Indiana's Angel of Death, the serial killer-nurse

(INDYSTAR.com) - He was Indiana's quietest, most low-key serial killer, a pet shop owner and hospital nurse with access to the potentially deadly drugs potassium chloride and epinephrine.

He was convicted of six murders, but authorities believe he may have killed as many as 70 elderly patients as they convalesced at the Vermillion County Hospital between 1993 and 1995.

And now Orville Lynn Majors, dubbed "the angel of death" by the anonymous tipster who first alerted police to his activities, is himself dead. Majors died Sept. 24 of natural causes in the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City where he was serving a 360-year sentence. He was 56.

Majors never discussed his case publicly after his conviction. He maintained his innocence, attributing his presence at an unusually large number of hospital deaths to the many overtime hours he worked and to "bad luck."

His victims were all elderly, which led to speculation he was practicing euthanasia. At least once there were witnesses: In April 1994, he injected what turned out to be a deadly mix into Dorothea Hixon, 80, while Hixon's two daughters, who had no idea about Majors' true intentions, unwittingly looked on.

Majors said to their mother, "It's all right, punkin', it's all right," one daughter later testified. He bent down and kissed the elderly patient on the forehead. Dorothea Hixon's eyes rolled back in her head, and she was dead.

Because of the ages of the patients, suspicion was slow in coming. But in 1995 the Indiana State Department of Health received the anonymous tip, which they took seriously. A team of investigators descended on the Vermillion County Hospital the very next day. The attorney general's office had an emergency hearing at which Majors' nursing license was revoked.

"It took five years to prepare the case," said Nina Alexander, one of the lawyers who prosecuted Majors, and at 72 continues to work as a Vermillion County deputy prosecutor. "The prosecution involved five or six different prosecutors and hundreds of state police officers, maybe 20 detectives, full time for two years."

Fifteen bodies were exhumed. 

On Dec. 29, 1997, Majors was taken into custody and charged with murdering seven people by injecting them with heart-stopping drugs. Following his trial in Brazil, he was convicted of six of the deaths in October 1999 and sentenced to 360 years in prison.

Alexander, a deputy prosecutor during the Majors' trial, later ran for prosecutor and won. She served two terms. Frank Turchi, the state trooper who led the Majors investigation, ran for county sheriff and lost.

An "angel of death" working in a hospital drew national media attention to this small pocket of western Indiana where the population of the entire county is just 16,500. With so few residents and so many mysterious deaths, most of which Majors never was charged with, the case "affected everybody," said Alexander. "Everybody knew somebody who was involved."

Many county residents knew Majors himself, who besides working in the hospital in Clinton owned a pet store in the nearby town of Linton. There, people knew him as Lynn and said he had a sense of humor and was compassionate.

How compassionate? In an interview with The Indianapolis Star before the trial, Majors' sister, Debbie McClelland, and a friend, Jerry McKinnon, related this story: One day in the pet store a fish jumped out of an aquarium; Majors picked it up and "brought the fish's mouth up close to his," the Star reported, "and blew air into it." The fish lived.

But during the trial, Majors' former roommate, Andy Harris, testified that Majors said, "old people should be gassed." That was the trial's only reference to a motive.

In prison, Majors turned down multiple requests for media interviews. He held several jobs behind bars, including janitor, and was a well-behaved prisoner. In his 18 years he had just three infractions, all minor, said Pam James, a prison spokesperson, "and that is like almost wonderful."

Prison staffers were assisting with a medical pass for Majors Sunday afternoon when he became unresponsive, according to a news release from the Indiana Department of Correction. Prison staffers performed CPR and used a defibrillator. LaPorte County EMS also performed CPR.

Majors, who had always his own cell, last had a visitor in 2015, James said, declining to identify the visitor.

Contact Star reporter Will Higgins at (317) 444-6043. Follow him on Twitter @WillRHiggins

INDYSTAR.com


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