Orville Lynn Majors - The Nurse Who Killed His Patients

Orville Lynn Majors sits for trial
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News & Politics
Gabby Etzel

Not everyone has the right temperament for healthcare, but no one expects their attending nurse to become their murderer.

Unfortunately for dozens of Orville Lynn Majors' patients, this is exactly what their nurse did. He betrayed the trust of those in his care by ending their lives with potassium chloride, often right under their family's noses.

It is both remarkable and despicable that Majors could get away with the killings for so long. Masquerading as a healthcare professional proved to be a functional murder method. Still, authorities soon realized something was wrong with the caregiver-turned-killer.

If only someone had paid close enough attention to what Orville Lynn Majors was really holding in his helping hand.

Learning to Care

Orville Lynn Majors
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An unsuspecting outsider might have believed that Orville Lynn Majors' decision to become a nurse came from a wholesome place.

As a teenager, the murderer spent much of his time at home, caring for his elderly grandmother. He did not seem to resent this time in his life, as some teens might. Instead, he claimed that it inspired him to enter the noble field of nursing.

He attended Nashville Memorial School of Practical Nursing in 1989 and buckled down for what most would assume was a sincere living. He stayed true to his roots, accepting a job at Vermillion County Hospital in his home state of Indiana.

Patients and families would applaud Majors for his bedside manner. He was kind, gentle, and sociable when administering treatments to patients. There was never any reason to suspect that the nurse was capable of any wrongdoing, let alone murder.

It would take years, but Majors' higher-ups would soon look at the numbers--And the numbers don't lie.

Death in Numbers

Orville Lynn Majors
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Highly favorable patient evaluations had nothing against the horrific death count when Majors worked at Vermillion County Hospital.

No one had noticed that the death toll was way above average until Majors took a break from the county hospital to work at a high-paying job in Tennessee. When he returned, there was no denying the spike.

The hospital saw an increase from an average of 26 deaths per year to well over 100 deaths. This statistic means that about a third of patients admitted to the hospital would die.

Patients were dying so often during Majors' shifts that his co-workers immediately noticed it. For them, it was merely a subject for a recurring joke. They jested about which patient would be next to die during Majors' next shift. Of course, they did not believe that the beloved nurse was a murderer, let alone in the sheer volume that they were seeing.

The killer's supervisor, Dawn Stirek, was the first to take the suspicious coincidences to heart. One glance at the timesheet revealed harrowing information.

Out of the 147 deaths at Vermillion County Hospital between 1993 and 1995, Orville Lynn Majors had been working for 130 of them.

While Majors was on duty, there was one death per day. During his time away from the hospital, that statistic changed to one death per 23 days.

To dive a little deeper into the shocking numerical aspect of this case, a patient at Vermillion County Hospital was 42 times more likely to die when Orville Lynn Majors was working that day.

Thankfully, Stirek found it necessary to suspend Majors and alert the authorities as soon as possible.

Murderous Intent

Orville Lynn Majors preparing to stand trial
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Hearing about a healthcare professional who injects patients with a lethal dose might invoke imagery of Dr. Kevorkian, otherwise known as "Dr. Death." The doctor was known to euthanize dying patients so they would not suffer in their final days.

Orville Lynn Majors' motivations were nowhere near as well-intentioned.

Majors hated older people. Despite his cheery attitude around patients, a few staff members at the hospital claimed to hear the nurse say that old people "should all be gassed." They would often find him standing in a patient's room by himself, where he would say, "I'm just waiting for them to die."

He was never a fan of patients' families, either. He called them "white trash" and "dirt," though he would never let them know that. In fact, families were glad to have him care for their loved ones.

One family member recounted a story that is beyond disturbing in hindsight. Orville Lynn Majors entered their elderly loved one's room with a syringe. He greeted the family, injected the sick woman, kissed her head, and reassured her that she would be okay. Only a few minutes after he walked away from the room, she would go into cardiac arrest.

After tracking patterns, authorities concluded that in addition to the elderly, Orville Lynn Majors killed patients he complained were whining or that made him work more than he wanted to. When patients asked for help during the night, he admitted that he would often nap at the nursing station instead of helping.

Unlike Dr. Death, there is no room for disagreement about the blood on Orville Lynn Majors' hands. This man was guilty of cold-blooded murder.

Catching a Killer Nurse

Orville Lynn Majors laughing on his way into court
youtube | WTHR

While it was not too difficult to pin some of the murders on Majors, it was exhausting and painful for the families of the deceased.

Electrophysiologist Eric N. Prystowsky took a closer look at the EKGs of patients who died from sudden cardiac arrest while Majors was on duty. He concluded that they could have died in one of three ways: a heart attack, a massive blood clot, or an overdose of potassium chloride.

Officials had no choice but to exhume the bodies of 15 people who had died under Majors' care, putting intense stress on families who thought their loved ones died of natural causes.

None of the bodies showed symptoms of a heart attack or blood clot, leaving only one possible solution. They had been murdered with potassium chloride.

To seal the deal, one of Majors' former roommates reported seeing vials of potassium chloride sitting around the house. Police checked out the house themselves, finding the statement to be true. There were multiple vials of potassium chloride, most of which initially belonged to Vermillion County Hospital.

The evidence was bountiful. Orville Lynn Majors was sent to trial for murder in 1999. He denied his guilt the entire time, wearing the same sickening smile he put on in front of patients.

The Aftermath

Police escort a handcuffed Orville Lynn Majors
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Orville Lynn Majors is believed to be responsible for up to 130 deaths, but he was only convicted for six. There was almost a seventh, but the jury was deadlocked since the deceased did not expire as quickly as the other patients.

These six were enough to incarcerate him in Indiana State Prison for 360 years, a sentence that would be cut short with an ever-so-fitting death by heart failure in 2017. Majors was arguing with prison staff at the time of his death.

The so-called "Angel of Death" may be dead himself, but heartbroken families are left dealing with the aftermath of his murders. Vermillion County Hospital was on the less favorable end of over 80 lawsuits before shutting down and reopening under another name.

Orville Lynn Majors' victims serve as a reminder to hospitals to pay the utmost attention to their staff and an incentive for patients to thank the genuinely caring healthcare heroes who do everything in their power to nurse them back to health.

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