Based on the true story of the infamous “Angel of Death,” Netflix’s crime film ‘The Good Nurse’ follows Charles “Charlie” Cullen, a nurse who kills several of his patients by polluting the IV bags administered to the patients. In reality, Cullen had worked in nine hospitals and supposedly killed around 400 patients, although according to him, the victim count is around 40.
If Cullen had really killed 400 individuals, it would even make him the most prolific murderer of all time. Although Cullen is infamous around the globe, his motive behind the killings is still ambiguous. On that note, let us share our thoughts concerning the reasons behind Cullen’s horrifying killing spree!
Is There a Reason Why Charles Cullen Killed So Many People?
After getting arrested by the authorities, Charles Cullen never bothered to explain the motive behind the murders he committed. Even in his trial, he mostly remained silent. He then broke his silence in April 2013 in an interview given to Steve Kroft for CBS’ ‘60 Minutes.’ When asked about why had committed the crimes, Cullen responded, “I had thought that – that people aren’t suffering anymore. So, in a sense, I thought I was helping.” However, his murderers cannot be considered as mercy-killings.
Cullen’s victims weren’t only terminally ill patients but also patients whose lives weren’t threatened or hanging by a thread. Several of his victims were recovering patients who would have left the hospital soon without any complications. As per Charles Graeber’s ‘The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder,’ the source text of the film, Cullen stated that he wanted patients to not get “coded” and die. He also apparently wanted to prevent hospital personnel from “dehumanizing” the patients.
The explanation doesn’t explain why he had to kill Eleanor Stoecker, who was recovering and in no pain, or Michael Strenko, who had been suffering from an autoimmune disease and was recovering from a routine spleen removal surgery. When Kroft asked Cullen why he killed patients who weren’t expecting death, Cullen didn’t have any satisfactory answer. “You know, again, you know, I mean, my goal here isn’t to justify. You know what I did there is no justification. Um, I just think that the only thing I can say is that I felt overwhelmed at the time,” Cullen told Kroft.
“It was more or less, you know, felt like I needed to do something and I did. That’s not an answer to anything,” Cullen added. The then-Somerset county detectives Tim Braun and Daniel Baldwin, who captured Cullen, believe that he killed for a sense of control. “He could save a life or take a life. And in many cases, he chose to take a life,” Braun said in the same ‘60 Minutes’ interview. Looking at his past, Cullen had to go through several experiences where he seemingly hadn’t had any sort of control over his life.
When his mother Florence Cullen died when he was 17, as per ‘60 Minutes,’ Cullen tried to kill himself. Witnessing his mother’s death helplessly, without having any control to save her, must have affected him severely. Cullen’s life after Florence’s death was miserable. He joined the Navy, only to get bullied, which also led him to try to kill himself, as per ‘60 Minutes.’ The trauma of such helplessness might have been repeated when Cullen’s then-wife Adrienne Taub separated from him with their two daughters.
As the film depicts, Cullen and his ex-wife had custody battles over their children, but the serial killer couldn’t win them, leaving him with no control over his daughters’ life as a father. Cullen might have tried to gain such a sense of control by rewriting others’ fates. According to Charles Graeber, the author of the source text of the film, gaining control and power were fundamental motives of Cullen.
“If the rest of his life was spinning out of his control, if he was losing custody, if he was feeling depressed, if his love life was in the toilet, he could poison patients, he could save patients, he could make decisions, he had an arena in which he mattered and where his actions had definite consequence,” the author told Steve Kroft for ‘60 Minutes.’ Ultimately, Graeber, who had interviewed the serial killer several times for his book, believes that Cullen killed because he could.
“It was never about anyone but Charlie Cullen. He did what he did because of his own needs, his own compulsions,” Graeber said in the same 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.