Math Caught A Serial Killer

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Kristen Gilbert was nicknamed the “Angel of Death” because so many patients happened to die during her shifts. No one saw her doing anything wrong, and there just wasn’t any physical proof in post mortem examinations… but many of the patients who went into cardiac arrests didn’t have health problems that should result in heart failure. Some were even young and physically healthy. But without hard evidence, is it even possible to determine whether a doctor or nurse is actually killing patients?

The data revealed a shocking pattern of elevated patient death rates during Gilbert’s shifts at the Veterans Administration hospital, but that still didn’t prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt. The thing is… it doesn’t necessarily HAVE to. In the case of Kristen Gilbert, math identified the possibility of a serial killer’s existence and then let a full investigation do the rest. Gilbert is serving four life sentences plus an additional 20 years, and dozens, if not hundreds, of lives were saved by getting her away from patients.

The state spent $1.8 million defending Kristen Gilbert in a trial in which she narrowly escaped a death sentence. But that trial never would’ve happened at all without math.


“Statistics in the Courtroom, United States v. Kristen Gilbert,” by George Cobb and Stephen Gehlbach. http://www.stat.ucla.edu/~nchristo/statistics100B/article.pdf

Adrenaline, by Brian B. Hoffman. https://www.amazon.com/Adrenaline-Brian-B-Hoffman-2013-04-15/dp/B01M13D9SM

Perfect Poison: A Female Serial Killer’s Deadly Medicine, by M. William Phelps. https://www.amazon.com/Perfect-Poison-Female-Killers-Medicine/dp/0786015500

Molecules of Murder: Criminal Molecules and Classic Cases, by John Emsley. https://www.amazon.com/Molecules-Murder-Criminal-Classic-Cases/dp/1782624740

Calculating Justice: Mathematics and Criminal Law, by Ken Strutin. https://www.llrx.com/2013/12/calculating-justice-mathematics-and-criminal-law

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