Who is the 'killer nurse'?

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Roberta Cowan gets the story behind The Hague's "killer nurse" trial.

With a record number of victims, ranging in ages from two months to 91 years, the 'killer nurse' murder trial in The Hague district criminal court is the most serious that the city has ever seen.

Lucy Isabella Quirina de Berk, born in Holland but grew up in Canada, is accused of murder and attempted murder of patients under her care whilst working as a registered nurse in The Hague.

The trial, which started on 17 September, is set to conclude next week.

The charges

The charges against De Berk date back to 1995 and include five attempted murder charges of infants, four murder charges of infants and nine murder charges of seniors including a 91-year-old Chinese judge at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal.

De Berk was suspended from her job at the Juliana Children’s Hospital last September after a five-month-old infant died in her care less than an hour following an extensive medical examination. An autopsy indicated foul play, prompting an immediate police investigation into the deaths at the hospital over the 18 months prior.

Previously the deaths were not considered suspicious because the children were born with such serious physical abnormalities.

Lethal overdoses

The prosecution’s case is built on evidence that de Berk allegedly gave her victims, each seriously or terminally ill, lethal doses of “medicines, industrial substances and chlorohydrate” - a substance found in some sleeping pills.

In March, the bodies of three children allegedly killed by the nurse were disinterred for examination. The bodies of other alleged victims have been exhumed since.

De Berk, 40, has denied the charges.

Dutch investigators visited Winnipeg and Vancouver last December to gather evidence, interview witnesses and further the criminal investigation with the help of Justice Canada, the RCMP, local police authorities and Interpol.

De Berk was arrested immediately upon their return. She has been in custody since and, as is her right in the Netherlands, has refused to speak with anyone other than her lawyer and has refused to undergo any psychiatric exams or questioning.

An extensive case

Initially de Berk was charged in May with four counts of murder and one attempted murder but further police and prosecution investigation lead to a total of 13 murder charges dating back eight years, spanning three different health care facilities in The Hague and one in the seaside town of Scheveningen.

The trial has been postponed to give prosecutors more time to incorporate further charges and more evidence.

According to her lawyer Antony Visser, de Berk left Vancouver in her mid-twenties and qualified as a registered nurse ten years ago in The Hague after completing an internal hospital training programme, eventually specialising in children’s health.

She allegedly falsified her Winnipeg high school diploma to get into the Dutch nursing school.

The indictment

The indictment lays out voluminous evidence that de Berk is fascinated and obsessed with death, that she exhibits psychotic behaviour and has narcissistic tendencies.

Lead prosecutor Astrid Degeling said evidence collected in the investigation and witness accounts strongly suggest a history of mental illness.

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