Netflix’s crime film ‘The Good Nurse’ revolves around the life of Charles “Charlie” Cullen, a serial killer who kills his patients with the drugs he withdraws from the hospitals’ medicine dispensing systems. Based on a true story, the film follows Cullen’s co-worker Amy Loughren’s attempts to capture the serial killer by teaming up with detectives Danny Baldwin and Tim Braun. Intrigued by the serial killer’s nature and characteristics as the film depicts, we have dived into Cullen’s real history to find out whether he is a psychopath or a mentally ill individual. Well, here are our findings!
Is Charles “Charlie” Cullen a Psychopath? Does He Suffer From Mental Illness?
Although several infamous serial killers were and are psychopaths, Charles Cullen wasn’t diagnosed as one. According to Charles Graeber, who interviewed the serial killer several times for the eponymous book that also serves as the source material of the film, Cullen’s actions do come close to psychopathic characteristics. “[…] it’s clear that for someone to have a compulsive habit based on playing with—and destroying—other people’s lives is a hallmark of exceptional narcissism, if not psychopathy,” the author told Brooklyn Based.
Like psychopaths conceive a victimhood story for themselves, Cullen had also projected himself as a victim, as per Graeber. “It was never about anyone but Charlie Cullen. He did what he did because of his own needs, his own compulsions,” Graeber said in an interview given to ‘60 Minutes.’ “He sees himself as a victim. And as a victim, he’s entitled to lash out in any way he wants to make things right if that means killing victims. It just – anything his victimhood,” he added.
However, there are several other characteristics of Cullen that do not align with the traits of a psychopath. When Steve Kroft asked the serial killer whether he was sorry for what he did for a ‘60 Minutes’ interview, Cullen replied that he is, which is an admission of remorse that is not common among psychopaths. The serial killer even donated a kidney to a male relative of an ex-girlfriend, which is an act of empathy rarely seen among psychopaths. But Charles Cullen was diagnosed with depression and the mental illness affected his life severely. As per reports, he was suicidal as well.
As per Graeber’s book, Cullen tried to kill himself for the first time at the age of nine by mixing his chemistry set in the milk he drank. The second time happened after the death of his mother Florence Cullen. He had to consult a psychiatrist for the first time in his life as a consequence of the same. After Florence’s death, Cullen joined the Navy, but his attempts to kill himself reportedly didn’t stop and he even ended up at the military’s psychiatric hospital. He tried to end his life several more times, and his unstable behavior resulted in his departure from the service after six years.
Cullen’s troubled marriage further affected his mental health. His then-wife, Adrienne Taub, eventually filed for divorce in 1993 and won the custody of their two daughters. While confessing to his crimes to the police, the serial killer revealed that his depression was at its worst in the same year. According to Graeber’s book, Cullen tried to kill himself again by taking pills in wine, but he hospitalized himself before he could die. By the time he joined Somerset Medical Center, where he met Amy, he had tried to kill himself and stayed in psychiatric facilities several times.
Cullen’s depression was one thing that brought him closer to Amy. “[…] Charlie offered up slapstick tales of debilitating depression, bad luck, and bullied victimization with a wry honesty he believed Amy would connect to; she’d reply with laughter and the maternal attentions Charlie needed,” Graeber wrote in his book. “As the weeks passed, they graduated from familiars to friends,” he added. As per Graeber’s book, Cullen might have tried to kill himself 20 times, which can be seen as the result of his mental illness.