The focus of today’s show takes his place in the serial killer hall of infamy mostly for one reason: His death count. This man murdered many, make no mistake about it, though if we counted nasty dictators such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot or the champion of body counts, Mao Zedong, his number doesn’t look too high. But they didn’t cause the deaths of millions with their own hands.
Then you’ve got professional executioners such as the Russian-born Vasily Mikhailovich Blokhin, who executed tens of thousands in the early 20th century, and that was with his own hands. Still, we don’t often class executioners as serial killers. Today we’ll focus on one of the most prolific killers in the hands-on department and certainly the busiest serial killer of all time in the USA, in this episode of the Infographics Show, Charles Edmund Cullen: The Angel of Death.
Before we get into the who, what, where, when, and how of this serial killer, let’s have a quick look at the people that own the spots on the world’s most prolific serial killer in history list. We should add the disclaimer that the exact number of deaths is not always certain.
Often put in the top five is a former British doctor named Harold Shipman, aka, Doctor Death. It’s thought that between 1975 and 1998 he killed somewhere between 200 and 250 people with injections of diamorphine (which is the same as heroin).
Then you’ve got a triumvirate of Colombians. There’s Daniel Camargo, who in the 70s and 80s raped and killed around 180 women and children. He took the mantle from Pedro López, aka, “The Monster of the Andes”, who in the 60s and 70s is said to have murdered more than 350 young girls. It’s thought he’s wandering around Colombia or Peru today after being released from prison in 1998. Then you have the child-killer, torturer and rapist, Luis Garavito (aka The Beast), who killed just as many people in Colombia and nearby nations in the 90s. After these guys there are many serial killers around the world with a 50-100 person body count.
We will also give a special mention to Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian woman who it’s said killed around 650 people in the 16th century. According to reports she brutally tortured and killed mainly children in her Transylvanian castle and sometimes bathed in their blood, hence her nickname the Blood Countess. This is no myth, although the story could have been slightly exaggerated over time. Over 300 people testified about her wicked deeds and a large number of skeletons and body parts were found around her castle during the investigation.
So, what about our man Mr. Cullen? Well, while there might be only around 30 confirmed murders, many people familiar with the case say that Cullen possibly killed over 400 people, which would put him ahead of the others we just mentioned. You could say, though, that he wasn’t as brutal as someone who swiped soon-to-be-tortured-and-killed kids from the street, but we’ll leave that for you to decide. We say this, because like Doctor Death, he killed his victims by administering already sick hospitalized patients with an overdose of drugs. He could do this because he worked as a nurse. Now let’s have a look at what may have caused this killer to act so violently.
He was born on February 22, 1960 and was the youngest of 8 children and he grew up in West Orange, New Jersey, where he has said he had a terrible childhood filled with unhappiness. He has stated that even as a 9 year old kid, he tried to kill himself by making a dangerous drink from chemicals in his chemistry set. In a statement after his arrest, he talked about this suicide attempt. “You know, maybe if I was nine years old and would have had to die that day, all these lives, including my family, wouldn’t be affected in this way.”
Why did he do this? Well, some sources tell us Cullen was raped as a young kid by his father, but that seems unlikely as his dad died when he was just 7 months old. This is probably not reliable information. The more reliable New York Times said in 2003 that details of Cullen’s background are sketchy, but it’s certain that he did try and commit suicide at various points in his life. There were up to 20 attempts some media tell us, due to his depression and lack of self-worth. In interviews after his arrest, neighbors said he was socially awkward and strange.
Bios tell us he had few friends, and being skinny and awkward, he was bullied. He spent a lot of time alone, but had a good enough brain to understand the books of Fyodor Dostoevsky, which he was reportedly fascinated by. We might remember that the protagonist in the novel “Crime and Punishment” kills, and at times tries to justify it. Other blogs – not as reliable as big news media – told us two of Cullen’s siblings died during childhood. All in all, you have a poor family and a lot of tragedy.
We know that the family lived in poverty with just their mom, who relied on welfare payments. Like many serial killers, Cullen’s family was hyper-religious. They were Catholic, so perhaps Cullen was full of what’s sometimes called Catholic guilt. We know from his sister that the mother died in a car accident while Cullen was in high school, and this is said to be a reason why he didn’t complete school. We also know that he joined the U.S. Navy and served between 1978 and 1984, where he worked on the ballistic missile submarine called the USS Woodrow Wilson.
This is where we have the first signs of him being not a regular guy. Like in school, he was considered a misfit by the other officers. “Cullen was the target of relentless bullying during his time on the nuclear submarine and did not last long on his ﬁrst assignment,” said one news report. Not only was he deemed strange, but he was found one time to have stolen a hospital gown, gloves and mask from the medical area, and then was seen wearing them while sitting at the missile control panel on the submarine. He was reassigned, but during the next few years in the navy, he would try and commit suicide on more than one occasion. This led to him being discharged.
The young man straight out of the navy went to study nursing at the Mountainside School of Nursing in New Jersey. He landed his first nursing job at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey, in 1987. He also got married that year with a woman he would have two daughters with. Was life getting better for Cullen? It seems not, as he never lasted that long at any one hospital. Over his 16-year career, he worked in 10 hospitals. His marriage lasted not much longer than one year, and he lived in a small apartment by himself. He was also cruel to his pet dog, leaving it tied up outside all day, even in the winter.
The dog was rescued eventually by an animal protection agency. He never had much money, either, and the police were once called after it was discovered Cullen had been burning things inside his house to heat the place up. No wife, no money, no happiness, Cullen, it seems, then began taking his sadness out on others. We should also add that he was arrested at one point for stalking a female colleague at the hospital. On one occasion he broke into her house while she was sleeping. After this arrest he tried to commit suicide yet again and had to take two months off work.
It’s said at the many hospitals where he worked he would try and choose the graveyard shifts in the intensive care units. Here he was left alone and many of the patients in his care were in a very bad way; not only would it be plausible if they died but they couldn’t communicate with him or call for help. He often had the run of the ward and he also had a number of prescription drugs that he could administer to his victims. Patients were dying, and it was unusual, but the hospitals couldn’t figure out what was going on.
It seems Cullen was under suspicion though, but it seems more for being careless than actually intentionally killing people. He lost jobs for giving patients drugs at the wrong times and another time for stealing drugs. But no one ever put two and two together and linked him to the mysteriously dying patients. Even though he lost a lot of jobs it’s thought he was not banned from the profession of nursing partly because at the time there was a huge shortage of nurses.
There would be more suicide attempts and even some love interest in his life, but he kept on killing. While he worked at Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey in 2003, he killed at least eight people, until it was found that this strange nurse had been accessing patient data of people he wasn’t assigned to. He was also taking drugs from the pharmacy that his patients hadn’t been prescribed, and visiting rooms that contained patients not assigned to him. Before he was arrested and just before his final victim that he overdosed on insulin, Cullen killed at least 5 more patients. Authorities finally did add two and two together and Cullen was put under surveillance.
He was arrested on December 12, 2003 and charged with murder and he soon told the cops he’d been killing for years at several hospitals, but it’s thought he never gave the correct number regarding his victims. He told police he had killed them so they wouldn’t suffer any more. While many of the patients he killed were in great pain and were terminal cases, many others were on the mend. He also told police that during the murders he was in a kind of blackout and so he couldn’t recall all the people he had murdered.
In 2006, he got 127 years in prison, which was eighteen consecutive life sentences. He is currently serving that at New Jersey State Prison.
So, what do you think about this? Should the authorities have caught this guy earlier? Do you think most serial killers exhibit signs of their murderousness? Perhaps you know someone who is a budding serial killer in making? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called Worst Punishments In The History of Mankind! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!