WOODSTOCK - A Woodstock woman has been charged in the deaths of at least eight elderly residents in one of the biggest multiple death investigations in the region since the Bandido murders.
Elizabeth Tracey Mae Wettlaufer, 49, a former nurse with both Caressant Care in Woodstock and Meadow Park in London, was charged on Oct. 25 with the first-degree murder of eight residents aged 75 to 96 years old, seven who lived at Caressant Care and one at Meadow Park.
The Caressant Care victims include James Silcox, 84, Maurice Granat, 84, Gladys Millard, 87, Helen Matheson, 95, Mary Zurawinski, 96, Helen Young, 90, and Maureen Pickering, 79.
The sole London victim, Arpad Horvath, 75, lived at Meadow Park in London and died Aug. 31, 2014.
The deaths took place between August 2007 and August 2014.
“The victims were administered a drug, but I’m not in a position at this time to comment of specifics of the drug,” said London Police Service Det. Supt. William Merrylees.
Horvath’s daughter, Susan Horvath, said she felt something was amiss before her father died.
|Elizabeth Wettlaufer. |
“I’d seen my dad and the condition he was in and he had a lot of fear – he had a lot of fear – and just things about him and everything I noticed on his body and stuff, I just had a feeling and I told mom,” Horvath told radio station AM980 in London, Ont., on Tuesday. “And then when he passed on – and how he passed on – that’s when I knew: This is not right.”
Daniel Silcox, of Pontypool Ont., said he found out about his father being among the alleged victims while listening to the radio Tuesday morning.
“We’re living my father’s death right now,” Silcox told The Canadian Press. “It’s horrific.”
Silcox said police had told his sisters about an investigation and briefly interviewed one of them, but the family had no idea what it was about.
His father didn’t like living at the home, had broken his hip at the facility, but the family otherwise had no suspicions that his death might have been a murder, Silcox said.
“We don’t want him to become the poster boy of this tragedy but we would like the story out there: (He was) a wonderful man, a (Second World War) vet, just the best father in the world.”
Police didn’t rule out the possibility there might be more victims, but wouldn’t comment on the motive of the alleged serial killer.
“Our hope is (the family) will find some comfort charges have been laid,” said OPP Det. Supt. Dave Truax.
Charlene Puffer, who said she lives down the hall from Wettlaufer’s James Street apartment, described her neighbour as a decent person.
“I knew something was up with all the police coming around here the past few weeks and they came one day in all their Hazmat suits,” she said.
“It’s terrifying to know someone who supposedly killed that many people lived right near me.”
Wettlaufer told Puffer she liked her job as a nurse.
“Then your mind starts going, thinking is there a body in there? And then you think, how did this go on for so long? But to look at her and know her a bit, you would never think she could do something like this,” Puffer said.
Wettlaufer made a brief appearance Tuesday morning at the Oxford County Court House in Woodstock. Her next appearance is scheduled for Nov. 2 at 9 a.m.
The investigation began Sept. 29 when Woodstock Police Services received information from an undisclosed source that eight people had been murdered over a period of several years.
“On behalf of every police agency represented here, our deepest sympathies go to families who have suffered this tragic loss,” said Woodstock police Chief Bill Renton
At this point, police said they are not looking at exhuming any of the bodies.
Due to the nature of the allegations, police said multi-jurisdictional major case manager Det. Insp. Rob Hagerman was assigned to co-ordinate the investigation.
While Brant OPP and Oxford OPP provided resources for the investigation, police confirmed Tuesday there have been no investigations into homes in those regions.
Wettlaufer listed a Brantford home care provider as her current employer on Facebook.
“Our goal throughout this was to follow the evidence, which resulted in criminal charges here today,” Truax said.
The Woodstock location of Caressant Care issued a statement Tuesday morning, saying the 167-bed long-term care facility was “co-operating fully” with the police investigation.
“We remain in regular contact with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Our highest priority is to continue to provide for the physical, social and spiritual needs of our residents, and that remains our focus. We deeply regret the additional grief and stress this is imposing on the families involved,” the statement continued.
Because of the ongoing police investigation, Caressant Care indicated it would be unable to “provide any additional comment at this time.”
The London long-term care home where Horvath lived is owned by Jarlette Health Services and has 120 beds.
Officials at the home, located at 1210 Southdale Rd. East, declined an interview request Tuesday but later issued a statement.
“We are co-operating fully with police investigating the actions of a former staff member who left our home’s employ some two years ago. Our highest priority is to continue to provide for the health and comfort of our residents, and that remains our focus,” chief operating officer Julia King said in a statement.
“We are determined to avoid compromising the police investigation in any way and are therefore unable to provide additional comment at this time.”
Loretta Cambridge, whose husband Paul has lived at Meadow Park for more than a year, said she was rattled by the news of the homicides.
“That’s too close to home,” said Cambridge, adding administrators at the home hadn’t told her anything about the police probe.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne called the eight nursing home deaths "extremely distressing."
Wynne said it would be inappropriate for her to comment on an ongoing police investigation, but she said it is an “extremely distressing and tragic, tragic thing for all of the families involved.”
She was being questioned by London NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong, who said it was shocking that no one knew about the deaths for so long.
"It's not acceptable ... there's obviously big, gaping holes," Armstrong said.
In response to several media requests, police first released a press release on Oct. 14 stating they had identified a suspect in an undisclosed death investigation.
“We realized that release caused more questions than answers,” Renton said. “We elected to share what we could including the fact we had identified a suspect.”
Police said they could not answer a number of questions because “ the evidence and the accused are now before the courts.”
Merrylees also said part of the investigation will be determining how such a tragedy could have occurred.
“We will try to determine what needs to be done to prevent this from happening in the future,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) said in a statement Tuesday afternoon it was shocked by the alleged serial killings, wished to publicly thank investigators and offered condolences to the families of the victims.
CARP policy director and general counsel Wade Poziomka said the crimes against the seniors are considered “no less odious nor less tragic than any other violent death of any other citizen in our society.”
“The age of the victims and their medical condition should play no part in how our justice system pursues those who violate the laws of our land and cause harm to another,” he said.
Anthony Quinn director of public affairs for CARP, said this crime highlights the ongoing societal issue of abuse of our elderly citizens.
“CARP recognizes the tremendous care that thousands of nurses and personal support workers provide to seniors living in long term care facilities across Canada. This tragic crime is in no way reflective on those who endeavor to provide comfort and dignity to seniors in their final days,” Quinn said.
An obituary for Maureen Pickering, one of the victims who died on March 28, 2015, included the line, “Special thanks to staff at Caressant Care, Woodstock for their wonderful care.”
According to the College of Nurses of Ontario, Wettlaufer, registered as a nurse in 1995 and resigned from the college in September 2016.
Anyone with information is asked to call local police at 519-537-2323 or Crime Stoppers 421-TIPS (8477) or toll free at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
— with files from Megan Stacey and Bruce Chessell and Dale Carruthers, Postmedia Network