Police scrambled to ID alleged victims in Elizabeth Wettlaufer probe

Police investigating Elizabeth Wettlaufer, the former nurse accused of killing and attempting to kill residents at Ontario long-term care homes, scrambled to piece together the identities of a number of the purported victims, newly disclosed portions of a heavily censored police document show.

Investigators only had first names of some of the care-home residents alleged to have been targeted

Former nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Police investigating Elizabeth Wettlaufer, the former nurse accused of killing eight residents at Ontario long-term care homes and attempting to kill four others, scrambled last fall to piece together the identities of a number of the purported victims, according to newly disclosed allegations in a heavily censored police document.

In the frenzied, multi-jurisdiction probe, officers in several cases had only a first name to go on — Wayne, Mike and Beverly — and had to figure out the identities of the alleged victims from health records and Wettlaufer's colleagues.

The police document, which contains unproven allegations, also mentions insulin for the first time when discussing one of the alleged murder victims. 

  • Watch "The Unravelling of Nurse Wettlaufer" on CBC's The Fifth Estate this Friday at 9 p.m.

A ruling late last week by Ontario Superior Court Judge Thomas Heeney to release previously censored portions of the document provides these and other clues into one of the most significant serial-murder investigations in Canadian history.

Wettlaufer was charged in October with eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight seniors in Woodstock and London, Ont., between 2007 and 2014. The murder charges do not specify how she is alleged to have killed the victims, but police told a news conference it was through the administration of "a drug."

In January, police added four counts of attempted murder and two of aggravated assault involving six additional seniors in the Woodstock and Brantford, Ont., area, this time listing insulin as the alleged poison.

Portions of document to be unsealed

Full details of the police probe are spelled out in sworn allegations that a Woodstock constable filed in court last fall in order to get a court order to further the investigation. But most of the 72-page document has remained blacked out under a judge's orders.

The document is believed to address a number of enigmas about the case: How did officers suddenly determine that the eight seniors once thought to have died naturally may in fact have been murdered? What is Wettlaufer accused of saying when she was interviewed by a Toronto police detective last fall? 

More of that information will come out this week, after Judge Heeney ruled Friday that some key censored portions of the sworn statement — called an "information to obtain" — are to be unsealed. The Postmedia chain of newspapers, which includes the Woodstock Sentinel Review and London Free Press, had gone to court to fight for the document's release.

Heeney's ruling reveals some of what is to come, including the names of police sources and the steps detectives say they took to determine the identities of the alleged victims.

At one point, the information-to-obtain document alleges, police learned of possible attempted-murder victims named "Wayne," "Beverly" and "Mike." But investigators had no idea who they were.

Details of why police arrested and charged Wettlaufer, contained in an application for a production order, have been heavily redacted. (Amanda Margison/CBC)

A newly revealed portion of the censored document shows police combed through patient records from a health-care staffing agency in Woodstock to determine that "Beverly" was Beverly Bertram, a 68-year-old bedridden woman in Ingersoll, Ont., whom Wettlaufer provided home care to and is accused of having tried to kill last August.

Later, Wettlaufer's former boss at a Woodstock nursing home emailed police to say she thought "Mike" was in fact Michael Priddle, a 63-year-old resident at the home, while "Wayne" was Wayne Hedges, 57. Wettlaufer is accused of attempting to murder both men in 2008 and 2009. They have both since died of other causes.

Another censored section cited by the judge mentions that "long-acting insulin kicked in," in a passage about Arpad Horvath Sr., a 75-year-old former businessman whom Wettlaufer is accused of murdering at a nursing home in London in 2014.

The reason for the mention is currently unclear. The entire passage is to be revealed later this week. Though not confirmed, it has been theorized since last fall that the drug used on the alleged first-degree murder victims might have been insulin.

Other passages Judge Heeney ruled must be unsealed include what appears to be the contents of a letter of dismissal sent to Wettlaufer when she was fired from the Caressant Care nursing home in Woodstock in March 2014.

The majority of the police document will still remain censored until after the criminal charges against Wettlaufer have been dealt with, however. Heeney ruled that many passages contain "incriminating information" that, if revealed now, would present a "serious risk" to the former nurse's right to a fair trial.

Potential jurors would be "so irreparably prejudiced ... that a fair trial is impossible," the judge said. 

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