By Pete Gonigam
After 2 years, 3 exhumations, 13 indictments and 2 civil suits there’s still no official word on whether a 2006 series of deaths at the Woodstock Residence nursing home were mercy killings. According to the original investigation, however, portions of which McHenry County Blog has obtained, mercy was not part of six deaths at the home. Quite the opposite.
Nurses told police they thought one of their co-workers at the Woodstock home had killed six residents with morphine overdoses to make her job easier. The six included a Cary woman whose existence was until now unknown.
The first official notice of irregularities at the facility came Oct. 12, 2006, according to Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melanie Arnold. An as-yet publicly unidentified nurse at the home complained about mysterious injuries to patients and a nurse who was drugging patients without authorization. Arnold said IDPH sent investigators to the nursing home the following day but recalled them at the request of the Illinois State Police, whom they had alerted.
During the next two weeks State Police investigators interviewed nursing home staff and administrators, issuing a working report Oct. 30. That and a final report Dec. 12, 2006, remain secret, but portions of them found their way into IDPH’s investigation of the matter, concluded this past April 7.
All names in IDPH’s report were encoded but the victims can be identified from the dates of their deaths and several nurses and administrators can be identified from criminal indictments or civil complaints connected with the case.
The IDPH report said State Police investigators blamed six deaths between April 2 and Sept. 19, 2006, on “Nurse E14.” That appears to have been Lake in the Hills LPN Marty Himebaugh, indicted April 3 in connection with deaths and injuries at the home.
One nurse identified as E12 told investigators she had noticed it was patients “who were trouble with behavior and extra work always seemed to be the ones dying,” at the nursing home. It’s a theme that recurs throughout the report.
Three different nurses independently told investigators that patients who would normally be restless and agitated would be found uncharacteristically quiet and sedated after E14’s shift.
A nurse identified as E13 told police E14 regularly used “medication cocktails” to control troublesome residents “to have a quiet shift.”
The report says Tony Hodges was a troublesome resident. A nurse identified as E9 told investigators another nurse had reported hearing E14 say she had given Hodges a mixture of drugs “and that he would not be bothering her during her shift.” The report says Hodges was so sedated he fell out his wheelchair onto his face and had to be hospitalized with unstable vital signs. Himebaugh was indicted for that incident.
A nurse identified as E6 remembered the death of resident Virginia Cole, a dementia victim who “was easily agitated” and “would often hit people.” She said E14 predicted during a smoke break that “(Virginia Cole) is going to die in half an hour.” It took longer than that and the nurse said E14 complained, “I can’t believe (Cole) is still alive with all the morphine I’ve given her.” Himebaugh was indicted for that incident.
The report also recounts the death of Derek Magnus, a 56 year-old Down Syndrome victim who also suffered a degenerative disease that left him “totally dependent on staff for all activities of daily living.”
Nurse E6 told police E14 said,
“Those people aren’t meant to live that long. They are meant to die in their teens and I’m going to help him along.”
E6 said she found a massive amount of morphine missing from Magnus’ morphine bottle after E14 left his room and Magnus expired later that night. Himebaugh was indicted for that incident.
A nurse called E13 said she had complained to Director of Nursing Penny Whitlock about E14’s behavior. The nurse told investigators Whitlock “giggled” and said to E14, “I don’t care if you play the Angel of Death, just don’t let me know about it.”
E13 claimed she tried three different times to call the attention of residence administrators to E14’s actions but said she was ignored.
The IDPH report said after State Police began investigating, at their recommendation E14 was suspended from working at the home. The date of her departure was gruesomely ironic given the allegations, Oct. 31, 2006.
Morphine in overdose or inappropriate administration was alleged in the deaths of all six victims listed in the State Police report. However three of them had been cremated so only three were available for examination. Exhumations were ordered in March and April, 2007, and tissue samples were taken for analysis at a Pennsylvania laboratory.
Six months ago Himebaugh was finally indicted, not for murder or manslaughter, but for much lesser offenses ranging from criminal neglect of patients to unauthorized possession of morphine. Whitlock was also indicted on relatively innocuous charges, mostly not reporting Himebaugh’s alleged offenses.
States Attorney Louis Bianchi told reporters at a news conference, “We brought the charges we thought we could prove.” He declined to elaborate on what that actually meant, though.
What it probably meant is that the toxicology reports on the tissue samples didn’t prove death by morphine. Two of the reports obtained by McHenry County Blog concluded that morphine was, indeed, present.
Because of uncertainties in post-mortem conditions and due to embalming procedures, however, the laboratory reported it couldn’t tell conclusively if there was enough morphine present to cause death.
State Police and the McHenry County State’s Attorney both declined to discuss the investigation citing the still-open criminal cases.
Himebaugh and Whitlock have both pleaded not guilty to all charges against them.
The six alleged victims are still dead.