The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Great, now I’m afraid of hospitals, too.

Quick synopsis: The story of Charles Cullen who might be the most prolific serial killer ever.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Hospitals are very careful about their drugs… assuming they have street value. Otherwise, go right ahead, killer nurse!

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Cullen ended up donating a kidney from jail to his ex-girlfriend’s brother.

My Take: Well, this is disconcerting. I’m dating a nurse and I may need to dump her after this book.

Charles Cullen is a serial killer and for a very long time was… actually kind of a good nurse? When he wasn’t killing people. There are two major aspects of his story which make it extremely unsettling even for true crime.

First, Cullen did not seem to enjoy his crimes like most serial killers. Usually, there is some sexual component, or revenge, or something. Cullen seemed to just kill people like most people choose something at McDonald’s. “Yes, the small fry and I’ll kill that guy with digoxin.” He doesn’t seem to be seeking fame and he’s not even sure how many people he killed. Literally, he did it so much he’s not sure. It could be as many as 400 people which would make him the worst serial killer in recorded history (non-Nazi division).

Second, he was able to be this prolific over 16 years of nursing! At multiple hospitals! Why? How can this be? Basically, like this: “Hey we think the Cullen guy is killing people. No, we can’t prove it. Let’s just fire him for another reason and then not tell anyone including other hospitals. Glad we agree.” This happened at more than 5 medical facilities. I literally lost count of how many did this. This only stopped because a nurse and pharmacist finally put an end to it.

I’m going to go work out so there is no reason for me to go to a hospital anytime soon.

Verdict: Great true crime. It reads like a novel.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Sheri Fink, Five Days at Memorial
  • John Carryrou, Bad Blood
  • Jeff Guinn, The Road to Jonestown
  • Maureen Callahan, American Predator
  • David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon
  • John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, Mindhunter
  • Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing
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The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber
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