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The psychiatrist who faked it

Published: 8:15PM Sunday October 17, 2004 Source: Sunday

A Polish psychiatrist practising in New Zealand became embroiled in one of New Zealand's most shocking murders and biggest medical scams. For years not even Interpol could track her down, but Sunday did with some interesting results.

Dr Linda Astor disappeared from Nelson seven years ago and is still wanted for questioning by police about one of New Zealand's biggest medical scams.

Astor was a Polish-born psychiatrist with years of experience in the United States and according to her referees a compassionate human being.

But while she was in New Zealand she released a very dangerous man into the community - a man who would later decapitate his partner Fiona Maulolo.

Astor took a job at Hutt Valley Health after arriving in New Zealand from the US.

She was initially allowed to practice under supervision, but within a year she had the top job in mental health services at Nelson Marlborough Health.

Her probationary supervisor deemed her "definitely fit to practise".

But while at Hutt Health, Astor illegally signed papers that freed schizophrenic Les Parr when he was under a compulsory detention order.

Parr's father, Lesley senior, visited his son and was shocked that he was allowed to go home...he says it was very clear to him that his son was unwell.

" He was nowhere ready to be released or go home."

"You could just tell it in his behaviour," Lesley Parr told the Sunday programme.

To add to the family's concern, Les's uncle Bruce says from the time Les was released into his father's care there was no contact with Hutt Hospital.

"Nobody will take responsibility, they pass the buck and pass the buck and then when it gets to the top they close the door and say 'go away we don't want to talk to you about this,'" Bruce Parr said.

Les Parr was acquitted of murder due to insanity and is held as a special patient at Wanganui Hospital.

The Maulolo family are still angry. The family fought Hutt Valley Health for damages, but the fight was futile.

Fiona's daughter Sheena told Sunday she thought her family would be safe in New Zealand.

"To put an end to it I think that Dr Astor has to come back into the country and there's a lot of unanswered questions," Tina Maulolo told Sunday.

According to the coroner's report about the death of Fiona Maulolo there was no evidence Astor examined Les Parr before she released him. The report also found the hospital failed to manage Parr's risk, failed to monitor him and failed to communicate.

The most glaring mistake was the failure of authorities to check out Linda Astor.

According to the Sunday programme the Medical Council, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the District Health Boards all accepted Astor's CV at face value. If they had checked they would have found that the American institution she claimed to work for didn't even exist and that her carefully prepared references were bogus.

Astor's Polish credentials were more convincing.

The coroner accepted her claim she qualified as a medical doctor at the Lublin Academy of Medicine and that she trained in psychiatry there.

When the Sunday programme went to check Astor's files they found she does have a medical degree, but does not have a qualification in psychiatry from the Lublin Academy.

But what about Dr Zbignew Poddubuick, the Lublin senior psychiatrist who wrote the reference for his star student, that helped her get her job in New Zealand? The surprising twist in this tale is not that Poddubuick didn't exist, or that he wasn't really a senior psychiatrist - it is that he is Dr Linda Astor.

Zbignew Poddubuick became Linda Astor and at the Lublin Academy records of the two identities are held in the same file.

Over time it seems alarm bells did start ringing among Astor's New Zealand colleagues.

Nelson Marlborough Health began a private investigation into her background and the Medical Council finally wrote to Lublin seeking to verify her credentials.

But it was too late.

The letter, which Sunday has seen, was dated two days before Fiona Maulolo was decapitated.

Shortly after that Astor left the country and for four years not even Interpol could trace her.

Then in 2001 she was arrested in the US for shoplifting. She already had conviction in the US for fraud so was deported to Poland.

Sunday found Astor - now known as Dr Linda Hoffman - in a small village called Prushkow.

She is a senior psychiatrist in charge of geriatric psychiatry, has 20 staff reporting to her and cares for hundreds of patients. Not surprisingly her working history in New Zealand does not appear on her CV and her current employers had no idea of her past.

See related video for all the details...


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