"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 22 February 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Deadside Manner



For a telegenic, overachieving

sociopath who may have killed as

many as 60 people, Michael J.

Swango certainly has a low

profile. Sure, James B. Stewart

wrote a book about the former

doctor, and HBO is now in the

process of turning Swango's

story into a movie. But where

are the misguided Web shrines to

the suspected patient-poisoner?

The iconographic T-shirts and

rock-star homages? At the very

least, the pernicious

malpracticioner's name, with its

evil trochaic lilt, seems ripe

for exploitation in the

transgressive soda market.

Inexplicably, Dr. Swango's

Olde-Fashioned Coca-Coma,

complete with patent

medicine–style copy on the

label promising deliverance from

all the grim afflictions of life

itself, has failed to appear on

the shelves of our local



Instead, on MSNBC's Special

Edition the other night we

witnessed what may have been the

1,837th TV newsmagazine profile

of Charles Manson. Unlike its

sister program, Time and Again,

which deliberately packages

yesterday's news as nostalgic

entertainment, Special Edition

ostensibly practices original

reporting. And yet in the Manson

piece, there was no news to

report and no new analysis.

Manson is still in jail and

still theatrically unrepentant,

and he was the subject of this

"news" piece, one imagines,

simply because he has become,

over the years, the killer

version of Tony Danza, a

convenient media plug-in who

receives screen time strictly on

the basis of familiarity,

inertia, and an amiable

willingness to hit his marks and

mug for the camera.



Not coincidentally,

Manson-as-metaphor says

practically nothing about

contemporary evil. Indeed, with

a hand-carved swastika gracing

his forehead and his bug-eyed

insistence on his unimpeachable

outsiderdom, Manson is as

obvious a monster as Freddie

Krueger. And yet this is the era

of The X-Files, the Jerry Springer Show,

and the Scream trilogy. Our most

venerable institutions are

corrupt; seemingly loyal

girlfriends are in fact cheating

boyfriends; that person who's

been butchering Sid's closest

pals over the past few years -

well, if he were a creepy-crawly

stranger, would he have bothered

wearing that goofy mask all this



In this realm, Michael J.

Swango, not Manson, stands as

our true patron sinner — a

clean-cut establishmentarian on

the surface with a soul as dark

as the bottoms of a pair of

blood-stained, ugly-ass Bruno

Magli shoes. Former high school

valedictorian, former Marine,

Swango first pledged himself to

the healing arts in 1979. As a

student at Southern Illinois

University Medical School, he

quickly earned the nickname

"Double-0-Swango" because so

many patients were expiring

under his care. Suspecting

nothing more than ineptitude and

bad karma, his classmates joked

that he must have a license to

kill. In his first year of

residence at Ohio State

University Hospital, Swango

continued to display a bedside

touch only slightly less lethal

than the Grim Reaper's: Nurses

spied him skulking in patient

rooms at odd hours; one patient

saw him inject something into

another's IV, causing immediate

convulsions. In a matter of

months, five patients who'd had

some kind of contact with the

sinister physician had died



Ultimately, as Stewart details

in his book Blind Eye,

administrators asked Swango

to leave the hospital but

did not press charges. He

responded by returning to his

hometown of Quincy, Illinois, and

working as a paramedic at the

local hospital. There, he set

standards for inappropriate

office behavior that no doubt

still stand. He cheered TV news

reports of mass murder. He

enthusiastically endorsed the

vocation of serial killer as "a

great lifestyle!" He told other

paramedics his favorite thing

about being a doctor was

"[coming] out of the emergency

room with a hard-on to tell some

parents that their kid had just

died from a head trauma." To

pass the time between ambulance

runs at the station house, he

filled scrapbooks with newspaper

articles about fatal car crashes

and poisonings.



And while he was less

forthcoming about his habit of

seasoning his co-workers' food

with arsenic, that eventually

came to light too. With

paramedic after paramedic puking

up hot geysers of vomit every

time Swango offered them a

doughnut or a can of soda,

people began to grow suspicious:

Maybe the widely acknowledged

station-house weirdo with the

well-known interest in poisoning

was up to something. Ultimately,

Swango's colleagues caught him

trying to sweeten a pitcher of

iced tea with ant poison; for

this, he earned a two-year

prison sentence that ran from

1985 to 1987.


Stripped of his medical license,

saddled with a prison record,

Swango still managed, through

deceit, institutional

indifference, and an instinctive

trust in physicians, to find

work as a doctor over the next

decade. First, he worked at the

University of South Dakota, then

at the State University of New

York in Stony Brook, then at

hospitals in Zimbabwe and

Zambia. At each of these stops,

he left numerous mysterious

deaths in his wake, and all the

while he continued to exhibit

the kind of eccentricity

generally confined to Ally

McBeal characters. To casual

acquaintances, he expressed his

admiration of O. J. Simpson and

Ted Bundy. In his rented room in

Africa, he hoarded dozens of

bacon sandwiches in his bedroom

closet. In Virginia, while

working as a counselor at an

organization that helped

students get into medical

school, he secretly moved into

the organization's basement.



And, remarkably, over the course

of a decade in which he may have

murdered dozens of people and

non-fatally poisoned at least a

dozen others, the most severe

censure he received was the loss

of his job, which happened

pretty much everywhere he went.

In 1997, however, as Swango

returned to the United States in

an effort to obtain a visa that

would allow him to work in Saudi

Arabia, his luck ran out.

Officials at Chicago's O'Hare

International Airport noticed an

outstanding warrant for him in

their computer files. The FBI

arrested him, and he is now

serving a 42-month prison

sentence for lying on the job

application he completed to

obtain his residency at Stony

Brook. On 15 July, that sentence

ends. According to a recent

article in the Cleveland Plain

Dealer, federal sources say

Swango is likely to be charged

with at least one count of

murder before that date.


The '90s were a decade of

pervasive corruption. Pop stars

didn't actually sing on their

albums; Los Angeles' most

vicious street gang beat Rodney

King senseless; a beloved TV

pitchman committed

double-beheadings; the

right-wing military types who

used to protect us from

terrorism became terrorists

themselves; our highest elected

official desecrated the Oval

Office with extramarital

cigar-fucking; the Ramsey family

replaced the Manson family. A

novelist seeking to incarnate

the sense of everyone-is-

guilty-but- no-one-

gets-punished dissolution that

permeated the decade could do no

better than Swango — and yet

for some reason, Swango has

failed to haunt the public

imagination in the manner of

earlier arch fiends. Instead,

the newsmagazines and the

transgressive hipsters continue

their 30-year infatuation with a

wizened homunculus now eligible

to join AARP, a throwback to the

days when evil was identifiable

and institutions had more to

fear from outsiders than they

did from themselves. Apparently,

Dr. Swango's more topical

manifestation of evil is just

too potent a brew to swallow.

courtesy of St. Huck
picturesTerry Colon