Is Charles Cullen the most prolific serial killer in the USA ever?
New Jersey native Charles Cullen may or not be the most prolific serial killer known in the USA. A former nurse, Cullen murdered an incomprehensible number of people over his 16-year career. Most of these deaths resulted from lethal overdoses of digoxin or insulin.
Charles Cullen worked in multiple hospitals and healthcare facilities before he was caught in 2003. Under the watch of numerous supervisors, Cullen managed to end one life after another.
When Charles Cullen was arrested and charged for the serial slayings, police investigators were confused by his testimony. The more Cullen discussed the deaths, the more detectives came to believe he was responsible for many more than the eleven he was accused of. Some experts believe that number is much, much higher – somewhere in the ballpark of 400 homicides.
From Navy man to nurse
Long before he became the nurse executioner, Charles Cullen dropped out of high school and enlisted in the US Navy. Cullen passed basic training and extensive psychological tests, eventually rising to the role of petty officer. It didn’t take long for Cullen to mess up.
A year into his service onboard the USS Woodrow Wilson, Charles Cullen was found wearing scrubs and a surgical mask while manning the ship’s missile control station. Cullen was reassigned to another ship. In the subsequent two years, Cullen attempted suicide and spent time in psychiatric wards until being medically discharged in 1984.
That same year, Charles Cullen enrolled at the Mountainside Hospital School of Nursing. Cullen graduated in 1986, marching straight into a long nursing tenure defined by frequent job changes, mental instability, and horrendous serial murder.
From nurse to serial killer
Charles Cullen’s first job as a nurse was at the St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey. It was there where Cullen later admitted to committing his first murder by the means he would continue to employ until being caught: a deadly overdose of intravenous medications. Cullen remained at St. Barnabas until 1992, leaving when hospital staff began investigating contaminated intravenous bags.
Between 1992 and 2003, Cullen jumped from job to job in both New Jersey & Pennsylvania, evading authorities and hospital supervisors. While many of Cullen’s colleagues reported his suspicious behavior over the years, no concrete charges ever materialized against Cullen.
During his decades-long killing spree, Charles Cullen tried to end his own life several times. Cullen also spent extended periods of time in mental hospitals seeking treatment for depression.
Charles Cullen’s heinous crimes as a nurse finally ended after staff at the Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey, where Cullen worked, notified police after a patient under Cullen’s watch died from low blood sugar. Within weeks, Cullen entered police custody.
A shady past, a foggy memory
As police worked with Charles Cullen to comprehend the extent of crimes, Cullen shared details about his traumatic past in an effort to provide insight into his motives. Cullen lost both of his parents at an early age, which fueled his lifelong struggles with mental health issues.
Charles Cullen’s past did little to rectify his choice to murder dozens of people, especially as investigators dug deeper into the killings. Cullen told investigators his memory of the murders was foggy at best. Cullen claimed to have blacked out during most of them, making it impossible for me to remember details vital to giving his victims the justice they deserve.
Ultimately, Charles Cullen was charged with eleven deaths and two attempted murders. Due to his limited recall, experts believe the number of people who died by Cullen’s hand is likely much larger. While some believe the number is close to 40, others estimate it could be as many as 400.
Charles Cullen’s case did a lot to change how problematic employee’s behavior is handled in medical facilities. Cullen moved from facility to facility due to the lack of reporting requirements related to suspicious behavior, massacring patients in plain sight.
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