In 1900s New York, an alarming number of residents at an old peoples’ home were dying. Conicidence – or was a serial killer at work?

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On 2 October 1889, Carl Milnarik was born in Vienna, Austria, one of three children of a book-keeper father. In his teens, he had dreams of becoming a doctor, but his family was too poor for this to become a reality.

Still, the young Frederick was not easily discouraged. By sneaking into hospitals and clinics, he picked up a sketchy knowledge of medicine and pharmacology.

New life

And then in June 1914, now in his twenties, Carl left his family, his past and his identity behind him. Changing his name to Frederick Mors, he boarded a boat bound for America, in search of a new life.

As a German speaker, the young Mors soon found employment through the Immigrant Free Employment Bureau. He was taken on as a porter for the German Odd Fellows’ institution in New York City, home to 250 orphans and 100 elderly men and women.

It wasn’t long before Mors was promoted to nursing assistant. However, he quickly began to show worrying signs of mental instability. He would dress in a white lab coat with a stethoscope around his neck and he insisted that the elderly residents, most of whom were scared of him, address him as Herr Doktor.

Strangely, although he terrified the older people, the younger residents and even visitors seemed to find him personable.

Suspicious

But then, suspicious things started happening at the home. Although not unusual for any nursing home to lose elderly patients, far more than normal were dying – 17 within four months, from September 1914 to January 1915. Fearing foul play, the administration called in the police to investigate.

Then, on 2 February 1915, a nervous, slightly built young man approached a policeman on duty in front of the District Attorney’s office.

The odd young man chain-smoked Egyptian cigarettes, wore a heavy Tyrolean-style corduroy hunting outfit of short breeches, golf stockings, and an Alpine hat with a feather on the band. It was Frederick Mors.

Scientific

Mors politely told the officer he had come to confess to killing eight residents of the old people’s home.

‘All were finished off in the most painless, scientific fashion,’ he told the astonished officer.

Mors initially used arsenic, opium, and morphine to poison his victims, but decided he’d need to devise another method that was less likely to leave any evidence.

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So he would anaesthetise his chosen victim, before pouring chloroform into their mouth. When burn marks from the chloroform were found around the mouth of one of Mors’ victims, he resorted to using a layer of Vaseline to prevent this.

Suspect serial killer

Mors might have continued to get away with his murders indefinitely but, early in the investigation, police learned of the apprehension the elderly patients – and even some of the staff – had about Mors. Because of this, he soon became a suspect for the murders.

When Mors was questioned by police, he was very cooperative, readily admitting to the murders. In his confession, he claimed his victims had ‘needed to be put out of their misery’. He said that these were mercy killings, that the elderly residents whom he dispatched had been ‘nuisances’.

Graphic detail

Mors calmly claimed he’d poisoned eight of the 17 patients who’d recently died. He described in graphic detail how he would kill his victims.

‘First I would pour a drop or two of chloroform on a piece of absorbent cotton and hold it to the nostrils of the old person. Soon my man would swoon. Then I would close the orifices of the body with cotton, stuffing it in the ears, nostrils and so on,’ he said.

‘Next I would pour a little chloroform down the throat and prevent the fumes escaping the same way.’

Mors also claimed that the home’s Superintendent had encouraged him to despatch the more ill and elderly of the patients.

Confession

After his arrest and confession, Mors was examined by psychiatric professionals. Doctors agreed that Mors was insane, ‘paranoically inclined’, but couldn’t determine whether he had really murdered the old people in his care, or was simply delusional. In 1915, with forensics being a new science, it was impossible to say with certainty that Mors had actually killed.

In the end, he was diagnosed as meglomaniac – suffering from a mental illness marked by delusions of greatness, and an unnaturally strong wish for power and control – and committed to a secure mental health facility.

But, after being incarcerated for some years, Frederick Mors somehow managed to escape. He was never recaptured and his ultimate fate remains a mystery.

Or perhaps not…

Body found

Eight years later, police in Torrington, Connecticut – situated at just over 100 miles from New York – were called to investigate a skeleton found in a field. It seemed to be that of a man named Dr Frederick Maurice Beno.

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iStockphoto

Dr Beno had arrived in the town in 1917. He was described by those who had known him as a slight, presentable and polite man with a wide knowledge of medicine. He got a job as head of the first-aid department at a local factory. But then, just a year later in 1918, he disappeared.

And now police believed that Dr Beno was, in fact, Frederick Mors. But, once again, it was impossible to determine anything with certainty. The doctor was identified only by his former room mates, who’d recognised the shoes found on the skeleton’s feet as those of Dr Beno.

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iStockphoto

Still no answer

So were the remains really those of Mors? After his escape from the mental institution, had he started a new life with the assumed name and identity of Dr Beno? As with the poisonings, no scientific methods or sophisticated forensics then existed to answer the questions..

And perhaps no-one will ever know the truth about Frederic Mors. Was he a mentally unstable serial killer, or simply delusional? And if, after his escape from the mental hospital, he assumed a new identity, how had he finally met his untimely end – and why..?