Elizabeth Wettlaufer Case
Elizabeth Wettlaufer is a former nurse who murdered eight elderly patients and attempted to harm six others in southwestern Ontario between 2007 and 2016. One of the most prolific serial killers in Canadian history, she was sentenced to life in prison for the murders in 2017. The case prompted widespread public outrage and made headlines internationally. It later resulted in lawsuits against Wettlaufer, and the nursing homes she worked for, and a sweeping provincial inquiry into flaws in Ontario’s long-term care system.
Wettlaufer was born Elizabeth Tracey Mae Parker on 10 June 1967 to parents Doug and Hazel Parker. She and her brother were raised in Woodstock, Ontario. Wettlaufer was known as “Bethe Parker” while attending Huron Park Secondary School in the mid-1980s, where she participated in band and choir. In her high school yearbook, Wettlaufer said she hoped to study drama in university.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in religious education from London Baptist Bible College, since renamed Heritage Baptist College. Wettlaufer later studied nursing for three years at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario, and became a registered nurse in 1995.
In October 1997, she married Daniel Wettlaufer, a long-haul truck driver she met at church. The pair lived together in Woodstock. They did not have any children.
The couple separated in January 2007 and formally divorced in 2008. Wettlaufer later said that the end of the marriage caused her stress, and that anger also played a large role in her decision to start killing; she was very frustrated dealing with dementia patients who were difficult to control, physically abusive and often despondent.
After her divorce, Wettlaufer entered several same-sex relationships. She later told neighbours she had found God and was no longer interested in women, according to media reports after her arrest.
Wettlaufer was also addicted to alcohol and opioids and went to rehab twice (see Non-Medical Drug Use). Staff at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto diagnosed her with major depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder and antisocial adult behaviour. Wettlaufer confessed to stealing medications from a safe used to store drugs belonging to dead patients, but said she was sober when she committed the murders. Though intoxication is not a defence to criminal charges in Canadian law, it can be a factor in determining if a murder was planned or deliberate; in Wettlaufer’s case, a claim of intoxication may have resulted in conviction for lower degrees of murder (see also Defence of Intoxication).
Wettlaufer posted poetry online under the pen name “Betty Weston.” Her poetry was often dark. Several pieces described killing, while others delved into her love life, job and personal struggles.
Wettlaufer started working at the Caressant Care nursing home in Woodstock in June 2007. She began killing patients there a couple of months later (see Homicide). Wettlaufer usually worked the night shift, and was mainly responsible for dispensing medication. She murdered seven of her eight victims at the facility.
Wettlaufer committed her crimes using insulin, a diabetes medication that lowers blood sugar. It can cause a coma or death when too much is administered. Insulin overdoses are also difficult to detect, so victims’ family members originally believed that their loved ones died of natural causes.
In a 2.5-hour videotaped confession to police, Wettlaufer said she felt a “red surge” before killing and described a “laughing feeling” once the murders were complete. She also said she believed God was telling her to kill. In one case, she believed her victim was no longer enjoying life. In addition to the eight murder charges, Wettlaufer also used insulin injections to commit four attempted murders and two aggravated assaults against patients in her care.
Between 25 June and 31 December 2007, Wettlaufer injected sisters Clotilde Adriano and Albina Demedeiros with insulin. The two Caressant Care residents were Wettlaufer’s first victims. The doses were not fatal, and police did not attribute either of their eventual deaths to Wettlaufer. (Adriano died in 2008 and Demedeiros in 2010.) In January 2017, police charged Wettlaufer with two counts of aggravated assault for the injections.
Wettlaufer committed her first murder on 11 August 2007, at Caressant, when she gave 84-year-old James Silcox enough insulin to kill him. From December 2007 to March 2014, Wettlaufer also killed Caressant residents Maurice Granat, 84, Gladys Millard, 87, Helen Matheson, 95, Mary Zurawinski, 96, Helen Young, 90, and Maureen Pickering, 79. Days after she murdered Pickering, Wettlaufer was fired from Caressant for making a series of medication errors, including giving insulin to one patient that was prescribed for another. She had been suspended by Caressant several times before she was fired. After Caressant, Wettlaufer moved between several facilities until she left nursing in 2016.
Police charged Wettlaufer with attempted murder for her unsuccessful attempts to kill Caressant residents Michael Priddle and Wayne Hedges from 2008 to 2009. Wettlaufer’s other attempted murder charges stemmed from insulin injections she gave to 77-year-old Sandra Towler in September 2015 and to 68-year-old Beverly Bertram in August 2016. Towler was living in Telfer Place retirement home in Paris, Ontario. Bertram was at a private residence in Ingersoll, Ontario, and was the only one of Wettlaufer’s victims still alive when the serial killer was sentenced.
Wettlaufer confessed her crimes to several people before they came to light in 2016. Among those she told were a former boyfriend, a student nurse working at Caressant, a pastor and his wife, a lawyer, and an ex-girlfriend, all of whom did not report her to police. Some told her they would do so if they found out she killed again, while others dismissed her claims entirely. In the end, the investigation into Wettlaufer’s crimes was sparked by yet another confession from the serial killer herself.
Wettlaufer checked herself into rehab at CAMH on 16 September 2016, almost two weeks after one of her employers reassigned her to administer insulin to children with diabetes at a school in Ingersoll. Wettlaufer later said that she feared she wouldn’t be able to resist hurting them, so she quit the job. Soon after she was admitted to CAMH, she started confessing to staff, who first informed Toronto police and the College of Nurses of Ontario, the profession’s provincial regulatory body.
Toronto police first interviewed Wettlaufer on 29 September 2016. The next day, she resigned her nursing status with the College of Nurses. Wettlaufer was arrested on 24 October 2016 at the age of 49. The public was shocked and horrified by the killings after Woodstock police released details the next day.
Court Case and Imprisonment
On 1 June 2017, Wettlaufer pleaded guilty to all 14 charges against her. Because she pleaded guilty, there was no trial. The court held a sentencing hearing on 26 June 2017, giving victims and their loved ones the chance to read their impact statements aloud in court. Most described grief, depression and guilt. Wettlaufer apologized in court that day, flatly telling those assembled that she was “truly sorry.”
Justice Bruce Thomas sentenced Wettlaufer to life in prison. Her sentences were to be served concurrently, meaning that she has no chance of parole for 25 years. Thomas could have sentenced her to eight consecutive terms, totalling 200 years, but the justice said he recognized that the public would likely never have known about her crimes if she had not confessed. Wettlaufer herself remained expressionless throughout. She was imprisoned in the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ontario. Though Wettlaufer will be eligible to apply for parole in 2041, Thomas noted in his judgement that she isn’t likely to get it.
Lawsuits and Inquiries
The Wettlaufer case caused an enormous public loss of faith in the province’s long-term care system. Before the court case was over, several advocacy groups demanded answers and inquiries from the provincial government and from the College of Nurses of Ontario.
The college held a disciplinary hearing for Wettlaufer in July 2017. Though Wettlaufer had already given up her nursing status, the organization permanently revoked her registration, preventing her from nursing in Ontario ever again. Wettlaufer didn’t attend the hearing.
Caressant Care notified the college when it fired Wettlaufer for making a series of medication errors, including a potentially serious one, in 2014. (At that point, she had killed seven victims at Caressant.) The regulatory body said that Caressant reported that staff had no underlying concerns about Wettlaufer, so the College of Nurses didn’t investigate further. Caressant has since disputed that account, saying it sent a 20-page report of its concerns that was never followed up on.
The hearing also revealed that Wettlaufer’s nursing activities were restricted for one year, following an incident in the 1990s when she was caught intoxicated on the job, using medication stolen from the hospital where she was working. The revelations prompted criticism, with many questioning the college’s ability to effectively regulate its profession.
Shortly after sentencing, the Ontario government announced it would hold an inquiry into conditions in the province’s long-term care system that allowed the murders to happen. The probe began in August 2017 and was expected to deliver a report and recommendations in 2019. Investigators promised to examine how Wettlaufer continued to work despite her disciplinary record and to also examine the systemic conditions that allowed it to happen.
The families of victims Horvath and Silcox filed separate lawsuits against Wettlaufer and the nursing homes that hired her. In January 2017, the province ordered Caressant Care’s Woodstock facility to stop admitting new patients, after an inspection found numerous issues at the facility.