Charles Cullen : biography
Charles Edmund Cullen (born February 22, 1960) is a former nurse who is the most prolific serial killer in New Jersey history and is suspected to be the most prolific serial killer in American history. He confessed to authorities that he killed up to 40 patients during the course of his 16-year nursing career. But in subsequent interviews with police, psychiatric professionals, and journalists Charles Graeber and Steve Kroft, it became clear that he had killed many more, whom he could not specifically remember by name, though he could often remember details of their case. Experts have estimated that Charles Cullen may ultimately be responsible for some 400 murders, which would make him the most prolific serial killer in American history.
Cullen claimed he administered overdoses to patients to spare them from being "coded"—going into cardiac or respiratory arrest and being listed as a "Code Blue" emergency. Cullen told detectives that he could not bear to witness or hear about attempts at saving a victim's life. Cullen also claimed that he gave patients overdoses so that he could end their "suffering" and prevent hospital personnel from "de-humanizing" them. However, many of his patients were not terminal and were to be released from the hospital shortly.
Investigators said that he may have caused patients to suffer, but that Cullen appears not to realize that this contradicts his claims of wanting to save patients from further pain and suffering. Similarly, Cullen told investigators that although he often observed patients' "suffering" for several days, while thinking about murdering them, the decision to commit each murder was performed on impulse.
He told detectives in December 2003 that he lived most of his life in a fog and that he had blacked out memories of murdering most of his victims. He said he could not recall how many of them there were or why he had chosen them. In some cases, Cullen adamantly denied committing any murders at a given facility. But after reviewing medical records, he admitted that he was involved in patient deaths there.
Cullen was born in West Orange, New Jersey, and was the youngest of eight children. His father, a bus driver, was 58 years old at the time of Charles' birth and died when Cullen was seven months old. Cullen described his childhood as miserable. He first attempted suicide at age nine by drinking chemicals from a chemistry set. This would be the first of many suicide attempts throughout his life. Later, working as a nurse, Cullen claimed to have fantasized about stealing drugs from the hospital where he worked and using them to commit suicide.
On December 6, 1977, Cullen's mother died in an automobile accident in a car that his sister was driving. In April 1978, devastated by his mother's death, Cullen dropped out of high school and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was assigned to the submarine service and served aboard the ballistic missile sub USS Woodrow Wilson. Cullen rose to the rank of petty officer third class as part of the team that operated the ship's Poseidon missiles. At this point, Cullen began to show signs of mental instability. He was transferred to the supply ship USS Canopus. Cullen tried to commit suicide seven times over the next few years. He received a medical discharge from the Navy on March 30, 1984.
Experts say that the reason Cullen was largely able to move from facility to facility undetected, was because of the lack of requirements to report on suspicious behavior by medical workers, and inadequate legal protection for employers. New Jersey and Pennsylvania, like most states, required health care facilities to report suspicious deaths only in the most egregious cases, and penalties for failing to report incidents were minor. Many states did not give investigators the legal authority to discover where a worker had previously been employed. Employers feared to investigate incidents or give a bad employment reference for fear that such actions might trigger a lawsuit. According to detectives and Cullen himself, several hospitals suspected he was harming/killing patients but failed to take appropriate legal actions. A number of hospitals had individual workers contact nearby hospitals in secret, to alert them that they should not hire Cullen.
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