Beverley Allitt was an angel of death who took young patients at Grantham and Kesteven Hospital in the United Kingdom under her wing before either injecting them with large amounts of insulin, lignocaine or air. In her short time working at the hospital, she succeeded in killing four patients — the youngest, Becky Phillips, was just two months old. She attempted to murder at least nine more.
When Allitt joined the hospital, the other staff were impressed by how attentive she was to her patients but equally as surprised that she would never pick up crying babies nor would she display any emotion at the death of a patient.
Allitt was eventually found out when investigators began looking into the high number of cardiac arrests in the ward for the previous two months. The one thing all the cases had in common? Beverley Allitt was present at every incident.
Beverley Allitt suffered from both Munchausen syndrome and Munchausen syndrome by Proxy — these are factitious disorders. People with Munchausen syndrome feign an illness or condition and their symptoms. Sufferers of Munchausen syndrome by Proxy assign another, involuntary individual as the patient with these supposed symptoms. While it is not common for both syndromes to manifest in the same individual, the core motivation of getting attention through illness is common to both.
People who suffer from Munchausen syndrome will go to great lengths of self-harm to present often dramatic symptoms and will visit the doctor over and over again. Mostly, this is to feed their need for attention but some people take great pleasure in confusing the physician.
The most common signs of Munchausen are: a textbook pattern of symptoms, a long medical history, numerous scars (including surgical), inconclusive lab tests and evidence of lying in other areas of their life. This is hard to identify but impossible to cure as, ironically, these people ignore psychiatric referrals.
Throughout her life, Beverley Allitt displayed symptoms of Munchausen syndrome but this turned deadly when her young patients became the focus of her disorder. What signs were there before that could have been noticed and potentially prevented these murders?
Her long, varied and unjustified medical history
Even as a child, Allitt wore bandages and even casts over wounds. Most bizarrely, she would never let anyone examine the “wounds” — the casts were simply there for attention. She suffered gall bladder pain, headaches, urinary infections, uncontrolled vomiting, blurred vision, minor injuries, appendicitis, back trouble, and ulcers – to name a few. During a hospital stay in 1991, she tampered with the thermometer to make it produce a higher reading.
She once even convinced her doctor to remove her appendix — which was perfectly healthy, by the way. The scar from this surgery failed to heal correctly as she kept pulling at the surgery site.
Once she had begun working as a nurse, she missed a huge amount of work for apparent reasons of illness. Her trial was even delayed a number of times due to Allitt being “ill”.
Aside from her feigned illnesses, Allitt would also inflict harm on herself as a way of getting attention. On one occasion, she used a hammer to do so, on another her weapon of choice was glass. Perhaps strong-arming the doctor to remove her appendix, and preventing the scar from healing along, can be considered forms of self-harm as well.
In the same hospital stay where she tampered with the thermometer, Allitt also stabbed herself in her right breast in an attempt to inject herself with water.
As she awaited trial, she refused to eat and rapidly lost weight. Eventually she was diagnosed with anorexia nervousa. In prison, she continued to injure herself for attention by impaling herself with paperclips and even pouring boiling water over her hand.
Her other cries for attention
It wasn’t only medical grievances that Beverley Allitt used to get attention. She would also do bizarre things at work — for example, she was accused of smearing faeces on the walls and putting it into the refrigerator for others to find.
She was described by a former boyfriend as being aggressive, manipulative and deceptive. She would pretend that she was pregnant when she wasn’t. She even cried rape — of course something that should never be taken lightly in any case.
Your turn: Do you think these deaths could have been prevented if doctors had spotted the signs of this syndrome? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below — we’d love to hear from you.