The Story of Nurse Jani Adams: Death’s Angel
Jani Adams was a Nevada nurse accused of switching off a patient’s life support machine and killing him in order to win a bet about his death. Adams was suspended from her job, faced public scrutiny across the US and was charged with the murder of a 51-year-old man.
But was Adams actually a murderer, or was she an innocent woman? Read on to discover the story of nurse Jani Adams: Death’s Angel.
On March 13, 1980, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a news story exposing a Nevada nurse named Jani Adams working as Las Vegas’ Sunrise Hospital. The article claimed that Adams, who allegedly called herself Death’s Angel, had killed a patient by switching off his life-support machine.
What’s even more shocking is that the report stated that Adams had betted on her patient’s death “like an oddsmaker” at a betting shop while conspiring with other nurses who had also made bets on when the patient would die.
Adam’s might have been a nurse, but she wasn’t described as a nice, friendly woman in the news reports. Rather, Jani was actually described as a “tense”, “curt”, “brusque” and “abrasive” person. According to the reports, she was known for joking about patients dying and when one of her patients had died, Jani was allegedly heard joking: “Well, I killed another one.”
In addition to that, the Catholic nurse had been divorced twice and, at the time, was currently living with a man whom she called her boyfriend despite being out of wedlock, something that was incredibly frowned upon back then. Reports also revealed that she enjoyed Shakespeare and starred in a number of plays, one of which involved a “mercy killing”.
At the Las Vegas Sunrise Hospital, Jani supervised the graveyard shift and her life completely changed when Barbara Farro joined the shift in the intensive care unit. Back then, Jani didn’t know just how much Barbara was going to change everything.
Las Vegas Sunrise Hospital
Due to a change in personnel, Barbara Farro was placed on the night shift where Jani was supervising. After joining the team, Farro overheard several nurses discussing the health of a female patient, mentioning that her life support system had been tampered with and that a patient named Vincent Fraser was going to be the Death Angel’s next victim. She also witnessed nurses, including Adams, passing an envelope filled with money around.
A shocked and terrified Farro went to check on Fraser, a 52-year-old patient, and discovered that his life signs were failing. She decided to report Fraser’s condition to Adams who was playing a game of cards at the time. When Farro informed the nurse of Fraser’s condition, Adams replied by saying: “We know. Don’t worry about it.”
Farro claimed she was told to “fake” a heart massage on the patient by thumping on his chest. Meanwhile, Fraser’s wife, Bertha Fraser, noticed peculiar behaviour from her husband. According to Bertha, Vincent was repeatedly pointing to the life-support machine and shaking his head as if to tell her something was wrong. He also began to cry and shake. Later that same day, nurses urged Vincent Fraser’s wife to sign his mortuary release form despite him still being alive.
The next day, Mr Fraser died. Farro, concluding that Adams had tampered with Fraser’s life support machine, decided to report what had happened to the Las Vegas police. Around the same time, the story leaked to the press, prompting the Las Vegas Review-Journal to run the controversial news story exposing Jani Adams.
The news story sparked national and international outrage. Newspapers such as the New York Post, Dallas Times Herald and the Chicago Tribune all began reporting on the incident and the shocking events that followed. Even television and radio journalists picked up the story.
The news of Jani Adams appeared on every major network on the morning, evening and late news and during sections of popular US shows such as Good Morning America. Adams herself even appeared on the Tom Snyder talk show in an attempt to defend herself, but the public didn’t want to hear it.
The story continued to develop over the next few months as Jani Adams was suspended from her job at Sunrise Hospital. At the same time, Jani’s husband, respiratory therapist Bernard Deters, was also suspended from his job for being an “accomplice” to Adams.
The Grand Jury Court Case
On March 24, just ten days after the story first broke, Jani Adams appeared in court to testify against the accusations. She had hired celebrity lawyer Melvin Belli as her attorney, a man who, back then, was known for portraying an evil villain in an episode of Star Trek and for representing Jack Ruby, the man charged for murdering Lee Harvey Oswald over the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy.
During the Grand Jury court case, several nurses issued testimonies against Adams. One nurse claimed that Adam’s had asked on March 3 if Vincent Fraser was still alive because Adams didn’t want to “do the tube change”, changing the tubes which carried oxygen to Fraser.
When the unidentified male nurse allegedly told Adams that the life support machine was going to keep Vincent alive, Adams allegedly replied, “Well, I’ll take care of that” before turning a control knob on the machine down. Around 45 minutes later, Fraser’s heartbeat had started slowing.
Another nurse testified that Adams, speaking about Fraser, had said: “I want him gone by 3:30”, giving the unidentified nurse a “queasy feeling”. On April 2, Jani Adams was indicted and charged with the death of Vincent Fraser.
But there was one problem with the verdict: Jani Adams was actually innocent.
Jani Adams was completely innocent and had been wrongly accused and charged for the murder of Vincent Fraser. The public’s outrage at the story completely overwhelmed factual reporting as newspapers, television shows and radio programs continued to sensationalise what actually happened and refused to report on actual events.
For example, a UPI dispatch issued on March 15, two days after the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s story was released, revealed that autopsies on Vincent Fraser did not indicate any foul play and implied there was no strong evidence of betting. However, most newspapers covering the Jani Adams scandal conveniently forgot to mention this fact.
Jani’s Big Interviews
On April 6, Jani gave an interview to the Associated Press in which she talked about her job. She stated that intensive care nurses are “pretty special people” and that the general public had no idea what pressures were placed on them. She said:
What we see and the stress we live through every day only another nurse or doctor could possibly understand. You want to do so much and sometimes you can’t. You want a miracle. You see death every day and you say it’s not going to hurt me. But it does.
While she admitted that the conversion Farro had overheard sounded like a scene from comedy show M*A*S*H, Adams denied turning off Vincent’s life support machine, stating that “only God can take life. It’s not your decision.” Adams also explained the envelope of money Farro had spotted, which actually only held a small amount of money collected months before Fraser’s death that was going to be used to give a farewell buffet to a departing nurse.
Later on, Adams and her boyfriend invited the Las Vegas Sun to their home for an interview in which Adams revealed she hadn’t known about the killings until she read about them in the newspapers, the same day she was suspended from her job. That same day, Adams was told to go to the police station and was treated unfairly to the point where she was threatened with the gas chamber.
Describing the police’s treatment of her, Adams said: “It was brutal, and they were not just brutal to us; they were brutal to all of our friends. We were convicted before we walked into their office. One of them threatened me with the gas chamber and said he’d be glad to see me go.”
Barbara Farro’s Grand Assumption and the Testimonies
Generally, the entire incident stems from Barbara Farro assuming that Adams had murdered Vincent Farro in order to win a bet. Farro misunderstood what was actually happening around her and decided to report everything to the police. In addition to Farro’s assumption, several poor testimonies only added to the already controversial incident.
For example, the male nurse who claimed he had seen Adams turn the life-support machine down hadn’t passed his state board exam and, when asked if he could tell what Adams was adjusting on the respiratory machine, he told the court he didn’t know.
Meanwhile, it was revealed that Vincent Fraser was actually terminally ill and had been in a steady decline since his first entry into Sunrise Hospital in early January, two months before his eventual death. According to Las Vegas Sun reporter Paul Price, the only man actually reporting the facts, Fraser was bleeding from a 20-year-old peptic ulcer and had cirrhosis of the liver so severe it had required two previous surgical procedures. Following the surgeries, Fraser had developed low blood pressure, sepsis and heart trouble.
He had to have a tracheotomy, went into shock and his kidneys went into failure. Around this time his surgical wound became infected and faecal matter began draining from his abdomen. Several weeks before his death, five physicians noted that his condition was “terminal”. Then, by February 18, Fraser had gone into septic shock from the infection in his abdomen.
He survived an operation to save him but his health continued to decline. On February 28, Bertha Fraser was told that his death was “imminent” and on that same day, she made arrangements with a Florida funeral home. Days later, and just hours after Bertha had signed the mortuary release, Vincent Fraser died of septic shock.
After the Grand Jury court case, Bertha Fraser told the Chicago Tribune:
Deep in my heart, no, I don’t think that my husband was killed. The nurses I met at Sunrise were absolutely wonderful to me. I never met Jani Adams at all. All this talk in the paper about my saying that all Vince had was a hernia is nonsense. I knew he was a very sick man. I knew he was probably going to die. But, you know, you hope for the best, that, maybe, if he makes it through the night, why with all those antibiotics in him, who knows, he might be about to turn the corner. But I was told how sick he was. We were really only talking about his living an extra day or so… Vince is dead. let him rest in peace.
But what actually happened to Jani Adams?
The court case continued long after Jani Adams was indicted and charged with the death of Vincent Fraser. In May 1980, Judge Michael Wendell dismissed Adams’ indictment, ruling that there wasn’t enough evidence to hold Jani for trial. Sunrise Hospital issued a public statement sympathizing with the nurse and welcomed her back to her job. By then, however, both the hospital and Jani’s reputations had been damaged and they were making moves to sue the Las Vegas Journal-Review.
When it became clear that many accusations and testimonies had been hasty or inaccurate, the media’s depiction of Jani changed. In light of her innocence, the cruel, evil media depictions of Jani were replaced by pleasant, happier depictions. Meanwhile, newspapers were bombarded with letters criticising their coverage of the incident. Before the Jani Adams scandal had cooled down, however, there were other reports of nurses murdering patients, including a nurse who was accused of killing two elderly patients by giving them huge overdoses of morphine.
Several months later, after Adams was revealed to be innocent, the North Las Vegas Valley Times reported that she was quitting her job at Sunrise Hospital because working conditions had become “unbearable” following her return in June. After the indictment had been dismissed, Adams was allegedly forced to work extra hours with a heavier workload than other nurses. Adams stated that she felt Sunrise Hospital administrators were “out to get” her and that she overheard snide remarks from other nurses against her.
Meanwhile, film agent Jaki Baskow was reportedly attempting to negotiate a contract for a potential television movie about Adams, though it never seemed to happen. To this day it’s still unknown what happened to Adams after this, or what had happened to Barbara Farro, the woman who sparked the entire incident.