Police Plan ‘Angel of Death’ Exhumations
Signaling the long road ahead for investigators attempting to build a case against purported “angel of death” Efren Saldivar, police Monday announced plans to begin exhuming bodies “within the next month or two.”
At the same time, a former colleague of Saldivar said that in addition to hospital work, Saldivar worked in several nursing homes where killing a patient “would be easy if you wanted to do it.”
Saldivar, whose whereabouts have been a mystery for several days, was fired from Glendale Adventist Medical Center on March 6 after he allegedly confessed to the mercy killings of as many as 50 terminally ill patients. Saldivar’s brother, Eddie, told The Times in an interview Saturday that his brother has since denied making the confession.
In other developments Monday:
* Police said a list of possible victims, drawn from hundred of calls from worried relatives whose loved ones had died in Glendale Adventist Medical Center, had grown to 35.
* Glendale Adventist cleared 22 of 40 suspended respiratory therapists to return to work.
* State officials plan to hold a hearing today to consider a permanent revocation of Saldivar’s license.
Glendale Police Sgt. Rick Young said authorities planned to dig up “one or two” bodies in the next month or two in an effort to make a case against Saldivar.
“That’s all we need to put a murderer behind bars,” Young said. “I just need one [case] to put him behind bars.”
Young stressed that the list of possible victims was simply a starting point for investigators.
“There’s no suspicions,” he said. “We have no evidence that there’s foul play.”
Mark Newmyer, a spokesman for Glendale Adventist, said the respiratory therapists who were cleared to return to work at the hospital have passed through a police investigation, an internal hospital probe and yet another investigation by outside consultants hired by the hospital.
“We’re doing everything possible to ensure that this hospital is a safe environment,” he said.
Although the hospital had fielded 243 calls from people whose relatives have either died at the hospital or are patients there now, no one has attempted to transfer a loved one out of Glendale Adventist, officials said.
Saldivar’s former colleague, a state-licensed respiratory therapist, said he worked side by side with Saldivar at a nursing home in the San Fernando Valley, and that he was aware of Saldivar working in other nursing homes. The man, who asked not to be identified, said he worked with Saldivar in 1995 and 1996. The Times is withholding the name of the facility because Saldivar’s employment could not be immediately verified.
“There’s virtually no supervision,” the former colleague said of the nursing home. “He would have had more access to probably sicker people in these nursing homes.”
Still, Saldivar’s former co-worker said that although Saldivar would have had the opportunity to hasten patients’ deaths, he was not aware of any suspicious behavior.
“He was just the nicest guy in the world. He seemed to know his stuff. He seemed to be real caring,” the man said.
Nevertheless, the hospital worker’s assertion, if true, could shed light on the question that has perplexed health care officials: How could the killing of 40 to 50 patients go unnoticed in the strict confines of a hospital?
The respiratory therapist said he and Saldivar worked as contractors when both of them were employed by the now-defunct Thompson Memorial Medical Center Hospital. He said Thompson provided respiratory therapists on contract to about 10 nursing homes.
Officials from the former hospital did not return telephone calls Monday seeking comment.
Lori Welker, who was an instructor at Valley College Medical and Dental Careers when Saldivar was a student, and later worked at Thompson Memorial Medical Center, confirmed that Saldivar worked as a respiratory therapist for several Valley nursing homes on a contract basis.
She too found Saldivar’s purported confession hard to believe.
“The only way I can see him doing that is if he really believed he was the angel of death--if he really thought he was helping these people get to a better place,” she said. “If it’s true, I feel very sad.”
As police continued their investigation, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office said it had no new details about the scope of the case or the likelihood it will result in charges.
Meantime, Saldivar’s state license will be the subject of a suspension hearing today in Los Angeles when state officials will take the next step toward a permanent revocation.
If Saldivar chooses not to attend the hearing, the proceedings will be continued to another date with the hospital worker’s license still on an interim suspension.
An official with the state respiratory care board, which is monitoring the case, said Saldivar has made no contact regarding his license and has, to date, filed no papers regarding the challenge to his license.
Police have brought no charges against Saldivar, a 28-year-old Tujunga resident.
But in an affidavit filed by state regulators in an effort to suspend Saldivar’s respiratory care practitioner’s license, authorities contend that Saldivar confessed to hastening the deaths of 40 to 50 terminally ill patients at Glendale Adventist Medical Center.
In that affidavit, police said they taped a confession in which Saldivar detailed how he suffocated or drugged patients that fit three specific criteria. He allegedly said the patients had to be unconscious, have given orders not to be resuscitated and look like they were dying.
On Saturday, Eddie Saldivar told The Times that he had spoken to his brother by telephone and that he denied making a confession to police.
Times staff writers Greg Krikorian and Jill Leovy contributed to this story.