Is The Good Nurse a true story? The true crimes behind the film

By Chege Karomo — ON Oct 06, 2022
The Good Nurse
FilmNation Entertainment

The Good Nurse, starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain, has received stellar reviews following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s predicted to become a major hit when it debuts on Netflix on 26th October 2022. 

Chastain plays Amy, a nurse and single-mother struggling to raise her child and hide her medical condition from her superiors. Amy’s financial situation forces her to work demanding night shifts, stretching the limits of her ailing heart. She finds comfort and friendship in a new nurse in her unit named Charlie Cullen. 

The pair develop a strong bond, which Amy’s forced to evaluate when Cullen emerges as the main suspect in a series of mysterious patient deaths. 

The Good Nurse tells the true story of Charles Cullen, a former nurse suspected of killing 400 patients

Charles Cullen
Charles Cullen is seen in a courtroom December 15, 2003 in Somerville, New Jersey | John Wheeler/Getty Images

It’s perhaps surprising that a man suspected of being America’s most prolific serial killer hasn’t received the same television treatment as other serial murderers. The dearth of media productions about Charlie Cullen can be explained by the fact that nobody, even Cullen himself, knows the true extent of his killing spree. 

The Good Nurse details how Cullen worked the loosely supervised night shifts, when few could see him overdose patients with insulin and digoxin, killing them. Investigators linked Cullen to 29 hospital deaths, though he’s suspected of murdering as many as 400 patients. 

In early March 2006, Judge Paul W. Armstrong sentenced Charles Cullen to eleven consecutive life sentences. Cullen is currently held at New Jersey State Prison and will be eligible for parole in 2388. 

Cullen avoided the death penalty by agreeing to corporate with authorities. Charles was initially arraigned for one first-degree murder charge and an attempted murder charge but shocked authorities when he voluntarily confessed to more killings. 

Charles told detectives that he started killing terminal patients to end their suffering, but as time went by and his life became stressful, murder became an outlet. Cullen killed regardless of the victim’s condition or hopes of survival. 

The world will never know how many people Cullen killed. He had no memory of all the murders, and because he also killed victims he wasn’t assigned to and spiked bags of IV saline in supply closets, medical records proved of little importance during the investigation. 

Furthermore, the drugs Cullen used – insulin and digoxin – are so common that sorting who died from Cullen-induced overdoses from those who died naturally is almost impossible. Cullen estimated murder count of around 400 victims makes him America’s most prolific serial killer. 

Cullen evaded arrest for so long by exploiting loopholes in hospital and government systems. Before his arrest, Cullen had faced four accusations of murdering patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Authorities had four opportunities to catch Cullen, but they let him slither away. 

One scene in The Good Nurse encapsulates the systemic failures that allowed Cullen to continue killing. After learning about Cullen’s crimes, the hospital’s ‘risk manager’ and lawyer chose to quietly transfer him to another institution to shield the hospital from the ramifications of housing a serial murderer. 

There’s no evidence that the scene happened in real life, but Cullen moved freely from hospital to hospital as nobody bothered to inquire about his past. Charles said nothing to his victims’ families, but they spoke plenty during his sentencing trial. The daughter of a man Cullen spiked with insulin said:

“My only consolation is that you died a thousand deaths in the arms of Satan. I hope, with all my heart, that you are someone’s bitch in prison.”