Making of a Monster: Waltraud Wagner (Angel of Death)

Pick Me Upmagazine asked for my professional opinion on Waltraud Wagner, also known as the ‘Angel of Death.’ Waltraud was a nurse who, along with three other nurses, killed 15+ patients in Vienna, Austria.  Out in the 29th November 2012 edition, I supplied the following psychological insight.

Not much is known about Waltraud. But it seems she went from ‘mercy killings’ to killing for pleasure easily. Why would someone find pleasure in this?

It is likely that Waltraud gained more from the killings than she had expected – a sense of power, a release of pent up emotions. The killings met her needs in some way, turning her acts from a gesture of help to the suffering into a way to help herself cope in some way.


She was particularly cruel to some patients, forcing open their mouths and pressing down their tongues so she could pour water down their throats until they were dead. Why choose such a cruel and painful death for these people? What does it say about Waltraud?

Such acts go to show that what Waltraud likely gained from these murders was some kind of sadistic pleasure in witnessing other struggle. Taking their lives was not enough – she wanted to see them literally gasping for their lives. This suggests that Waltraud wanted to be seen as so powerful that she controlled whether these people would live or die. It also suggests that she had a lot of internal anger – possibly at someone who had harmed her –and this was her way of gaining a sense of revenge, even if it wasn’t on the person in question.


She admitted to selecting some of the victims because they were ‘annoying’ or difficult in the ward where she worked. Was this a real motive? Why did she feel this way?

It is more likely that these victims stood out in some way – they reminded her of something or someone she didn’t want to be around. Little is known about Waltraud, but perhaps she had cared for someone before, someone who had demanded too much of her.


Waltraud very successfully recruited four others to kill alongside her and to help her. How did she manage this? And what does it reveal about herself and the other nurses who followed her lead?

Waltraud was a leader – charismatic, manipulative, charming – all the traits required to recruit other ‘angels of death.’ With words of persuasion she would have convinced these women that what they were doing was the right thing to do. It is also possible that these women were fearful of Waltraud and it was this fear that made them follow her lead.


Her right-hand woman was a nurse called Irene Leidolf. As a teenager, Irene had nursed her dying father and in the later stages of his illness, had to do everything for him. She suffered from many nightmares about open graces, apparently. How did Irene’s background make her vulnerable to Waltraud? And how did it lead her to the point where she was helping to kill elderly patients?

Irene had experience of witnessing the suffering of a loved one and thus it would have been easier for Waltraud to convince her that what she was doing was merciful. In addition, Irene would have experienced some difficult and stressful times looking after her father and may even have some resentment about this. Like Waltraud, these killings became a way to gain back control.


Waltraud is reported to have said of her patients that they were ‘hers’. What did she mean by this and what does it say about her?

Waltraud was possessive – she owned the patients and she likely believed she owned the nurses who followed her. Again, this was about control and power, not just murder.  Waltraud had to feel superior and it is likely that in her past she felt anything but this.


After being arrested, Waltraud wouldn’t speak. She wouldn’t give any information or say anything at all. Since beginning her prison sentence she is reported to be in a catatonic state and refuses to communicate with anyone. What does this say about her? 

Waltraud is unable to face up to what she has done or, indeed, to take responsibility for what she has done. More specifically, she cannot cope with her loss of power and control over those around her. In prison, she is again inferior and being controlled by others. To cope with this, she has shut down mentally.

Categories: Psychology

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