Hunt is on for Johnson County woman charged with murder at Missouri hospital in 2002


The question of whether Jennifer Hall of Overland Park was an angel of death — a serial killer perhaps responsible for taking as many as nine lives at a Chillicothe, Missouri, hospital in 2002 — has swirled around her for years.

Now the sheriff’s office in Livingston County, Missouri, is on the hunt for the 41-year-old former respiratory therapist, seeking the public’s help in tracking her down.

On May 4, the Livingston County prosecutor charged Hall with first-degree murder in connection with one of those deaths, that of Fern Franco, who died in May 2002 at the 49-bed Hendrick Medical Center.

Hall served as a respiratory therapist at the medical center for only five months, from Dec. 16, 2001, to May 18, 2002. In that time, nine people died in the hospital of cardiac arrest, a number so large that it was deemed “medically suspicious,” according to documents accompanying the probable cause statement for Hall’s arrest.

Eighteen “codes” or “code blues” — meaning cardiac or respiratory arrest — occurred in Hall’s short stint when, prior to her arrival, the hospital was logging only one “code blue” each year.

Hall was placed on administrative leave on May 21, 2002, three days after Franco’s death. In 2010, five of the families of patients who died during that period filed a wrongful death suit against the hospital. The Star wrote at length about Hall in 2015.

In the article Hall denied intentionally causing anyone’s death. She had been accused of delivering fatal injections.

“My name is just thrown out there, and it’s for horrifying reasons,” she said at the time. She requested that her photograph not be taken and spoke in the presence of her attorney.

“I want my name to be cleared, yes,” she added. “At the same time, I don’t want my character destroyed.”

In 2019, the Missouri Supreme Court threw out the families’ wrongful death suits, ruling unanimously that they had filed too late, beyond the three-year statute of limitations.

Sheriff’s Office in Livingston County, Missouri seeks the public’s help in finding Jennifer Hall, 41, charged in May with first-degree murder at a hospital in 2002

Sheriff’s Office in Livingston County, Missouri seeks the public’s help in finding Jennifer Hall, 41, charged in May with first-degree murder at a hospital in 2002

There is no statute of limitations for homicide. The probable cause statement declares that on May 18, 2002, Hall “knowingly caused the death of Fern Franco by administering unprescribed Succinylcholine and Morphine to her.”

Franco had been sick with pneumonia. Succinylcholine is a paralytic used to to relax skeletal muscles, as during intubation. Morphine can suppress respiration.

A search warrant for Franco’s remains obtained in May 2002 by the coroner supplied tissue sample. The samples revealed the presence of both succinylcholine and morphine, which her medical records showed were not prescribed.

The samples were further evaluated and confirmed by analysis at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and by both the former chief medical examiner of New York City and the chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police.

A statistical analysis performed by John P. Rice, a professor of mathematics at the Washington University School of Medicine, determined that the likelihood was minuscule of having so many code blues during Hall’s employment, calling it “a pattern that would happen less than one in a million times.”

“Hall’s victim was a sick, defenseless, elderly woman who was depending on Hall to care for her physical ailment within a medical facility,” Chillicothe Police Officer Brian Schmidt wrote in documents accompanying the probable cause statement. “The substance Hall used to brutally take Fern Franco’s life … paralyzes the victim’s muscles, including the diaphragm, causing the victim to suffer a ghastly death from suffocation while still maintaining full consciousness.”

The Livingston County Sheriff’s Office asks anyone with information relevant to Hall’s whereabouts to call (660) 664-0515.

The Star’s Luke Nozicka contributed to this report.

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