Angel of Death

Ever since she was a little girl, Vickie Dawn Jackson wanted to be Florence Nightingale. As a nurse at her tiny hometown hospital in Nocona, she cared for her patients and won praise from her supervisors—until the day she snapped and started killing her friends and neighbors.
Vickie Dawn Jackson at the Montague County jail, photographed on October 20, 2006.
Photograph by Misty Keasler

Just about everybody in the two-stoplight town of Nocona knew Vickie Dawn Jackson, the sweet, soft-spoken nurse who worked nights at Nocona General Hospital. Vickie had been a nurse or a nurse’s aide since she was a junior in high school. Over the years, she had bathed Nocona’s residents, fed them, inserted their catheters, given them their medications, ban­daged their wounds, and sat by their beds, holding their hands when they were aching from pain.

She owned 25 nurse’s uniforms, all of which she kept pressed on hangers in her bedroom closet at her house on the poor side of town. When she went to the local Dairy Queen, an hour or so before her shift began, she would almost always be dressed in one of her uniforms. Her hair, which she dyed herself at her kitchen sink with Lady Clairol Pale Blonde, would be neatly brushed and pulled back in a little knot on the top of her head—Vickie believed it was important that a nurse never let her hair get in the way of her work—and because she also thought that patients liked nurses who smelled good, she would be wearing a dab of Charlie on her neck, which she’d buy on sale at Wal-Mart.

Hi, y’all,” Vickie would politely say to the teenage girls working behind the counter. She would usually order a taco basket (two tacos, onion rings, and a small salad), and as she’d walk through the main dining room, she would shyly smile at customers who had once been her patients. She would eat by herself in one of the back booths, and when she was finished, she would carefully wipe the crumbs off her table with a napkin, throw away her trash, walk outside to her beige four-door Buick, and make the four-minute drive to Nocona General, a one-story brick building on the southwest side of town.

Nocona General was one of the smallest hospitals in the state. On any given day, there would rarely be more than fifteen patients there, scattered throughout eighteen rooms on a single hallway. At the beginning of her shift, Vickie would make a point of visiting all the patients, introducing herself as Nurse Vickie and telling them that if they needed anything, anything at all, just to let her know. She’d regularly check on them throughout the night, and during her breaks, she’d often read a nursing textbook.

She was, by all accounts, a most dedicated professional. “She received compliments as a caring person,” said Barbara Perry, the hospital’s director of nursing. “She did everything that was asked of her,” added another nurse who worked with her, “and she never seemed upset about what she had to do.”

On December 11, 2000, however, Vickie, who was then 34 years old, decided to make a slight change in her work routine. She filled a syringe with mivacurium chloride, a drug that paralyzes the respiratory system, and she began walking up and down the hospital’s hallway, looking for a patient to murder.

You no doubt know all about Henry Lee Lucas, the one-eyed drifter who wandered through the state, brutally murdering women. You know about Kenneth McDuff, the small-town bully who was twice sent to death row for his vicious slayings. You probably remember Angel Resendiz, the Mexican vagrant who rode on freight trains, hopping off in various towns and cities so that he could bludgeon unsuspecting victims to death.

And now, into that pantheon of Texas monsters comes … Nurse Vickie. From December 11, 2000, to February 18, 2001, according to law enforcement officials, Vickie murdered ten patients at Nocona General Hospital, most likely killed another ten, and attempted to murder five more. As opposed to other nurses who have been caught doing away with patients, Vickie was not a mercy killer. She didn’t target those who were terminally ill or suffering from severe pain. Nor was she one of those emotionally disturbed nurses who are so desperate to win approval from co-workers that they put patients into medical distress so they can later be found heroically attempting to revive them. “She didn’t try to save anyone at all,” said Kevin Benton, an investigator with the Montague County district attorney’s office. “She wanted people dead. Lots of people.”

What was even more peculiar was that almost all of Vickie’s victims were townspeople she’d known, from elderly residents whom she had first cared for years ago at a nursing home and neighbors who’d lived just a few blocks away to parents of friends whom she had known since she was a teenager. One night, she injected mivacurium chloride into a slim, sexy woman her own age who frequented a country-western nightclub that Vickie also went to, and on another night, she injected mivacurium chloride into a bespectacled teenage girl who went to high school with her children.

Vickie even used mivacurium chloride to murder her own husband’s grandfather. Then, in a scene that could have been lifted straight out of one of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories about small-town Southern life, Vickie attended his funeral, bringing along a potato salad for the reception. “I’m so, so sorry,” she said to members of the family, patting their backs and shaking her head sympathetically. “Is there anything, anything at all, I can do for you in your time of need?”

For the past six and a half years, Nocona’s residents have been at a loss to explain why such a meek, mild-mannered nurse, one with no history of violent behavior, would suddenly want to wreak havoc on their town. “I swear to you, this was a nice girl who never uttered a single bad word about anyone, and that’s the God’s truth, pardon my French,” said Richard “Rat” Thomas, one of Nocona’s old-timers who drives his Sears riding lawn mower to the Dairy Queen almost every afternoon. “She looked nice, she dressed nice, and she smiled nice—I mean, real nice. Seriously, now, how could someone be so nice during the day and then do all that killing at night?”

After a nearly

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