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Charles Cullen: New Jersey’s Angel of Death

Though Cullen confessed to 40 murders, some investigators believe he killed as many as 400 people.

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  • Photo Credit: Murderpedia

Over the course of his 16 year career as a nurse, Charles Edmund Cullen poisoned numerous patients with toxic injections. He slowly gained a reputation as the “angel of death serial killer.” Nurse Cullen worked at nine different hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and due to his suspicious actions, he was forced to resign—or was fired—from at least five. 

Related: Jolly Jane Toppan: The Angel of Death Who Confessed to Killing Over 30 People

The early life of Charles Cullen

Born in West Orange, New Jersey, on February 22nd, 1960, Charles Cullen was the youngest of eight children. Here, the New Jersey serial killer faced an incredibly difficult childhood. He first attempted suicide at the age of nine, drinking a mixture of chemicals from a home chemistry set. It was just the beginning of multiple suicide attempts over the course of his lifetime. Cullen’s father died when he was an infant, and his mother died when he was 17 years old. 

After his mother’s sudden death, Charles Cullen dropped out of high school and joined the Navy in 1978. He served as a petty officer third class on the USS Woodrow Wilson, a ballistic missile submarine. Despite the routine that the institution provided, Cullen’s mental instability was still evident. Repeated issues led to his being transferred to a supply ship, where he would go on to make several more suicide attempts. Cullen received a medical discharge from the Navy in 1984.

The rise of a New Jersey serial killer

After his time in the Navy, Cullen completed his nursing education at Mountainside School of Nursing. Nurse Cullen gained a position working at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey in 1987. He married a woman named Adrienne Taub the same year. The two would go on to have two daughters together. It would appear that Charles had found a far more stable rhythm in his life. 

However, just a year after he completed his nursing training, Cullen committed his first murder—beginning his journey as the angel of deal serial killer. Judge John W. Yengo Sr. had been admitted to St. Barnabas for an allergic reaction to a blood-thinning drug. Nurse Cullen gave him a lethal overdose of medication, and would go on to kill 11 patients while employed in the burn unit at St. Barnabas before quitting his job there in 1992

Related: 40+ Disturbing Serial Killers Who Will Keep You Up at Night

Investigations into the deaths of his patients there showed abnormally high insulin levels in their blood. They also found that some IV bags had been contaminated with insulin. Despite these two suspicious facts, the outcomes of these investigations were never shared with the police. 

Nurse Cullen’s next job was at Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, early in 1992. He continued to take patients’ lives, killing three elderly women. He administered lethal doses of the heart medication digoxin, a drug used to treat symptoms of congestive heart failure.

Charles Cullen’s dark deeds are exposed

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In 1993, Adrienne Taub served him with divorce papers on the grounds of "extreme cruelty." She would go on to make two domestic violence complaints against him as well. The documents from the divorce proceedings and domestic violence complaints painted a picture of a reclusive and violent alcoholic. 

The cruelty detailed included pouring lighter fluid into people’s drinks, prank-calling funeral homes, and stuffing pets into trash cans and bowling bags. A former neighbor actually reported Cullen’s cruelty to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); the dog was ultimately rescued. 

Despite these horrifying claims, Cullen received shared custody of their children. He was also ordered to pay child support. Cullen reported wanting to quit nursing around this time, but the child support payments forced him to continue.

The beginning of the end for Nurse Cullen

In December of 1993, Nurse Cullen left Warren Hospital, taking a job at Hunter Medical Center early in 1994. Cullen has claimed that he did not kill anyone in his first two years of working in the intensive care and cardiac care units, but admitted to killing five patients in his third year there. He used a method that he previously employed at Warren Hospital: overdosing patients on digoxin. 

Related: Doctor of Death: The Twisted, Decades-Long Crime Spree of Michael Swango

In 1998, the New Jersey serial killer was at it again. Working at a hospital in Elston, Pennsylvania, he committed another murder. The coroner’s report revealed a lethal amount of digoxin. However, the investigation done into the matter was inconclusive.

His murderous habits continued through 1999 when, while working in a burn unit in Allentown, Pennsylvania, he killed one patient and attempted to kill another. Nurse Cullen would resign from that position and go on to work in the cardiac care unit in St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Cullen killed five patients there over the course of three years. 

Cullen’s final post at a hospital would prove to be the most lethal. He began to work at Somerset Medical Center in September of 2002. Cullen was noted for using the hospital’s computers to access patient’s records for people that he wasn’t caring for; he was also seen by coworkers going into rooms of patients that he was not attending. 

He had also mastered the computerized system that the hospital used to administer medication. He worked out not one, but two methods to keep investigators from tracking the medications that he frequently used to overdose his patients. 

Related: Angels of Death: Cathy Wood and Gwen Graham

The capture of the angel of death serial killer

In August of 2003, Somerset Medical Center alerted state authorities to the death of one of Cullen’s patients as a result of low blood sugar. Cullen was fired in October of 2003, and arrested on suspicion of murder in December. In his time at Somerset Medical Center, he murdered at least 13 people, and attempted to murder two others. 

When speaking with authorities, Nurse Cullen admitted to committing murder, and claimed that he did so to spare patients from going into cardiac or respiratory arrest. He also claimed that he overdosed patients to “end their suffering.” Despite this claim, many of his victims were not terminally ill. Cullen initially denied committing murder at other hospitals, but as detectives showed him records, he confessed to his crimes. 

In April of 2004, Charles Cullen pleaded guilty to multiple murders and attempted murders at Somerset Medical Center. He would go on to plead guilty to three additional murders in May. On March 2, 2006, Cullen was sentenced to multiple consecutive life sentences, and deemed eligible for parole in 397 years.

The actions of Charles Edmund Cullen led to a New Jersey law that requires healthcare professionals to report any workers who seem like they may pose a threat to patients to licensing boards and consumer affairs. It’s become known as the Cullen law. The Good Nurse, a film about Cullen's life, is set to come out in 2022, with Eddie Redmayne playing the notorious nurse.

Photo Credit: Murderpedia