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Charles Cullen


Hauwa Abbas


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Charles Cullen

On February 22, 1960, is when Charles Edmund Cullen was born in West Orange, New Jersey is Infamously known as the “serial killer nurse”, Cullen is one of the most prolific serial killers who operated for 16 years. This paper aims to offer an overview of Charles Cullen’s childhood, late adolescence, early twenties, and family environment and inform the factors that influenced his deviant behavior and mental illness.

Identifying and Present Significance of:

  1. Childhood

Charles was the last of eight children from a young age he had to deal with death. His father passed away just seven months after he was born, leaving him to grow up without a father figure, which led to his mental instability (Harrington, 2018).

Charles took care of one of his siblings, who passed away at a young age with another of his siblings. He attempted suicide in 1969 when he was nine years old by consuming chemicals from a chemistry kit. His first of 20 attempts to end his life happened at that time.

  1. Late-adolescence

Cullen’s mother passed away in a car accident involving his sister when he was 17 years old, which made him give up his studies and enlist in the US Navy a year later. Cullen passed basic training and the thorough psychological exams required for new submarine crew members, who were instructed to spend up to two months submerged in cramped vessels. He was then posted to the Submarine Corps and served on board the USS Woodrow Wilson in the ballistics and missile department, rising to the rank of third-class boatswain in the Poseidon missile operating crew (Infobae, 2022).


  1. Early 20’s

Charles had already started to exhibit signs of mental illness throughout those years, with some odd occurrences, such as when he dressed in a green surgical costume, wore a mask, and stole latex gloves from the ship’s medicine cabinet to work his night shift. He was then reassigned to the USS Canopus supply ship, where he served until March 30, 1984, when he was released due to medical issues. Charles made seven suicide attempts throughout his six years in the Navy. Cullen was medically released from the hospital on March 30, 1984, after which he joined Mountainside Hospital School of Nursing in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. He later fell in love and married Adrienne Taub in 1987, and they had two kids together.

Diagnosis/ Treatment

Cullen was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, histrionic, and narcissistic traits. With these symptoms and the lack of empathy for others that sociopaths are known for, it is easy to see how he got away with committing more than 30 murders before any suspicion against him arose. Cullen was twice accused of domestic abuse, made a suicide attempt, was checked into two mental hospitals, and was eventually arrested for stalking another nurse.

Substance Abuse

Cullen’s wife depicted him as an alcoholic. Before giving his first known victim a fatal dose of heart medication, serial nurse murderer Charles Cullen was a suicidal drinker whose life was out of control. Cullen’s wife reported to police in 1993 that she had grown afraid of a man who would call funeral homes to inquire about prices, laced people’s drinks with lighter fluid, and had access to medicines as a nurse at Warren Hospital, which she feared endangered her and their two girls (Assad & Kraus, 2004).

When He got married, although it appeared that he had finally stabilized his life, he continued to experience more severe mental episodes exacerbated by his drug and alcohol usage.

The Infamous Act/Traumatic Event

When Cullen was at the St. Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey, where he began his career as a nurse, Cullen gave a patient a fatal intravenous medicine overdose on June 11, 1988. John W. Yendo, a judge who had been brought to the emergency room after experiencing an adverse reaction to a blood medication, was the victim. Cullen injected him with a fatal amount of the drug, which ultimately killed him. Cullen finally acknowledged killing numerous patients at Saint Barnabas to detectives Dan Baldwin and Tim Braun. Between early 1989 and late 1990, Cullen committed most of his murders, selecting victims from persons with AIDS and from the hordes of people who were close to dying.

After accepting a position at Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg, Cullen killed three older adults by giving them excessive doses of the heart drug digoxin. His last victim claimed that a Cullen had given her an injection while she was fast asleep, but her family and hospital staff disregarded her claims. Cullen attempted to retire from nursing after his divorce from Adrianne Baum and moved into a basement apartment, but he was compelled to keep working since he had to pay child support for his kids.


In 2003, his criminal activity grew more apparent; he would review the medical records of patients he wasn’t nursing and give patients medications that weren’t prescribed. The hospital’s management neglected to notify the authorities before October, by which time Cullen had murdered more people. He was sacked on October 31 for submitting false information on his job application.

Cullen was detained on December 12 after the authorities had been looking into him for two months. He was accused of attempting to murder Jin Kyung Han and killing Reverend Florian J. Gall. Cullen offered no opposition at all and not only admitted guilt on both counts but also admitted to committing further murders while working as a hospital employee in the past. He admitted to 29 murders and six attempted murders between April and July 2004, while he acknowledged that he couldn’t recall all of his killings. He may have intentionally killed a significant number of people. Judge Armstrong of New Jersey sentenced Cullen to 11 consecutive life sentences on March 2, 2006, and he won’t be eligible for parole until 2403 (Wilson, 2022).

Death or the Current Circumstances

He is currently held at Trenton’s New Jersey State Prison. Cullen was presented before Lehigh County President Judge William H. Platt for sentencing on March 10, 2006.  Platt sentenced him to an extra six life sentences during that hearing. Cullen has been collaborating with law enforcement officials as part of his plea bargain to assist in identifying other victims.

How All the Above Events Have a Connection

A look at Cullen’s life shows that he showed problematic tendencies from an early age. The challenges in his life such as the death of his father, his siblings, and even his mother, drove him to attempt suicide multiple times. His inability to cope with the challenges in his life, alcoholism, and his mental health issues such as antisocial personality disorder, histrionic, narcissistic traits, and lack of empathy for others that sociopaths are known for adversely affected him leading him to engage in the serial murders.


The Effects of An Underlying Mental Illness Contribute to A Human Being’s Demise

When one has a mental health issue it causes the death of the human being. A look at the case of Cullen shows that his lack of empathy for others which is characteristic of sociopaths made it easy for him to commit more than 30 murders before any suspicion against him arose.

Characteristics of A Serial Killer

Zuniga (2021) indices that a serial killer has three traits that align with the Macdonald triad namely physical, psychological, or sexual abuse victims. A look at Cullen’s case shows he had antisocial behavior, tortured small animals, poor family life, and had substance abuse

Healthcare Personnel/Teachers’ Intervention in The Child’s Life

A look at Cullen’s case shows that he had shown strange behaviors from a young age he had attempted suicide at the tender age of nine.  As such, teachers needed to insist on immediate intervention.  As a result, his parents could have understood the reason for the strange behavior and provided the necessary support and help.


Mental Health Nursing, diagnoses, care plan.

Cullen can be diagnosed with antisocial personality, alcoholism, depression, and suicidal tendencies. He requires support measures such as medication to deal with symptoms of antisocial personality, medication for depression, and CBT therapy for substance abuse and suicidal tendencies. He also needs support from a group to deal with his suicidal tendencies unearthing the source of the challenge and how to effectively address the issue.  He also needs coaching to learn to be resilient and deal with challenges that arise and so forth. He should be monitored and feedback received from his close associates to assess whether the interventions are a success.


It is estimated that in 2016, mental illness contributed to the loss of over 6.8 million years of potential life worldwide. All people with mental illness need access to appropriate treatment and care and support from their family and community to allow them to lead meaningful lives. Access to treatment and care is affected by many factors such as stigma, financial barriers, lack of insurance, and lack of trained providers.

Indeed, suicide, a trauma in childhood, and losing family members contribute to crime and murder. Mental illness is often cited as a factor that can contribute to serial killers. But there is also a debate on whether or not mental illness is a contributing factor in serial killers at all. Many special interests, such as the media and the general public, tend to emphasize the ideas that these killers are all evil, sociopathic monsters. And those who live with mental illness are often looked down on as having no control over their actions. This can have devastating effects on society’s perception of individuals with mental illness.



Harrington, R. (2018). The Angel of Death: The Shocking True Story of Serial Killer Charles Edmund Cullen (1st ed.).

Assad, M., & Kraus, S. (2004). A Slide Into Madness. The Morning Call. Retrieved 2 August 2022, from https://www.mcall.com/news/mc-xpm-2004-05-28-3537781-story.html.

Infobae. (2022). The truculent crime saga of Charles Cullen, the nurse who killed more than 300 people and will arrive on Netflix. Retrieved 2 August 2022, from https://www.infobae.com/en/2022/04/10/the-truculent-crime-saga-of-charles-cullen-the-nurse-who-killed-more-than-300-people-and-will-arrive-on-netflix/.

Wilson, O. (2022). Is The Good Nurse A True Story? TV Acute – TV Recaps & Reviews. Retrieved 2 August 2022, from https://www.tvacute.com/is-the-good-nurse-a-true-story.

Zuniga, V. A. (2021). A Descriptive Study of Serial Killers and the Presence of Macdonald Triad Symptoms. Grand Valley State University. https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2018&context=theses



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