Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Genene Jones: Baby Killer

Justice

On October 12, 1982, a grand jury in Kerr County organized hearings on the eight children from Holland's clinic who had developed emergency respiratory problems and the one who had died — Chelsea McClellan. Her body was exhumed to examine the tissues with an expensive test that had just been developed in Sweden to detect the presence of succinylcholine. The test showed that her death appeared to have been caused by an injection of the muscle relaxant. However, it was exceedingly difficult to get real proof against the nurse. No one had seen her give the actual injection.

In February 1983, another grand jury was convened in San Antonio, to look into a stunning total of 47 suspicious deaths of children at Bexar County Medical Center Hospital. All had occurred over a period of four years and all coincided with Genene Jones's tenure at that facility. There was plenty of testimony from coworkers about Genene's behavior, but again, no real proof.

Three former Bexar employees, including Jones, then 32, were questioned by both grand juries. Dr. Holland was also questioned, and Chelsea's parents named her and Jones in a wrongful death suit. Holland had turned against Genene, offering the district attorney ammunition against her former nurse, specifically in her discovery of the bottles of succinylcholine.

At some point, Genene married a 19-year-old boy, possibly to deflect tabloid rumors that she was a lesbian. She was caught trying to flee with him.

Genene Jones at the time of her trials (AP/Wide World)
Genene Jones at the
time of her trials
(AP/Wide World)

The Kerr County grand jury concluded first and indicted Jones on one count of murder in Kerr County, and several charges of injury to seven other children who had been injected with muscle-relaxing drugs. For these, she faced a possible sentence of 99 years and she was held in the Kerr County jail in lieu of a $225,000 bond.

Then in November, the San Antonio grand jury indicted her for injuring four-week-old boy Rolando Santos with a deliberate injection of heparin almost two years earlier. He had nearly died from it. Jones remained a suspect in 10 other infant deaths at the hospital.

Administrators at the facilities where she had worked were appalled. They were also embarrassed, because it became increasingly clear that they had known something and had not acted.

While awaiting trial Jones supposedly told someone, according to Elkind, "I always cry when babies die. You can almost explain away an adult death. When you look at an adult die, you can say they've had a full life. When a baby dies, they've been cheated."

She claimed she was receiving death threats, although the notes she showed people bore the same handwriting and misspellings as those she herself had sent to a nurse once in San Antonio. When her trial was moved to a new venue in Georgetown, Texas, her attorney asked to be replaced. She gave interviews freely to reporters that undermined his attempts to build a defense and he feared that she would do the same on the witness stand.

Bexar County Courthouse (CORBIS)
Bexar County Courthouse
(CORBIS)

There were two separate trials, and the first one began on January 15, 1984, for the murder of Chelsea McClellan and injury to other children.

Prosecutors said Genene Jones had a hero complex: She needed to take the children to the edge of death and then bring them back so that she could be acclaimed their savior. One of her former colleagues reported that she had wanted to get more sick children into the intensive care unit. "They're out there," she supposedly said. "All you have to do is find them." Witnesses testified that she would contradict herself by telling one person she had injected a specific type of substance, and another person that it was something else. All in all, her pattern of behavior was clearly suspicious, including the fact that she had asked for an educational seminar specifically on the use of succinylcholine.

Yet her actions may actually have been inspired by a more mundane motive: She liked the excitement and the attention it brought her. There was no doubt that her behavior had escalated and that she had taken more risks. The children couldn't tell on her; they were at her mercy. She was free to create emergencies over and over. It was Munchausen syndrome by proxy: getting attention from doctors by making someone else sick.

No one raised the possibility that Genene had acted out something that had been done to her as a child. While she had hinted at abuse to friends, there was no one to confirm that.

Much of this was replayed at the second trial, but specifically in regard to her behavior at Bexar. In a statistical report presented at that trial, an investigator stated that children were 25% more likely to have a cardiac arrest when Jones was in charge and 10% more likely to die. A psychiatric exam failed to provide her with the testimony she would need for an insanity defense. Instead, her lawyer brought in witnesses to testify that Genene was devoted, competent and responsible.

The first jury deliberated for only three hours. On February 15, 1984, Jones was convicted of murder and she was given the maximum sentence of 99 years. Later that year, in October, she was found guilty of the charge of injuring Rolando Santos by injection. The two sentences totaled 159 years, but with the possibility of parole.

Although she was suspected in the deaths of other children, the staff at the Bexar County Medical Center Hospital shredded 9,000 pounds of pharmaceutical records, thus destroying potential evidence that was under the grand jury's subpoena.

Most of those at Bexar who had protected her ended up resigning, and the clinic settled the legal suit brought by the McClellans.

Jones came up for parole after 10 years, but relatives of Chelsea McClellan successfully fought to keep her behind bars, where she will remain until at least 2009, when she is again eligible for parole.

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