The Grisly True Story Behind Netflix’s The Good Nurse
Netflix has made a name for itself as a home for true crime. The platform landed a huge hit half a decade ago with Making a Murderer, and has since doubled down, expanding the reach to include docuseries, reenactments, and fictionalized retellings of nefarious killers and crimes. One of their more recent hits is Dahmer, the true crime docudrama starring Evan Peters as the infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Viewers’ taste for the macabre has yet to be satiated, as Netflix is following Dahmer with another gruesome tale called The Good Nurse.
Starring Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, The Good Nurse follows nurse Amy Loughren as she works with police to collar her colleague, Charles Cullen, who’s suspected of killing his patients. The film is now streaming on Netflix.
Rather than focus on Cullen and why he became compelled to kill people (unlike the more sensationalist and controversial telling of Dahmer), Newsweek reports Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who wrote the film’s script, found Loughren’s perspective far more compelling and respectful than trying to make sense of Cullen’s actions. True crime can often dehumanize victims and make cheap entertainment of the ways a serial killer destroyed the lives of everyone around them, including their own families and the victim’s families. Wilson-Cairns also says there’s no point in trying to make sense of Cullens’ violence.
“In fact, none of us ever can assume because he’s never said it, and also I don’t think he even knows. So either you invent that, you put words in people’s mouths, ideals, [but] you’ve got to remember there might be 400 victims out there so it doesn’t feel quite right to do anything like that.”
That’s right, 400 victims. Loughren helped police capture what could have been one of the most prolific killers in American history. It’s only right that she gets a film on her life and how she worked to protect the lives of the patients of her hospital, rather than Cullen getting more attention.
Is The Good Nurse based on a true story?
The Good Nurse is based on a 2013 book by writer Charles Graeber titled, The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder. The book was born from a New York Magazine article Graebar wrote back in 2007 about Charles Cullen, a former nurse incarcerated for murdering numerous patients, who then wanted to donate a kidney to his ex-girlfriend’s brother.
Over the course of his 16-year career as a nurse, Cullen worked at various hospitals–one nursing home in New Jersey and nine hospitals in New Jersey. Despite concerns over his practices–Cullen was fired from five nursing jobs and resigned from two others according to BBC News–Cullen managed to stay under the radar for years. During his stints at each location, he left an unknown number of victims in his wake. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports Cullen’s first victim was municipal judge John W. Yengo Sr at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey. Cullen injected Yengo Sr. with lidocaine, which caused his heart to stop. Cullen left Saint Barnabas as the hospital investigated a number of contaminated IV bags. He continued to prey on patients at subsequent hospitals.
According to Investigation Discovery, Cullen would sneak into patients’ rooms and inject them with lethal doses of various drugs he ordered at the hospital. The New York Times reports Cullen would browse hospital records of patients to choose his victims and would order an egregious quantity of drugs. The hospitals Cullen worked at feared damaging their reputations, and many tried to ignore Cullen’s strange actions.
In a New York Magazine interview, Cullen says he knew what he was doing was wrong, but considered his actions as “stopping pain.” Still, he’s never given a clear answer as to why he felt the urge to kill his patients.
“If you’re asking if I knew what I was doing was wrong,” he says, “I saw that I was stopping pain, removing pain. I saw it as shortening the duration of the pain, ending pain. Sometimes the pain was patients who were suffering and terminal; sometimes it was the pain of families being ripped apart; sometimes it was the lives of patients that would only be tied up in an endless series of procedures and complications and pain.“
Exactly how many people he killed is unclear; Cullen suffered from depression and alcoholism and claimed he’d blackout during some of the murders. Town & Country reports Cullen confessed to 29 murders, but authorities suspect there could have been many, many more victims. We’ll probably never know the real number.
Cullen was finally arrested in 2003 after killing 13 patients at Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey. Investigators managed to catch Cullen in part because of the work of one of his colleagues, nurse Amy Loughren.
How was Charles Cullen caught?
Throughout his career, various nurses and families of Cullen’s victims suspected foul play in his patient’s deaths, but were often unable to find sufficient evidence to prove Cullen’s wrongdoing or were hindered by a hospitals that feared backlash to Cullen’s activity, as Slate reports.
In 2003, Detective Danny Baldwin and Detective Tim Braun visited Somerset Medical Center to investigate abnormal lab reports after the deaths of several patients, People reports. They interviewed various staff, including Loughren, who they showed a record of the drugs Cullen had acquired while on duty in the ICU. Loughren connected the dots to strange behavior she’d seen from Cullen in the past and decided to work with investigators to stop him.
Loughren agreed to wear a wire and met Cullen at a restaurant, where she tried to get him to confess to his crimes while detective waited outside. After small talk, she confronted Cullen and offered to go to the police with him. “He sat straight up,” Loughren recalls. “The color of his eyes changed. He put a smirk on his face and said, ‘I’m going to go down fighting.’ “
Detectives arrested Cullen and with the help of Loughren, got Cullen to admitted to his crimes. In 2006, Cullen was convicted of 29 murders and sentenced to 11 consecutive life sentences. And in 2008, according to NJ.com, five hospitals settled wrongful-death lawsuits with the families of 22 victims. In 2010, as The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, a jury in Lehigh County in Pennsylvania ordered Cullen to pay $96 million in damages to eight other families who claimed their family members died at the hands of Cullen.
Where is Charles Cullen now?
Newsweek reports Charles Cullen is now incarcerated at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey, where he will serve his consecutive life sentences for rest of his life.
Where is Amy Loughren Now?
When she started working at Somerset Medical Center, Loughren suffered from cardiomyopathy. Vanity Fair reports the heart condition made it hard to breathe and Loughren even had to go to the ER for treatment while at work.
Since her work with investigators, Loughren has since had a heart transplant and retired from nursing. Newsweek says according to her website, she’s now a “”Reiki Master, a Hypnotherapist, NLP Practitioner, Meditation Instructor, DreamSculptor Practitioner, Reconnective Healer, Integrative Energy Healer, Past Life Regressionist, Crystal Language Reader, Medical Intuitive,” and lives in Florida with her children and grandchildren.
“Watching the movie gave me permission to be proud of myself,” she says in her interview with People. “I showed up as a mom. I showed up as a nurse. I showed up as a friend. The only reason Charlie is not still murdering is because of my friendship with him.”
Milan Polk is an Editorial Assistant for Men’s Health who specializes in entertainment and lifestyle reporting, and has worked for New York Magazine’s Vulture and Chicago Tribune.