Questions in Hospital Case


It’s about the most difficult investigative situation one could imagine. Under questioning, a respiratory therapist at a highly respected hospital allegedly confesses that he has killed 40 to 50 terminally ill patients, ostensibly to end their suffering. The alleged confession supplies enough probable cause for police to detain him for 48 hours, but then what?

Efren Saldivar, the alleged confessor, didn’t provide names. The possibility exists that the whole thing is one big, morbid hoax, but it must be taken seriously. The bodies of the alleged victims have been long since buried or cremated without suspicion. The time span (since 1989) vastly multiples the deaths that must be checked against the records of patients that Saldivar came in contact with at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, where he worked. To provide sufficient evidence of murder, several bodies might have to be exhumed and autopsied.

Since little of that could be managed in the 48 hours of police custody allowed by law, Glendale police had to let the possible killer go free. Then officers managed to lose track of him. That part could have been different.


Glendale police blame the lack of manpower, but surely some kind of cooperative arrangement could have been made with other police forces to keep an eye on one man.

That’s not the only thing that could have been different. Last year, the hospital was notified of the suspicions of other employees and conducted its own investigation and statistical analyses but found nothing. They had three employees watch Saldivar.

Why didn’t the hospital immediately notify authorities? What would statistical analyses of deaths really show, when these were patients who were expected to die anyway? And what hospital is qualified to conduct investigations of possible murders?

Now authorities are doing the slow, hard, necessary work of determining whether murders were committed. If they were, and prosecutors feel confident they can prove it, let us hope that the elusive Saldivar can be found.