27 years later, ghost of Dr Death lingers in our minds…Mnene Hospital still haunted

The Chronicle

Stanford Chiwanga, Saturday Chronicle News Editor
OF all the mass murders to have scarred the Zimbabwean consciousness after independence, the 1995-96 serial killings of patients at Mnene Mission Hospital in Mberengwa stand out with villagers still haunted by the ghost of Michael Joseph Swango, an American doctor who is estimated to have fatally poisoned as many as 60 people in different countries.

In Mnene, the official figure of his killings is five people, but villagers say the number is closer to ten. And 27 years after the killing spree, the pain inflicted by Swango is still felt and the wounds are still gaping.

Vendors who sell vegetables and sweets outside Mnene hospital, were reluctant to talk to Saturday Chronicle about one of America’s most prolific serial killers, who is believed to have killed over 35 people in America alone.

“Why do you want to talk about that? It happened ages ago and we are trying to forget about it. I was there when it happened, I was and I am still a nurse aide at the hospital. I know some of the people who died at the hands of that doctor. The pain is still the same, I don’t like talking about it. We lost friends and relatives because we trusted too much,” said one of the female vendors, who refused to be named.

Mrs Irene Chinyere (nee Shumba, 70), who recently made headlines after tying the knot after 52 years with the love of her life, Favayo Lawrence Chinyere (77) in Mberengwa, survived Swango’s poisoning.

She said: “I remember I was admitted after falling ill and the doctor injected me on my shoulder. It was very painful, I then fell unconscious, only to be resuscitated by nurses. The doctor came and wanted to inject me again, but I knew that he had ill intentions, so I refused. I chose to put my fate in the hands of God, I told the nurses that I would start my day with prayer and end it with prayer, not with that doctor. From that day he never came to my bed.

Ms Tendekai Moyo, daughter of a victim of Dr Death

“In another ward there was a woman who was suffering from burns. The doctor injected the lady called Nomsa (Rhoda) Mahlamvana and she died. That doctor was admitting every patient, even those who did not deserve to be admitted and the ward was always at its full capacity.

“When I heard that the doctor was killing people, I was scared and called my partner to come and sign me out of the hospital. I believe God saved my life. I always testify about this each time at church and even the church Bishop knows it because I always say it to everyone who comes to my home.”

Keneas Mzezewa was another to survive after he woke up one night from a shallow slumber after sensing Swango’s needle in his arm. According to Joseph Geringer of the Crime Library, before the doctor stepped away from his cot, he waved goodbye, an act which Mzezewa could not comprehend until a bit later when his temperature shot up and his frame became paralysed. He could barely speak, but somehow managed to find the power for one scream. Resuscitation efforts by the nuns revived him, and when he was able to speak, he told them to keep Swango away from him.

Ms Irene Shumba who survived Dr Death’s administrations

Swango denied the allegations and said Mzezewa must have been hallucinating. He did not know that nuns had found a needle cap on the floor under Mzezewa’s bed.

After failing to kill Mzezewa, Swango, a few weeks later, turned to Katazo Shava who had just had a leg operation. Swango found Shava with friends who had come to see him in hospital, he asked them to leave to allow his patient to rest. Suddenly, according to Geringer, they heard Shava scream. When they ran back to his bed, they found him frenzied, yelling that Swango had given him something bad in a needle. Swango denied it, but Shava died that afternoon of paralysis due to heart failure, according to Swango.

Next to fall victim was 60-year-old Tendeukai Moyo’s father, Philemon Moyo, who had undergone an operation to amputate his leg in Bulawayo.

“My father had severe leg problems and he was amputated at a hospital in Bulawayo. He was transferred to Mnene Mission Hospital where he was supposed to be monitored. He was supposed to travel back to Bulawayo for an artificial leg fitting. On the night of his murder, I talked to him. He was with my mother who was there to keep him company. Also present was a boy named Varaidzo. I then went home and all was well until I was woken up by a phone call at around 11pm. “According to my mother, she stated that as soon as I left, a white doctor came in carrying his jacket. He came in and stood by the bed. She claims that within a short period of time she fell asleep until she heard the door being slammed shut. She woke up to see the doctor leaving the room and was surprised that he had been in the room for that long. She didn’t give it much thought as she assumed that since he was a doctor, he had been attending to his patient. She went back to sleep, until the nurses came in to check on my father and discovered that he had died. The nurses did not see the doctor come in or leave the hospital room,” Moyo told Saturday Chronicle.

Mnene Hospital

Swango was to fail again when he injected Virginia Sibanda who had been hospitalised after going into labour. Her cries saved her as nurses rushed to her side. The baby also survived.
But Swango was not done, Margaret Zhou, succumbed to his poisoning before she was due to have a minor operation. He also killed Edith Ngwenya, his house help.

Police were called in to investigate and they found 55 different types of drugs, brought into the country illegally, in Swango’s fridge.

Swango was dismissed and he moved to Bulawayo where he hired prominent lawyer and politician David Coltart to defend him. He was allowed to practice at Mpilo Hospital as he waited for police to finish investigations.

Cuttings from Chronicle editions of the period

With a hearing due in August 1996, Swango, realising that the net was closing, fled to Zambia and then to Namibia, where he found temporary medical work. In March 1997, he applied for a job at the Royal Hospital in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, using a false resume. He was arrested by Immigration and Naturalisation Service agents in June 1997 on a layover at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on his way to Saudi Arabia.

In the year 2000, he was sentenced to three consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, and is serving his sentence at ADX Florence in Colorado, USA.

Article Source: The Chronicle

Enjoyed this post? Share it!