us out on a fake call.

30-minute drive.

Enough time to go through his bag

and find out what he's using.

We want to catch him, and we're looking for anything possible

that we can use as evidence.

Myers: We found his bag, looked in it,

and there was all the bottles of Terro ant killer.

Terro ant poison, which contains arsenic.

Holstege: Arsenic is a poisoning of antiquity,

goes way back in time.

Potent toxin, reportedly tasteless,

doesn't take very much to poison people.

So very hard for us to be able to detect if we're eating it

and very easy for a poisoner to put on various foods.

People, when they eat it, usually talk about

having gastrointestinal problems initially ...

nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.

And if I was a physician seeing that patient,

I'd think he had a bad GI bug.

We looked it up on the poison index.


Every symptom that it said it had, I had.

Well, after that, I was convinced I had been poisoned.



Welcome back to "Very Scary People."

Dr. Michael Swango,

a former Marine and respected physician,

was considered a star in his hometown of Quincy, Illinois.

But in the fall of 1984, that all began to change

when his colleagues in the paramedics unit

became convinced that Dr. Swango

was putting potentially lethal doses of ant killer

in their food and drink.

The paramedics had noticed

that Mike had bottles of Terro ant poison

in his personal locker at work.

Terro ant poison contained traces of arsenic,

which was used back in the time.

They have since changed that compound to make it safer.

Unmisig: There was one bottle that was full

and one that's empty.

So at that point in time,

that's really our first indication of what he's using.

And we said, "We're not playing around here."

My aunt is working at the hospital.

And she's friends with the director of lab.

And she says, "If I bring you something,

will you examine it for arsenic?"

Myers: It was on a Friday.

My partner and I were working the ambulance.

We had just made a pitcher of tea

with no sweetener in it or sugar or anything.

And we got a call.

When we came back from the call,

my partner picked his glass of tea up

and he took a little sip of it and he sat down.

He goes, "Oh, this tastes terrible. This is sweet."

Greg tasted it, and sure enough, it was sweetened.

Boy, just like that, I felt that stomach starting again.

So we knew we had something in the drink.

Meyer: Terro ant poison ... it's sweet, sugary,

and it attracts the ants

and it's got arsenic in it and that's what kills them.

Unmisig: He contacted my aunt, and then she gave it to the lab,

where the lab analyzed the tea...

And it came back with the arsenic.

Unmisig: ...and found twice the lethal dose to kill somebody.

This is real.

And we thought, "What do we do now?"

We had a candidate running for President coming to Quincy.

Reporter: As the sun peeked over the horizon in Quincy, Illinois,

Walter Mondale was already on the move

to whistle-stop through Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa.

Myers: Mike wanted to volunteer to work the ambulance

to follow the guy around, and we thought, "No way."

We're not sure what he's capable of.

Myers: So we went to the administrator

and started talking to him and telling him all about it.

That's when the police were called.

Detective Meyer then came in and started taking our reports.

Meyer: They start laying out all these facts

and all these things.

My head was just swimming before the day was over

because I'm thinking,

"What on Earth am I getting into here?"

Cullumber: For the life of them, they couldn't figure out

why he would do what he did.

Myers: My theory was he wanted us sick

so he could work our shift 'cause he filled in a lot.

But I don't think that today.

Unmisig: I think that we were guinea pigs.

He's right there.

So he knows how much he's given me.

He's seeing the effects, how long it's taking.

He's asking me questions.

I think he's using this as calculation.

Neer: Poisoning is very passive-aggressive.

You have an interaction with the victim,

and you get to actually watch them and delight

in the discomfort that they're experiencing.

Cashman: I think he was just using them

kind of as a lab experiment

to see how much arsenic it took to kill somebody.

Myers: But we have circumstantial evidence.

We don't have anyone seeing him put the poison in the drinks

or the doughnuts or anything.

I thought, "How am I gonna be able to prove all this?"

Holstege: We have a window of opportunity

to detect these toxins.

So we'll start looking for hair, nails,

other places where it might embed for a longer time.

Meyer: We had to take hair samples from all of them

because arsenic tends to show up in your hair.

The state crime lab came back

and said that there was abnormal amounts of arsenic

in some of the paramedics' hair.

Brent Unmisig, in particular, got dosed twice.

Brent Unmisig will tell you that he was close to death.

Unmisig: What would have happened

if I would've drank all that?

'Cause I only drank half of it, and I'm in bed for three days.

Would they have been able to link the evidence to my death

if, in fact, I died?

We documented everything we had.

We sent it over to the state's attorney's office,

and then we went from there to the arrest situation.

Jordan: The paramedics and the police set up a trap

to get Dr. Michael Swango to show up at a location

where he could be arrested without incident.

They enlisted the help of the county coroner,

Wayne Johnson, to help bring him in.

Myers: Mike was dying to become a deputy coroner.

He wanted to be in the coroner's office,

and how they ended up getting him to come in was,

after they got the warrants,

he called him up and told him that,

"Yeah, I've decided you can become a deputy coroner,

but I need you to come into the county jail

to take your picture for your I.D."

And when he walked in to get his picture,

that's when he was arrested.

Meyer: We wanted to search his apartment.

So we requested a search warrant.

And then we made a beeline for where Mike lived.

The landlord let us in,

and we were absolutely astonished.

This guy had a chemistry lab in his kitchen.

Unmisig: They found poisons.

All different kinds of poisons.

Meyer: He had strychnine,

all kinds of poisons for killing rats and mice.

15, 20 bottles of Terro ant poison.

We're taking these pictures and we're going around,

saying, "Do you see any ant infestations?"

"No. No."

And we searched his whole apartment ... no ants.

Unmisig: And they found recipe cards on how to make poison.

You know, like the cyanide bomb, ricin, botulism.

3x5 cards, just like somebody would have in their kitchen

in a box of recipes.

He had a book that had a chapter

on how to poison the water system of a municipality.

Meyer: And all the pieces started coming together

like a giant puzzle.

And now I knew in my mind, as an investigator,

"We got him now. We got him."

But he often was smarter than everybody else in the room,

and he did get away with many years of horrible stuff.


Jordan: Michael Swango was facing seven charges

of aggravated battery

for the alleged poisoning of his co-workers.

He made bail and was out in the community,

which made many people very uneasy.

Unmisig: We're standing outside of the hospital.

We turn around. Here comes Swango.

I'm like, "Oh, my God."

He just kind of looks at us, each of us,

and kind of just gives that stare.

You don't know what he was thinking.

Meyer: So we were trying to run

a loose surveillance on this guy,

but he is nonstop 24/7.

He is all over the place.

Cashman: He was not to leave Illinois.

In fact, I ordered him not to leave the city of Quincy.

But he was violating his bail bond by sneaking over to Ohio

to practice medicine in emergency rooms

while his case was pending.

This whole time when he's out on bond,

we're just like needles and pins,

where's he gonna show up next and what is he gonna do next?

Leeper: We had kept a close track of him,

seeing whether he'd be a threat to the judge

or witnesses or the prosecution team.

Unmisig: Judge Cashman, he knew that Michael Swango

was a very dangerous individual.

He didn't trust him.

So there were ice machines around the courthouse,

and so he ordered all the ice machines to be locked

because he feared this guy is laying down poison.

It was just too easily accessible.

I found Swango to not be nearly the endearing, wonderful guy

that he was thought to be by so many people.

Gruber: We need to find out more about him.

There had to be some things going on in his past.

You don't just get to this point

where you start to try to kill people

without having done something to lead up to it.

So, you know, I wanted to go into the past

and see where he lived, where did he go to school,

how long he worked, how long he was an intern,

and then find out if anybody got sick on his watch.

Did any patients die?

Jordan: The Quincy police called the campus police

at the Ohio State University,

where he had done his internship,

and they wanted to find out more about his background.

And what they learned was shocking.

It started out simply as

an almost routine background investigation

as a courtesy to the police in Quincy, Illinois.

They had asked, "Do you guys know about this guy?

What can you find out?"

And it started out that simple,

and it got more complicated after that.

Bullock: He was assigned to the emergency department.

He was a very cheerful, affable, eager guy

who seemed to always be in a good mood.

And I was surprised to hear that he wasn't going to be continuing

his residency, that they let him go.

That was a little bit hard to understand

because he seemed to be such a helpful guy.

Why did they let him go?

Harp: We interviewed every nurse at OSU hospital.

I said, "Tell me what you know about Michael Swango."

So we started getting tidbits of, "Well, you know,

he came out of this patient's room,

he ran in, he ran back out, the patient was dead."

There were at least four suspicious deaths

occurring on the floors where Dr. Swango was working.

Gardner: They were of all ages and circumstances,

but the one thing they had in common

was that Swango was near them as a doctor at some point.

He wasn't even their doctor.

He was just near them in the ward.

Such as the case of Cindy McGee.

Sharkey: Cindy McGee was on her bicycle...

[Tires screech]

...and a young man hit her with his car.

When they got her stabilized,

they airlifted her to Ohio State.

She's actually improving until she gets a visit

from Michael Swango.

Then she dies unexpectedly.

O'Brien: She had a high fever, and I think that was the reason

Dr. Swango was tasked with taking a blood draw.

And that was to see if she had an infection of some sort.

Seconds later, he went out, and she had turned blue and died.


O'Brien: The cause of death at the time

was deemed to be due to pneumonia.

But we didn't know how it had happened

until a little later on.

O'Brien: There may have been some warning signs

had someone thought it unusual

that he was exiting the room with this syringe

and shortly after that, she coded and died,

but they really didn't add up those things at the time.

Nobody had bothered to report it to the OSU police department.

Jordan: The hospital conducted an internal investigation

into the death of Cindy McGee

and six other suspicious incidents,

but they said that there was no concrete evidence

that Dr. Michael Swango was responsible.

I think that really could've been

the stopping point for Swango.

He may have never been able to practice medicine again.

I think that they just said,

"We've got to get him out of here."

O'Brien: After the questions arose from the Illinois police,

they opened a criminal investigation here

with the OSU police department.

I was pretty shocked that this had been going on

and no one knew anything

until the day we got the call from Quincy.

That was our first knowledge of anything.

People are starting to question everything that Michael Swango

has done now in Ohio State University.

We were getting people who say, "Yes, I saw him in the room.

I've always had a strange feeling about this guy.

He shows up at places that he's not the assigned doctor

and he's not on the floor,"

but you can never get anyone to say

they actually saw him inject something.

The nurses are all afraid to be around him.

They sense something is wrong with this man.

But is that enough to convict? No.


Jordan: Police in Columbus, Ohio,

were investigating the suspicious deaths

that had occurred at the Ohio State University hospital

where Dr. Michael Swango had been an intern.

At the same time, Dr. Michael Swango was on trial

for poisoning his paramedic colleagues in Quincy, Illinois.

From the very beginning, it was controversial

because Mike Swango had a lot of friends

that he went to school with

who were convinced that he was being railroaded.

We had a lot of people thinking we were setting Mike up

and that we were doing this to Mike

because we didn't like him.

When it came out, we went through

the files at the newspaper,

and, you know, there was nothing that was not glowing about him.

Jordan: His likability within the community

was without question,

but then Dr. Michael Swango opted for a bench trial

where only the judge would hear the evidence

and make a decision,

and that move baffled many in the courtroom.

It was a bench trial,

so Judge Cashman was the judge and the jury.

Cashman: I was a little curious, frankly,

why he waived his right to jury trial.

If he had had his case heard in front of a jury,

I think he would've had a chance

of convincing one or more of the jurors that,

how could a doctor do something like this?

I think he thought that he was so brilliant

he could convince the judge of his innocence.

He wanted to go one-on-one and enjoy that experience.


Cullumber: What made this case really interesting

was that there were no eyewitnesses.

It was all circumstantial.

Leeper: Nobody saw him

putting arsenic in doughnuts and iced tea.

It was not a cut-and-dried case by any means.

Meyer: We wanted to find out

where he bought these Terro ant poison,

so we set up a photographic lineup,

took it to Keller's, which was a farm store

just right down from the Quincy police department.

Well, they immediately picked him out, says,

"This guy's in here all the time buying all the ant poison."

But that in and of itself is nothing illegal, right?

Cashman: Swango, I think, also liked the idea

of leaving a trail of evidence,

thinking that it would be more exciting for him

if he would beat it.

Cashman: He wore his uniform and drove an ambulance

to the store where he bought the ant poison,

and the clerk had a clear memory of him

because he bought basically all the ant poison

they had in the store,

which is enough to kill ants all over town.

There weren't any ants in his apartment, remember?

But now he's got this problem that he's got to account for

why he's got all his Terro ant poison.

He calls me up and he says,

"I need you to come and witness something."

He says, "I've got this horrible

ant infestation problem in my house."

They weren't there when they did the initial search warrant.

And so our local exterminator goes to his apartment,

goes in there, collects some of these ants

that are now running all over his place,

and later his testimony comes out in the actual trial.

Cullumber: Yes, these were ants,

but these were ants that were native to Florida.

And Swango had just been to Florida.

Cashman: He brought ants from Florida

when he had gone to Florida

to see his mother during Christmas,

but you just don't find those ants in the North,

and they're not indigenous to Illinois.

Meyer: Now he's trying to plant false evidence.

So now I'm feeling even better about the case.

Michael didn't really put on any defense.

But he put on a strong verbal defense.

Meyer: He was gonna explain the reason

why he had all this poison

was he always had an interest in toxicology.

Unmisig: In the court, he said, "I'm a physician. I'm a chemist.

I need to know the antidotes to these."

You know, on the surface, it sounds kind of realistic.

Meyer: "I just simply could not have done these things."

That's one of his arguments in the trial.

I remember that. He was saying,

"I just simply could not have done these things."

And I'm thinking, "No, you did not simply do these things.

They were very complicated,

very well-thought-out things you did."

I think he was just experimenting on people.

They were his little toys to tinker and toy with.

He thought he was superior, he had a superior intellect.

He just thought we would never convict him.


Reporter #2: In 1985, a Quincy, Illinois, judge found Dr. Swango

guilty of poisoning six co-workers there

at a paramedics' station.

The judge in the case called Dr. Michael Swango,

"a danger to society,"

and said he clearly performed evil deeds.

Cashman: I found him guilty.

He was a doctor, and he kept telling me

how he would never violate his Hippocratic oath.

Well, he violated it in the worst way.

I was happy with the verdict. Yes, I was.


Now we have an opportunity to put this man away.

At the sentencing hearing, he asked for probation,

and I can remember him looking at the judge

and telling him how he would never get in trouble again

and that he could be a productive member of society.

But I think Judge Cashman let him know

that he didn't believe him.

Cashman: He got sentenced to the maximum

that the law allowed for that offense,

and that was five years on all counts.

Cullumber: When Judge Cashman sent him to prison,

we were all kind of surprised by the severity of the sentence

because I'd sat through many cases

where a person convicted

of aggravated battery just got probation.

And now, in retrospect, we understand why.

I was convinced that he was a serial killer,

and somebody needed to do something.

Cullumber: When he was sent to prison,

we thought the book was closed on it.

But after serving two years, Dr. Michael Swango is released.

Now, I didn't think that you could spend time in jail

for poisoning people and come out and be a physician,

but, boy, I was wrong, because that's exactly what he did.

Reporter #3: It is a chilling violation of trust.

As a doctor, Swango had easy access

to both poison and patients.

Look at this guy. Keep your eyes open.

Don't turn your back on him.

I think as long as he was in a medical facility,

he was gonna kill people.

Neer: Swango injected something into her I.V. bag,

and she felt this intense pain through her body

and she could barely move.

My father's death was not natural causes.

He was telling us that there was a doctor

that went by his room every single night

pointing at him, saying, "You're next."

Nitkewicz: This wasn't some mercy killing.

He took joy in not just killing these folks

but in telling their families that they died.

This was a person who was dangerous.

He skirted right under the law.

It just kept getting worse and worse and worse and worse.

Cooper: At the very least, he seems to be a sick man.

At the very most, he's the epitome of evil.


Dr. Michael Swango was convicted of poisoning his co-workers

and sentenced to five years' prison in Illinois.

He continues to proclaim his innocence.

Story could've ended there,

but it would be just the beginning.

The twisted tale of Michael Swango,

a doctor turned serial killer

continues on part two of "Dr. Death."

Thanks for watching.

I'm Donnie Wahlberg. Good night.