Based on the book “The Good Nurse” by Charles Graeber, “Capturing the Killer Nurse” is a documentary that revolves around incidents involving the sudden deaths of patients under the care of a male nurse, Charles Cullen. Charles, or as his colleagues called him, Charlie, was suspected of killing his patients by intoxicating them with Digoxin or some other harmful medication. Charlie was known to be passionate and had impeccable knowledge of medication. He was known to care for his patients; he wasn’t suspected of anything. So what was it that made him a murderer? The documentary presents clippings, narratives from other nurses, and incidents surrounding Charlie’s murders. The documentary is directed by Tim Travers Hawkins.
Starting With The Somerset Medical Center
Reverend Gall was admitted to Somerset Medical Center because he had trouble breathing the other night. His sister Lana was beside him at the hospital; she left after knowing that his brother’s condition was improving. He died. A call was made to the Poison Control Center in New Jersey from Somerset Medical Center, and after getting in touch with Dr. Bruce Ruck, a poison specialist, a nurse from Somerset learned that the drug Digoxin was responsible for the patient’s death. A similar case happened days later when another patient died due to levels of Digoxin found in their body. Dr. Bruce confirmed that it was a police matter they were dealing with, and he never heard from the hospital again.
Three months later, an investigation was led by Danny Baldwin. Tim Braun had received a call from the Somerset Medical center. Danny Baldwin was the on-call detective available at the time. He was new to the unit and wanted to prove himself. Mary Lund, the risk manager, was handling the case on behalf of Somerset Medical Center. Somerset had considered an internal investigation involving the deaths of patients due to unexplained laboratory findings, narrowing it further to two incidents of low glucose levels and the other two of Digoxin. They had also conducted a conversation with Charles Cullen regarding the Reverend’s case but suspected nothing. Later, the investigators conducted a regular background check on Charles. They found out about two arrests against Charles and reached out to Palmer police for further background information. The file on Charles had a sticky note, leading to the conclusion that the Pennsylvania Police had been looking for the same information on Charles a few months earlier. Danny contacted Trooper Eagan, who told him that he was conducting an investigation into Charles regarding stockpiling medications at St. Luke’s Hospital. This discovery changed the direction of the whole case. Danny made Charles Cullen the focal point of his investigation.
Who Was The Real Charlie?
Amy narrates an incident where Charlie found out that she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. She had a high pulse, and medications weren’t helping her. Charlie calmed her down and gave her Cardizem. She took it, but she didn’t suspect where he had gotten the medication. Amy explains how Charlie was the best at what he did and how he took care of her patients that day. He was someone they could rely upon. Amy cared for him.
Daniel was moving forward with his investigation, and when he found Charles’s resume, he used it to create a timeline of all the places he had worked before. They found traces of several incidents. He had been known to abuse his pets before. Also, a similar incident had taken place at Warren Hospital. At the Warren Hospital, a patient named Helen Dean, prior to discharge, had been murdered. A male nurse came and asked Larry (her son) to leave. He covered the area with a curtain. Larry was waiting outside when he heard his mother say, “Ouch.” He rushed inside and asked his mother, “What happened?” His mother told him that the nurse had injected her. Larry confirmed the mark with a Swiss knife. Later that afternoon, his mother was dead. Larry reported the incident to the prosecutor. After there was no evidence, the case was closed. Charles admitted himself to a psychiatric facility after this incident but continued working later to support his children. While Daniel was working on his investigation, Charles was still working at the hospital, posing a threat to all the other patients. Daniel wasn’t getting all the support he needed from the hospital; they were hiding information. They reached out to the New Jersey Poison Control Center. They got in touch with Bruce, and they found recordings of a conversation between Bruce and the hospital. They had now connected the dots. The hospital was covering up. They were worried about losing their reputation.
Daniel found a new lead when he discovered that one of the nurses at St. Luke’s claimed that Charles Lukes was killing patients. In 2002, Pat Medellin and Charles were working together at St. Luke’s, Pennsylvania. She was present when Charles was asked to resign around three o’clock in the morning. He was accused of stockpiling medication. Pat noticed a pattern with the patients’ deaths: they were stable but died unexpectedly. She had a patient named Sam, whom she was fond of. Sam was initially unresponsive but was showing improvement under Pat’s care. Sam coded while Charles was on duty. She reported the incident to the state police. Later, the case was closed, creating a lot of trouble for the hospital. The hospital was planning to expand, and Charles’s case would have cost them a lawsuit.
Daniel wanted to investigate the Pyxis transactions (a computerized machine for dispensing medicine). He reached out to Mary Lund for access, to which she lied that the data could only be stored for a period of 30 days. Tim Braun (commander of the case) reached out to the manufacturer, who told them the data would be retrievable from the unit. A meeting was called upon; apparently, the information was now available. Tom and Daniel were aware of the threat Charles possessed; they found a clue in his resume and got him fired. The whole nurse staff was shocked to see Charles get fired. Anna was in touch with Charles throughout. The investigation team now started interviewing the nurses at Somerset in the presence of Mary Lund. During Amy’s interview, she recalled an incident where she once saw Code blue, and when she reached, Charles was already present there. He was injecting the patient with lidocaine, a drug the patient was allergic to. She felt doubtful of Charles at that moment. She knew the investigators weren’t lying about what they had discovered about Charles. Daniel and Tim reached out to Amy at her home. They presented her with all the paperwork they had collected over the past months. A trail of possession of deadly medication was found under Charles’s name with canceled entries in the system. While the investigators were at home, Mary Lund called her and questioned her communication with the detectives. She suggested she avoid any communication without a hospital representative. Amy agreed to help with the investigation. She felt remorse and guilt for betraying Charles, but she was aware of his actions and the danger he posed. With her help, they were able to retrieve data on the patient’s profile, and she was taking a huge risk.
Reverend Gall was their strongest case; they reached out to his sister, Lana, to unbury his body for an autopsy. During the autopsy, high levels of Digoxin were found in his body. A case of natural death was now a case of homicide. A few days later, Amy got Charles telling her that he had a new job now. She asked him to meet up. They met at a restaurant where Amy was wired up. She was afraid and scared but brave enough. They started having a conversation while Daniel and Tom were in the parking lot. She questions him regarding all the incidents that took place. Charles’s body language shifts: he looks pale, empty, and stiff. Later, he was arrested for the murder of Reverand Gall and locked up for interrogation. He wouldn’t answer any questions. Tim reached out to Amy to get Charles’s confession. The plan worked, and Charles confessed everything. He was taken back to the interview room. In the documentary, actual clips from Charles’s interview are shown where he confesses that he wanted to free the patients of their misery. He is crying as he confesses that he murdered so many people. He had contaminated IV infusion bags with insulin. Those bags were used not just by him but by other nurses on the team as well, who now felt responsible for all those deaths too. A lot of the patients that were killed by Charles were making a full recovery, and some of them were ready for discharge as well. He didn’t just kill his patients; he also damaged their families.
What Charles did affect the lives of so many people who lost their loved ones. Not only this, but he also brought shame and a stain to the nursing community; they are now treated with a look of mistrust. Donna (a nurse at Somerset) narrates how she cried in the bathroom when an older patient commented, “You’re not going to kill me like Charles Cullen killed patients?” Charles failed to show any guilt in his testimony while a dozen family members bled out their anger and pain. He took away the hope from these people and put them in a state of misery over losing a loved one. In the end, Charles Cullen signed a plea deal, saving him from a death sentence. What Charles did was remorseful, but is he the only culprit here? He managed to continue this pattern for 16 years without being caught. Hospitals are responsible for their patient’s lives, but are they even capable if they decide to put their reputation above their patients? The lack of action and proper background checks led to the failure to discover Charles’s actions at an earlier stage. He had confessed to the murder of 29 patients and an attempt of murder on six more people. According to an estimate, he might be responsible for killing 400 people, making him the most prolific serial killer ever known in American history.
“Capturing the Killer Nurse” is a 2022 Netflix documentary film directed by Tim Travers Hawkins.