Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Genene Jones: Baby Killer

Too Young to Die

Chelsea Ann McClellan (RL)
Chelsea Ann McClellan (RL)

Petti McClellan took her blond, blue-eyed baby daughter Chelsea into the new pediatric clinic. It was Friday, September 17, 1982. The clinic had just opened the day before in Kerrville, Texas, not far from the trailer home where she and her husband Reid lived. Chelsea was just eight months old, but she had a cold, and her mother wanted to be safe. Chelsea had been born premature, with underdeveloped lungs, so she was prone to infection. Early in her life, she had spent time on a hospital respirator. She had also experienced what Petti described as "spells" of losing her breath. Chelsea was the clinic's very first patient.

In Women Who Kill, Carol Anne Davis (who bases much of her account on Deadly Medicine) wrote that pediatric nurse Genene Jones took the child to another area of the clinic to play with a ball while Dr. Kathleen Holland talked with the mother. Soon after, Jones told them that Chelsea had stopped breathing. She placed an oxygen mask over the baby's face and they rushed her to an emergency room at nearbSid Peterson Hospital. To everyone's relief, the child recovered. Chelsea's parents were grateful that such a competent nurse was on staff there. They spread the word to other parents.

Bookcover for Death Shift
Bookcover for Death Shift

Nine months later, they brought Chelsea in again. This time the results were drastically different. Peter Elkind, a journalist who briefly met Genene Jones, offers a fuller account in The Death Shift.

"Chelsea was the first appointment of the day, just a routine check-up. Petti McClellan brought her in around midmorning, and Dr. Holland ordered two standard inoculations. Shortly after nurse Genene Jones injected the first needle, Chelsea started having trouble breathing. It appeared that she was having a seizure, so McClellan asked her to stop. Jones ignored her and gave the child a second injection. Then Chelsea stopped breathing altogether. She jerked around as if trying to breathe, and then went limp."

An ambulance was called and they transported Chelsea to Sid Peterson Hospital, where she arrived in nine minutes with a breathing tube down her throat. Jones carried the child in her arms all the way there. Chelsea tried to remove the tube, so Dr. Holland replaced it with a larger one and then gave her something to make her sleep. Jones allegedly said, "And they said there wouldn't be any excitement when we came to Kerrville." In fact, there was to be plenty of excitement at that clinic — more than most clinics get — and Jones was always at the center.

Holland arranged to transport Chelsea to a hospital where neurological tests could be performed, and while she was in the ambulance, Chelsea stopped breathing again and her heart stopped. Jones gave her several injections while Dr. Holland performed a heart massage, but there was no response. They pulled into a nearby hospital and continued treatment. But after 20 minutes it was clear that they had failed. Chelsea McClellan was dead.

Jones sobbed over the body as she cleaned it up and wrapped it in a blanket for the McClellans. Petti McClellan believed that her daughter was merely asleep. No matter what anyone said to her, she could not come to terms with the fact that Chelsea was dead.

They all returned to Sid Peterson Hospital, and Jones carried the child downstairs to the hospital morgue. Dr. Holland wanted an autopsy. She was not going to just let this go as a cardiac arrest. The whole thing had been too unusual. Chelsea had not even come in with a complaint. She had been there for a routine examination.

The autopsy was performed and Holland waited for the results. In the meantime, the McClellans arranged the funeral. After a few weeks, it was determined that Chelsea had died of SIDS, an often fatal breathing dysfunction in babies. But new tests would later challenge that conclusion.

Petti and Reid McClellan (RL)
Petti and Reid McClellan (RL)

Petti McClellan was unable to cope, according to Elkind. At the funeral, she screamed and fainted, and her relatives sent her to get psychiatric help. Thanks to that, she had spent a considerable amount of time in a haze, but the sharp grief had not yet dulled.

One day, a week after the funeral, she went to the Garden of Memories Cemetery to lay flowers on her daughter's grave.

As she approached the grave, she saw the nurse from the clinic, Genene Jones. Oddly, she was kneeling at the foot of Chelsea's grave, sobbing and wailing the child's name over and over. She rocked back and forth, apparently in deep anguish, as if Chelsea had been her own daughter.

"What are you doing here?" McClellan asked. Did this nurse feel guilty about her role in Chelsea's death? Perhaps she had neglected to do something that had made the crucial difference?

Confronted, Jones returned a blank stare, as if in a trance, and walked away without a word. When she was gone, McClellan noticed something else. While Jones had left a small token of flowers, she had taken a bow from Chelsea's grave.

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