An Angel of Death: Dutch nurse Frans Hooijmaijers

The Good Samaritan. That’s what his colleagues called Frans Hooijmaijers. As a nurse, he would place statues of the Virgin Mary next to patients’ beds, light candles and pray for them, which earned him his biblical nickname. Frans claimed that he could accurately predict when patients would die, a gift he supposedly received from God. His predictions, however, had another source…

Frans Hooijmaijers was born in 1935 in Kerkrade in the Netherlands. He was overweight as a child and was born with a cleft lip, so he was often the target of bullies. After his father died when he was young, Frans had developed a strong bond with his mother, who favored him over his siblings. In 1960, Frans joined the order of Saint Joseph and settles into a monastery in the south of the Netherlands. Whilst he is in charge of the sick ward in the monastery, Frans realizes he wants to become a ‘real’ nurse and leaves the order to pursue this dream.

Frans Hooijmaijers

Frans started working at the L├╝ckerheide Clinic in 1970. His main ward was the Nightingale, mostly inhabited by elderly patients with cognitive problems, like dementia. He was infamous among his coworkers due to his obsessive cleanliness, his devotion to Catholicism and his supposed gift of predicting the timing of death of the patients in his care.

Frans was head nurse of the Nightingale ward for 5 years. In those 5 years 325 people died on just that ward. Of these, 116 died in 1974-1975. In comparison, a total of 78 people died on the 5 wards where Frans did not work in the same time span. No one from the clinic raised concerns, even though it was rumored among coworkers that ‘ where Frans goes, death follows’. However, the family of one of the deceased did.

Mrs. Braams, 89, died in August of 1975 in unusual circumstances. Her concerned family filed a complaint about her untimely death to the hospital where she died. The investigation that followed led to Frans. He was arrested by police on the 14th of August, 1975. During a search of his home, investigators find jewelry of multiple deceased former patients. Frans seems to have given some of the possessions of his dead patients to his mother Maria. After a visit to her, police find that her second husband was admitted to a care home being partially blind and disabled. The cause of this? His lovely wife had added ratweed, which contains arsenic, to his toast, cabbage and soup. Her motive? It was suggested by the prosecution that the victim took too much attention away from Frans and Maria (or Frans himself?), felt her husband was getting in the way of their ‘special bond’. Maria was arrested and sentenced to 8 months (!) and psychiatric treatment. Her lawyer claimed in her defense that Maria knew that ratweed could kill animals, but never realised it was toxic to humans…

After investigating all 325 deaths during Frans’s time on the Nightingale, in 259 there were doubts about the exact cause of death. Frans admitted to police that he had injected 15 patients with an overdose of insulin and diazepam, leading to their deaths. He claimed his motive was compassion and declared ‘I wanted to put the old ones out of their misery. I wanted to give them peace’. The psychiatric report paints a different picture of Frans: ‘No one feels that he is fulfilling a calling of some sort. His only answer to trouble is to inject. People shouldn’t be annoying or a nuisance’. It was also determined that his IQ was 93, which seems too low to function well as a head nurse.

Before his murder trial, Frans retracted his confession, claiming to be only guilty of giving patients normal doses of medication without permission of a doctor. He rationalized this behaviour by claiming he only did so when there were no doctors present to help patients that were restless or in pain. Frans also claimed to be against euthanasia and that it was ‘never his intention to kill a patient’.

In 1977, Frans Hooijmaijers was found to be guilty of murder in 5 cases. However, prosecutors thought he could be responsible for as much as 259 deaths. Frans was sentenced to 18 years in prison. He was released in 1987 and died from natural causes at age 70 in 2006.