Italy’s ‘Angel of Death’ anaesthetist held over suspicious deaths

Police on Tuesday arrested two Lombardy hospital workers, a nurse and an anaesthetist who called himself the "Angel of Death", suspected of causing the deaths of at least five patients through a lethal cocktail of drugs.

Italy's 'Angel of Death' anaesthetist held over suspicious deaths
The deaths were caused by a cocktail of drugs. File photo: Pexels

The pair were involved in a relationship and the nurse's husband is among the suspected victims, Italian media reported.

According to investigators, anaesthetist Leonardo Cazzaniga, 60, is accused of causing the deaths of at least four elderly patients. The suspected victims, who died between February 2012 and April 2013, suffered from different illnesses including cancer and Parkinson's disease.

Preliminary investigating judge Luca Labianca said a cocktail of medicines, including extremely high doses of morphine and Propofol, was administered to the victims “in overdoses and in rapid succession”.

According to one of Cazzaniga's colleagues the anaesthetist frequently referred to himself as an “angel of death”.

The 45-year-old husband of Laura Taroni, a 40-year-old nurse who worked with Cazzaniga at Saronno Hospital in the Varese region, also died under suspicious circumstances.

Both Cazzaniga and Taroni are suspected of involvement in his death; the pair reportedly convinced the man he was diabetic, with Cazzaniga falsifying a medical report and blood test results.

Taroni's husband died in summer 2013, after regularly taking medicine which the police report said was “absolutely incongruous with his actual health conditions, weakening and eventually killing him”.

Police said that the number of deaths could be higher than five, but that in other cases the possibility of death by natural causes could not be ruled out, due to the poor health of the deceased. Prosecutors are also investigating the deaths of some of Taroni's husband's relatives, according to Italian daily La Repubblica.

Phonecalls intercepted by police recorded the couple as they discussed their crimes.

In one exchange published by Il Corriere, Cazzaniga asked Taroni if he could be convicted of euthanasia (which is illegal in Italy), to which she explained “euthanasia is a different thing; you sign an agreement and then make a cocktail of drugs.” The anaesthetist's response was: “So it's murder that I could be accused of.”

In one of the most disturbing calls, Taroni told Cazzaniga she was prepared to kill her own children, aged eight and 11, to which the anaesthetist replied: “No, not the children”. 

Investigators also recorded Taroni discussing the “perfect murder” with her elder son.

The investigation into the suspicious deaths began in June 2014 after another nurse filed a report with police. The couple were arrested on Tuesday and Taroni's two children have been put into care. 

A further 12 workers at the Saronno Hospital are under investigation in connection with the deaths, including one head physician and the head of the emergency department, suspected of aiding and abetting and failing to report breaches in hospital protocol.



Italian mafia boss Messina Denaro ‘seriously ill’ following arrest

Doctors at the clinic where Italy's most-wanted fugitive Matteo Messina Denaro was captured said on Wednesday his health had recently deteriorated.

Italian mafia boss Messina Denaro 'seriously ill' following arrest

Messina Denaro, 60, a convicted killer known for a long series of brutal crimes, was caught during a visit to the clinic on Monday after 30 years on the run, after being forced to seek treatment for cancer.

“He is seriously ill. The disease has accelerated in recent months,” Vittorio Gebbia, head of the oncology department at the Maddalena clinic in Palermo, told newspaper La Repubblica.

READ ALSO: How Italy caught ‘most wanted’ mafia boss after 30 years

He underwent surgery for colon cancer in 2020 and 2022 under a false name, according to leaked medical records published in Italian media.

He was detained on Monday after detectives discovered through wiretapped conversations with family members that he was ill, and searched Italy for possible suspects of the right gender and age with cancer.

The law enforcement officers checked with Gebbia whether Messina Denaro needed urgent treatment.

“The police asked me if it mattered if the chemotherapy cycle he was set to receive was delayed by a few days, and I signed off on it because such a small delay will have no effect,” Gebbia said.

PROFILE: Ruthless Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro’s reign of terror

Messina Denaro was moved shortly after his arrest in Palermo to a high security prison in L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region, where he was being held in solitary confinement.

He was expected to be taken for chemotherapy treatment at the San Salvatore hospital in L’Aquila, which has a special unit reserved for this type of prisoner, according to reports in Corriere della Sera.

Messina Denaro was caught close to home after three decades on the run from police.

This is not unusual among Italy’s mafia fugitives, experts say, as on home turf they enjoy better protection and can continue to reign from the shadows.

“Going to state prison means failure for a mafioso. The mafioso wants to die in his own bed, not behind bars,” Italian journalist Attilio Bolzoni, a specialist on Italy’s criminal underworld, told AFP.