Netflix’s The Good Nurse tells the true story of a nurse named Charles Cullen who was eventually found guilty of killing dozens of patients in his care—though he is suspected of murdering far, far more. In the film, Eddie Redmayne plays Cullen and co-stars with Jessica Chastain, who portrays a fellow nurse at Somerset Medical Center named Amy Loughren. Cullen and Loughren were working together when he was finally arrested, because she helped gather evidence against him.
But before the arrest, they actually shared a real friendship, working late nights in the intensive care unit together, a dynamic The Good Nurse tries to portray. Here’s Charles Cullen’s true story.
Where is Charles Cullen from?
The serial killer was born into a family of eight children in West Orange, New Jersey in 1960, according to Sky News. His father Edmund died when before he turned one, and his mother, Florence, died in a car accident when he was a senior in high school. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy afterwards, per The New York Times.
He reportedly attempted suicide multiple times throughout his life, including during his time in the Navy, where he didn’t quite fit in. In 1987, Cullen got his nursing degree, got married, and started his first nursing job. He and his wife had two daughters before divorcing in 1993.
When did Charles Cullen start killing his patients?
Cullen was arrested for his crimes in 2003 but was estimated to have been actively killing people for up to 16 years beforehand. He was reported for suspicious activity by some of the places he worked for, but he avoided detection by moving from facility to facility in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
In one example, Cullen left a job after an elderly patient reported that he was not the nurse assigned to her, but entered her room to give her an injection. Cullen was said to have passed a lie detector test, but it turned out to be inconclusive, and the case was ultimately dropped, according to the Times. Another time, Cullen was fired for hiding heart medicine in a container meant for needle disposal.
The number of people he killed increased as time went on, which is what finally brought things to a head. At Somerset, he killed 13 patients in less than a year. He began working there in 2002 and was caught in mid-2003.
How did he kill his patients?
For the most part, Cullen injected his victims with digoxin, a medication that can help people suffering from irregular heart beats or heart failure, but a high dose is lethal. However, he sometimes would just add a lethal dose of insulin to their saline pouches.
How was Charles Cullen caught?
Again, people had been suspicious of Cullen for a while, but his co-worker Amy Loughren was the person who really moved the case. She was approached by two investigators following the death of reverend named Florian Gall, who died of a massive heart attack at Somerset after showing clear signs of improvement. The autopsy revealed the lethal level of digoxin in his system.
Loughren was able to point out all the medication that Cullen was ordering and using through the hospital records. She decided to wear a wire to get a confession out of Cullen, inviting him to meet her in a restaurant. The evidence she gathered led to a probable cause arrest and he fully confessed to 40 murders, though it’s suspected he killed up to 400.
Cullen agreed to work with investigators if they would refrain from going for the death penalty. He stated that he wanted to put “very sick” patients out of their misery, but many of his victims were not terminal. He was sentenced to 11 consecutive life sentences, and then received six more life terms specifically for the murders he committed in Pennsylvania.
What did Amy Loughren think of Eddie Redmayne in The Good Nurse?
In an interview with Sky News, Loughren said, “It was triggering watching Charlie [played by Redmayne] because Eddie truly embodies who my friend Charlie was. The way that he moves, the way that he speaks, the interactions that we have, are so real. That part of it was extremely triggering.”
She added, “And allowing myself to understand that I missed him for a while—and my guilt about actually missing my friendship, because he’s a monster. But I didn’t know the murderer. I only met the murderer a couple of times and he played this part of my friend. I missed that friendship, so it was very triggering. And then it was like, ‘Let’s get him.’”
Aimée Lutkin is the weekend editor at ELLE.com. Her writing has appeared in Jezebel, Glamour, Marie Claire and more. Her first book, The Lonely Hunter, will be released by Dial Press in February 2022.