The dead patients piled up in hospitals across New Jersey, leaving doctors baffled and families searching for answers.
Thirteen victims at Somerset Medical Center. One at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. Three at Warren Hospital. Five more at Hunterdon Medical Center.
Only later would police discover the peculiar quality the deceased all had in common:
Charles Cullen had been their nurse.
All told over a 16-year career in health care, Cullen murdered 29 patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. After his 2003 arrest, the West Orange native admitted to police he injected deadly medicine into random IV fluid bags, turned off ventilators and medicated patients without doctors orders.
Although investigators confirmed Cullen killed more than two dozen people, some experts have estimated he may ultimately have been responsible for as many as 400 deaths, making him one of the most prolific serial killers in recorded history. He was so sinister, in fact, news outlets gave Cullen a macabre moniker: The Angel of Death.
Oscar-winning actor Eddie Redmayne plays the serial killer in the Netflix thriller The Good Nurse, which will be released in theaters Wednesday and debut on the subscription streaming service on Oct. 26.
The movie also stars Oscar-winner Jessica Chastain, who plays Amy Loughren, the Somerset Medical Center nurse who brought her suspicions about Cullen to police and was asked to wear a wire to collect evidence against him.
The Good Nurse, directed by Tobias Lindholm (Another Round) and written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917?), is based on the 2013 bestselling book, The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder, by Charles Graeber.
The gripping film trailer centers on the life of Loughren, an overburdened single mom and nurse who is recruited by investigators to bring down Cullen, her co-worker. A cat-and-mouse game ensues as Loughrens deadly suspicions about Cullen are confirmed and she works to incriminate him before more bodies pile up.
The Cullen tale gets the full Hollywood treatment in the trailer, but the true story didnt need embellishment to make it any creepier.
Charles Cullen at a 2005 appearance in Superior Court in Somerset County.Amanda Brown | The Star-Ledger
Born in 1960, Cullen was raised in a working-class section of West Orange. He dropped out of high school in 1978 and enlisted in the Navy, where he rose to petty officer second class. Shortly after his discharge, Cullen enrolled at Mountainside Hospitals nursing school in Montclair, graduating in 1986. The following year, he started his nursing career in the burn unit of Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston.
A year later, he committed his first murder, police said.
On June 11, 1988, he administered a lethal overdose of IV medication to a patient at Saint Barnabas. Cullen eventually admitted to killing several other patients there, including an AIDS patient who died after he had been given an overdose of insulin. Cullen left Saint Barnabas in 1992 after hospital authorities began investigating contaminated IV bags.
One month later, Cullen took a job at Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg, where he murdered three elderly women with overdoses of the heart medication digoxin.
Cullen finally was arrested in 2003, with the help of Loughren. He confessed to the 29 murders and told investigators he murdered up to 40 people.
Cullen, now 62, appeared on screen in 2013, when he conducted his first television interview with 60 Minutes. During the interview, Cullen said he felt the murders were mercy killings.
I thought that people werent suffering anymore, Cullen said. So in a sense, I thought I was helping.
Cullen also worked at Morristown Memorial Hospital as well as Liberty Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He was connected with deaths at Easton Hospital in Easton, Pennsylvania; Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown; and St. Lukes Hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
In 2008, the families of Cullens victims at Warren Hospital, Somerset Medical Center and Hunterdon Medical Center who filed wrongful-death lawsuits against the hospitals reached a confidential settlement. Those facilities, along with Saint Barnabas and St. Lukes, paid an undisclosed sum for claims in connection with the deaths of 22 of Cullens victims.
Charles Cullen looks toward the prosecution in April 2004 as he stands during a hearing at the Somerset County Courthouse, where he plead guilty to 13 counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. SL
Cullen is serving 11 consecutive life sentences for the 22 murders in New Jersey. He faces another six life sentences for his crimes in Pennsylvania. His earliest possible parole date from New Jersey custody would be June 10, 2388, according to the Department of Corrections. He currently is incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, according to correctional records.
The cast of The Good Nurse also includes former NFL player Nnamdi Asomugha, Kim Dickens, Malik Yoba, Alix West Lefler and Noah Emmerich.
Redmayne, 40, won an Oscar in 2015 for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
Chastain, 45, won an Oscar in March for playing televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
NJ Advance Media staff writer Amy Kuperinsky contributed to this report.
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