Canada

Nurse accused in seniors' deaths stated 'it wasn't accidental,' childhood friend says

Elizabeth Wettlaufer also disclosed 'that it wasn't just one,' says man who has known her for decades

Glen Hart, childhood friend of Elizabeth Wettlaufer

Glen Hart says he's known Elizabeth Wettlaufer since he was about 10 years old. He didn't know what to believe when she messaged him something astonishing last fall, he says. (CBC)

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The nurse accused of killing eight residents at care homes in southwest Ontario made a stunning admission via online chat last fall about the fate of "more than six" seniors who died on her watch, one of her childhood friends told CBC's The Fifth Estate in an exclusive interview.

Elizabeth Wettlaufer was struggling personally and professionally, and in mid-September checked herself in to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto to battle a long-running substance-abuse problem. It wasn't her first time in rehab.

She posted about being there on Facebook, and longtime acquaintance Glen Hart, who says he grew up across the street from Wettlaufer in Woodstock, Ont., struck up an online chat with her to try to support her, he said.

"I decided just to check in with her. You know, as somebody who had known her over the years and known some of these various struggles," Hart said. "Just wanted to see how she was."

That's when Wettlaufer began to open up with some startling revelations from her past, Hart said.

'Somebody died'

"It started off that she had something that she wanted to tell me," recounted Hart, who now lives in Toronto and does advocacy and community work.

"I said, 'Well, sure,' not expecting what was coming. She then disclosed that, well, 'Somebody died because of something I did at work.' "

Hart said he assumed the nurse was referring to a tragic on-the-job mistake or accident.

Nursing Home Probe 20170024 - Wettlaufer

Wettlaufer is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of eight seniors at two long-term care homes in southwest Ontario. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

"She clarified that it wasn't accidental, and when I said, 'Well, what did you do to hurt this person or to kill this person?' she said, 'Oh, it wasn't a person. It was several…'

"She said, 'Well, it was at least six. More than six, actually.' "

Police have said since last fall that Wettlaufer provided information to someone at CAMH that was so alarming, it sparked the criminal investigation of her. What exactly she said has never been publicly revealed, but her conversations with Hart were happening around the same time.

Hart said what he heard left him not knowing what to believe.

"I didn't know what to think," he said. "Maybe this is a delusion. Some really dark twisted delusion. Maybe it's, you know, a cry for attention."

So he went back and talked with Wettlaufer more online. He spent a couple tormented days, he said, processing what she had confided. Eventually, after obtaining legal advice, he decided to call the police.

"Even if it wasn't real, it was still a big deal that she would claim to have killed multiple people," he said. "It's sort of an Earth-shattering moment."

'Tell the truth'

On the afternoon of Sept. 29, she messaged him that Toronto detectives were to arrive within the hour to pursue their investigation of her.

Elizabeth Wettlaufer text messages

Wettlaufer communicated with childhood friend Glen Hart while she was rehab in September, Hart says. (Glen Hart)

"It will be hard for you, I'm sure," Hart messaged back in an exchange he provided to The Fifth Estate. "But be strong, and tell the truth."

"Thank you. I will," Wettlaufer replied.

That evening, court filings show, police set in motion a full-throttle, multi-jurisdiction investigation into Wettlaufer.

Over the ensuing days, detectives from Woodstock, London and the Ontario Provincial Police started questioning her colleagues, neighbours and even her psychiatrist. Officers descended on her apartment with a search warrant and combed through it for nearly 12 hours.

The Fifth Estate spoke to some of those neighbours and close friends, too. Wade Messenger, who lived right next door to Wettlaufer in Woodstock, recounted a conversation last summer where she told him she had been fired from a job for stealing medication.

"She said it just like that. She didn't say 'I was accused of it,' " Messenger said.

Wade Messenger, Elizabeth Wettlaufer's neighbour

Wettlaufer's neighbour Wade Messenger says he witnessed her struggling with addiction in the weeks before she checked herself in to rehab. (Hans Vanderzande/CBC)

He also said she knocked on his door one evening begging for some of the medical marijuana he had, claiming she was suffering from morphine withdrawal.

"She was shaky. Her face didn't look the same," he said. "She looked like she was sick."

Then on Oct. 25 came the police announcement that made headlines around the world: Wettlaufer was being charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of seniors between 2007 and 2014. Police later added four charges of attempted murder and two of aggravated assault involving six other people.  

Sweet kid

Bethe Wettlaufer, known as Beth Parker in high school, seen in 1984 field hockey team photo

Wettlaufer played on on the field hockey team in high school. (Woodstock Public Library)

Hart — who has known Wettlaufer since he was about 10 years old — says it's been difficult to square the memory of his childhood friend with the woman who is now depicted on TV newscasts shuffling into the courthouse in shackles and a green prison sweatsuit.

He says Wettlaufer was shy, sweet and slightly awkward as a kid, with a great sense of humour that he characterized as "playful sarcasm." She came from a traditional, Bible-and-teetotalling family, he said.

Researching Wettlaufer's background, The Fifth Estate found she played goalie on the high school field hockey team, joined the drama club and was a trombonist in the stage band.

Somewhere, though, she became profoundly troubled. Back while Wettlaufer was at CAMH, Hart says, they communicated about what might have brought her to this point.  

"She said, 'A lot of what I've done has been triggered by my anger issues,' " Hart recalled.

"I don't know. I really don't know. I wish I knew."


Send tips on this or any other story to zach.dubinsky@cbc.ca or call 416-205-7553.

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