True crime dramas are often filled with stories of lurid brutality — Apple TV’s “Black Bird” fits the bill, for example — but there’s something more sinister and twisted about a serial killer masquerading as a kind-hearted nurse.
“The Good Nurse,” an upcoming Netflix movie, explores the silent rampage of Charles Cullen, a male nurse who confessed to killing at least 40 hospital patients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey between 1988 and 2003. Cullen secretly administered lethal cocktails of drugs unassuming for its patients, sneakily escaping detection as hospitals and investigators failed to fully examine the pattern of deaths.
Adapted from Charles Graeber’s book of the same name, “The Good Nurse” will star Eddie Redmayne as Cullen and Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren, a nurse who worked with Cullen at Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey and became a confidential informant for police.
Former Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who left football in 2013 to become an actor, will play the role of homicide detective Danny Baldwin.
Here is the synopsis of the Netflix film:
Amy, a compassionate nurse and single mother battling a life-threatening heart condition, is pushed to her physical and emotional limits by the harsh and demanding night shifts in the ICU. But her help comes when Charlie, a thoughtful and empathetic fellow nurse, starts working on her unit. While sharing long nights in the hospital, the two develop a strong and devoted friendship, and for the first time in years, Amy truly has faith in her and her daughters’ futures. But after a series of mysterious patient deaths sparks an investigation that points to Charlie as the prime suspect, Amy is forced to risk her life and the safety of her children to uncover the truth.
Loughren’s role in bringing Cullen to justice came years after he began killing hospital patients, often using the heart drug digoxin, insulin and epinephrine at lethal levels.
Cullen had a long history of mental illness dating back to his childhood in West Orange, New Jersey, where he was often bullied and attempted suicide at a young age. He dropped out of high school after his mother was killed in a car accident and entered the US Navy in the late 1970s, rising to the rank of petty officer. He remained an outcast, often ridiculed by his peers, until he was reassigned and medically discharged in 1984.
Cullen became a nurse after graduating from Mountainside Hospital School of Nursing in Montclair and got his first job in the field at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. He married in 1987 and had two daughters, but at the age of five his family abandoned him in fear of his increasingly disruptive behavior, alcoholism and abuse.
Cullen eventually admitted to killing patients at St. Barnabas in 1988, the start of a nearly 16-year period during which authorities suspect he may have deliberately killed as many as 400 people. Only 29 of his victims have been confirmed.
In New Jersey, Cullen spent time working at Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg, Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, Morristown Memorial Hospital, and Somerset Medical Center. In the late 1990s, he had jobs in Pennsylvania at Lehigh Valley Hospital: Cedar Crest and Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown, St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, and Easton Hospital.
It was during Cullen’s time at St. Luke’s that co-workers began reporting stolen medication and suspicious patient deaths, taking the matter to the Pennsylvania State Police. Authorities hired a private forensic pathologist to assist in the investigation, but state police ultimately found “nothing actionable,” the New York Times reported in 2004, the year Cullen finally pleaded guilty to multiple murders in both New Jersey and like in Pennsylvania.
Loughren’s stealthy effort to bring Cullen down, described in Graeber’s book, involved working with Somerset County Detective Baldwin and his partner, Tim Braun, to gather information from Cullen by building a close relationship with him. Loughren used a wire to extract confessions while searching through his records at Somerset Medical Center, finding a sick pattern in the way he screened vulnerable patients and ordered drugs to kill them.
During interviews with investigators, Cullen claimed that he had killed his patients to end their suffering, although many of them were expected to recover. The drugs he gave his victims often caused them immense suffering and caused panic among the staff at the hospitals where Cullen worked.
Cullen’s cooperation with authorities spared him the death penalty, but he is currently serving 18 consecutive life sentences at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. He discussed the murders of him during an episode of “60 Minutes” around the time Graeber’s book was published.
For Asomugha, who played for the Eagles during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the role in “The Good Nurse” will be among his most visible screen appearances. His most notable role has been in the 2017 crime drama “Crown Heights,” in which he portrayed Carl King and was nominated for several awards, including an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. He also served as an executive producer on the award-winning war drama “Beasts of No Nation” and is married to actress Kerry Washington.
“The Good Nurse,” directed by Tobias Lindholm and written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns, will premiere on Netflix on October 26 after a limited theatrical release on October 19.