The Serial Homicide Case of the Day, from "Hunting Humans, the Encyclopedia of 20th Century Serial Killers" , by Michael Newton
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Norway's all-time record-holding killer was exposed in 1981 as a result of journalistic curiosity. The Orkdal Valley Nursing Home was opened during 1977, and its patients soon experienced a high rate of mortality. Considering their ages, this was not especially unusual; in early 1981, however, local journalists received a tip that hospital manager Arnfinn Nesset had ordered large quantities of curacit, a derivative of curare, the same poison used by South American Indians on the tips of their hunting arrows. Under questioning, Nesset first claimed he purchased the poison for use on a dog, later confessing to the murders of twenty-seven patients between May 1977 and November 1980.
At forty-six, Nesset had already cinched the Scandinavian record for mass murder, but he was not finished talking, yet. "I've killed so many I'm unable to remember them all," he told authorities, prompting police to request lists of patients who died in three institutions where Nesset had worked since 1962. In all, detectives were left with a list of sixty-two possible victims, but autopsies were useless, since curacit becomes increasingly difficult to trace with passage of time.
Nesset offered a variety of motives for the murders mercy killing, schizophrenia, simple morbid pleasure in the act itself - which led defense attorneys to suggest that he was mentally unbalanced. Four psychiatrists examined the balding, bespectacled killer, each pronouncing him sane and fit for trial. Before his day in court, the suspect proved his sanity by suddenly recanting his confessions, leaving prosecutors in a quandry. He was finally charged with killing only 25 of the established Orkdal Valley victims; five counts of forgery and embezzlement were added, based upon the killer's misappropriation of some $1,800 from his victims.
Nesset pleaded innocent on all counts when his trial opened in October 1982. Five months later, on March 11, 1983, jurors convicted him on 22 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, plus five counts of forgery and embezzlement. Nesset was acquitted on the three remaining murder charges, but it scarcely mattered. Judges were unmoved by the defense plea that Nesset considered himself a "demigod," holding the power of life and death over his elderly patients. Upon conviction, he drew the maximum sentence possible under Norwegian law: 21 years in prison, with a possibility of ten more years preventive detention.
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