The killer nurse was a ‘nice guy’ who took himself for God
He caused heart failure in several dozen patients before trying to save them - and then played the saviour
The man accused of being post-war Germany’s most prolific serial killer was known to colleagues as a “nice guy” who did little to raise suspicion until well into his murder spree.
Prosecutors say Niels Hoegel, 41, a heavy-set, second-generation caregiver, was drunk on power over his ailing patients, whom he picked off at random out of “boredom”.
Hoegel has admitted to injecting patients with drugs that cause heart failure or circulatory collapse so he could then try to revive them and, when successful, shine as a saviour before his medical peers and superiors.
The dangerous game left more than 100 patients dead.
Hoegel’s trial, which starts on Tuesday, is his third since 2015.
He was found guilty in two earlier trials and sentenced to 15 years in prison, but investigators have pressed on with toxicology tests on dozens more exhumed bodies.
Hoegel has admitted to about another 30 murders and 60 attempts, but investigators insist the toll is higher.
Local daily Nordwest Zeitung plunged into a character study of the defendant, whose crimes stunned the country.
Talking to his former teachers and classmates, “friendly”, “helpful” and “fun” were words that came up again and again to describe him.
“In no way someone from the fringes,” the paper quoted another person, who had known him since adolescence, as saying.
A teacher called him “a pretty normal student” who was more interested in football than in his classes.
Born on December 30 1972 in Wilhelmshaven, Hoegel grew up in a Catholic family he described as “warm and stable”.
At 16, he began training at the main hospital in his hometown as a nurse, his father’s vocation.
He failed to make a strong impression, but colleagues and superiors remember him as “nice” during the few years he spent at the clinic.
The image jars with what would become an alleged frenzy of killing between 2000 and 2005, when he deliberately caused heart failure in several dozen patients before trying to save them, in most cases without success.
He asked two female trainee nurses he was trying to impress to watch him during one such rescue attempt, according to depositions.
Prosecutors say he was motivated by professional vanity, but also sheer “boredom”.
Hoegel “acted out of pride”, the presiding judge who convicted him in 2015 said, adding that he “used people as pawns”.
“A sad guy who gave himself God’s powers,” said Christian Marbach, whose grandfather was killed by Hoegel.
In a 200-page personality assessment, psychiatrist Konstantin Karyofilis said he failed to see his patients as individuals. Another report identified a “severe narcissistic disorder”.
The “nice guy” facade shattered at a hospital in the northern city of Oldenburg, where he started working in 1999.
The clinic had a good reputation, but Hoegel felt overwhelmed by the job and started drinking heavily as he sank deeper into a depression spiked with a panicky fear of his own death.
The emergency resuscitations and deaths began to soar on his watch at the hospital.
Hoegel gained a reputation as something of a jinx and colleagues sought to avoid working with him.
He was encouraged to move on in 2002, with a positive recommendation from hospital management to ensure his quick departure.
Despite the curious number of patient deaths under his care, no internal investigation was ever opened against him.
Hoegel, who eventually married and had a daughter, was allowed to continue the carnage in the town of Delmenhorst, where colleagues nicknamed him “Resuscitation Rambo”.
That is until he was caught in the act in June 2005.
Killing in itself was never his aim, according to one psychologist who evaluated him.
When he managed to revive a patient, he was sated, but only for a few days, the expert said: “For him, it was like a drug.”
Some of the world’s worst serial killers
German nurse Niels Hoegel is on trial for at least 99 murders, having already been jailed for six, which would make him among the worst serial killers in recent history.
Here are seven others:
‘The Chessboard Killer’
Russia’s Alexander Pichushkin, then aged 33, was sentenced in 2007 to life in prison for 48 murders, most between 2002 and 2006.
His victims were mainly elderly alcoholic men whom he met in a park outside Moscow.
He threw them into a sewer where they drowned, later strangling or bludgeoning them with a hammer first after some managed to climb out. He threw one from a 16th floor.
Pichushkin said he wanted to kill one person for each of the 64 squares on a chessboard, and crossed out a square for every kill, earning him his nickname.
Yang Xinhai was executed in China in 2004, aged 35, after murdering 67 people in a three-year rampage that ended with his capture in 2003.
Characterised as an introverted drifter, he cycled from one murder scene to the next, entering homes in rural areas and often slaughtering entire families with an axe, hammer or spade.
Police listed robbery and rape as motives, but Yang was also described as a deranged killer who simply enjoyed what he was doing.
Gary Ridgway, a former truck painter, was handed 48 life sentences in 2003 after admitting to killing 48 prostitutes and runaways between 1982 and 1984, a murder spree that terrified Seattle. He was 54 years old when convicted.
Nicknamed the “Green River Killer” after the waterway where his first five victims were found, he is the most prolific serial killer in US history.
A family doctor in northern England, Harold Shipman was sentenced to life in prison in 2000 after being convicted of killing 15 of his elderly patients by giving them fatal doses of morphine.
He hanged himself in prison in 2004, aged 57.
An inquiry the following year found that Shipman, nicknamed “Doctor Death”, had killed around 250 patients between 1971 and 1998, which made him the country’s worst serial killer yet.
Luis Alfredo Garavito, a travelling salesman, was jailed for 835 years in 2000, aged 42, for murdering 189 boys aged between eight and 16 over a five-year period until 1996.
Known as “The Monster of Genova”, after his birthplace in Colombia, Garavito met his victims by posing as a charity worker, salesman, monk or disabled person, among other disguises.
He lured them with food and drink, and usually slit the children’s throats after raping and mutilating them. Some were beheaded.
Four of the murders took place in Ecuador.
In 1992, Russian Andrei Chikatilo, 56, was sentenced to death for 52 sexually motivated killings of women, children and young people between 1978 and 1990.
The former teacher, known as the “Butcher of Rostov”, after the far-eastern area where he was particularly active, was executed in 1994.
‘Monster of the Andes’
In 1980, Colombian Pedro Lopez Monsalve was arrested at a market in Ecuador after attempting to abduct a young girl. He later confessed to having strangled at least 310 children from poor backgrounds in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Initially accused of the rape and murder of four children, the “Monster of the Andes” led police to a field where the bodies of 53 young girls were buried.
He was sentenced to 16 years in prison, the maximum term in Ecuador, and extradited in 1994 to Colombia, where he was interned in a psychiatric hospital.
Freed several years later, he disappeared and would today be about 70.