Thursday, May 9, 2002

Graeme Smith
With reports from AP and Reuters

p. A12.

Former B.C. prostitute charged with murder

A nurse, whose dark history includes working as a prostitute on the streets of Vancouver, killed 14 of her patients by injecting them with lethal drug cocktails, Dutch prosecutors have charged.

Police began digging into the past of Lucy Isabelle Quirina de Berk, 40, after noticing an unusually high number of infants and elderly people had died since 1997 while she worked at four hospitals in The Hague.

Ms. de Berk was arrested last fall in connection with three deaths. Yesterday, prosecutors filed 11 more murder charges and four attempted-murder charges, as well as a count of forgery of a high-school diploma that allowed her to qualify for medical training.

Among the dead are infants less than a year old and patients as old as 91. They were being treated at a variety of institutions, including a children's hospital and a prison infirmary.

Ms. de Berk has denied the charges, which remain unproven. A court ordered that she be held in prison until the trial, which is scheduled to begin June 17 and expected to last four days.

"The nurse is suspected of killing the victims by giving them substances such as potassium … and morphine," prosecutors said in a statement.

Police in Winnipeg assisted Dutch police when the Dutch authorities visited Canada earlier this spring to trace Ms. de Berk's movements. Dutch police don't suspect her of committing any homicides in Canada.

She appears to have lived in Winnipeg for about five years, attending high school but receiving no formal training as a nurse. Ms. de Berk left her alcoholic parents and moved to Vancouver, prosecutors say, where she worked as a prostitute.

Dutch authorities have described the woman as a "classic psychopath." She once carved a cross symbol into her own chest, told her family she suffered from a terminal disease and even published her own obituary in a Dutch newspaper, they said.

Prosecutor J. Regeling has told the court Ms. de Berk was obsessed with death and has attempted suicide seven times over the past decade.

Ms. de Berk submitted the following notice to the Haagsche Courant newspaper for Jan. 18, 1993: "To our dismay our daughter and sister Lucia has passed away. The funeral took place in silence. No visitations, please."

The police also found the following entry in Ms. de Berk's diary for the day one elderly patient died: "Today, I surrendered to my compulsion again."

In March, the bodies of three children in the case were exhumed for examination.

In an earlier court appearance, Ms. de Berk refused psychiatric help and vehemently denied her guilt.

"I've never taken anyone's life or attempted to do that," she said. "If I need psychiatric help, I will seek it myself."

A lawyer for Ms. de Berk has said there is no evidence that the patients — all seriously ill before dying — didn't die of natural causes.

A statement from prosecutors gave no indication what illnesses the nurse's alleged victims suffered.

The Netherlands was the first country to legalize euthanasia, but the law that took effect last month includes strict conditions.

In practice, mercy killing has been tolerated in the Netherlands for about two decades. The law says euthanasia is allowed only if patients face a future of unbearable, interminable suffering and make a voluntary, well-considered request to die. Doctor and patient must be convinced there is no other solution, and a second doctor must be consulted.

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Created: May 12, 2002
Last modified: July 9, 2002
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