Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Cullen: Healthcare Serial Killer

Lethal Time Line

In 1993, his wife had filed for a restraining order against him, based on her fear that he might endanger her and their two children. She said he had spiked people's drinks with lighter fluid, burned his daughters' books, forgotten his daughters at a babysitters' for a week, asked a funeral home about their rates, and showed extreme cruelty to the family pets. Cullen's response was that his wife was exaggerating, but she insisted that he was mentally ill. He apparently racked up a number of moving violations during this time as well.

In these unsealed domestic violence documents, Cullen was revealed as a man steadily losing ground. On January 22, 1993, he was served with divorce papers, and a few weeks later he was when he was arrested for stalking another nurse. After breaking into her home, Cullen admitted himself into a psychiatric facility. On two occasions that same year, he was accused of domestic violence, and he also tried to kill himself — a problem that his wife claimed had dogged him much of his life. That's when he'd killed the three elderly female patients in New Jersey.

Just days after his wife sent inspectors to Cullen's apartment to examine it for fire hazards she claimed were present (but weren't), Cullen killed 90-year-old Lucy Mugavero. 

In June, he agreed to submit to a polygraph (and passed) to show that he had not neglected his children or abused alcohol in their presence. In July, he killed 85-year-old Mary Natoli.

In August, a caseworker reported the Cullen had not addressed his alcohol addiction or depression, so he recommended that all visits with the children be supervised — something Cullen had vehemently resisted. During this time, he had committed the misdemeanor against the nurse and was convicted. Within weeks, he'd killed Helen Dean.

Lehigh County District Attorney James B. Martin
Lehigh County District
Attorney James B. Martin

In 1994, he wrote a note in court papers to the effect that his wife was still suspicious of him. He went to another facility in New Jersey, and then received his license to work in Pennsylvania. That allowed him to move around to several facilities over the next nine years, still fighting for unsupervised custody arrangements with his children even as he killed more people.

The record for this one-year period clearly shows that when things went wrong, Cullen reacted with aggression toward those who could not protect themselves. He may have done so to find some sense of power or control in his desperate life.

Lehigh County District Attorney James B. Martin had two meetings with Cullen during the initial admissions, telling reporters that he believed that Cullen was telling the truth, and that he was remorseful. With detectives, Cullen went through files of possibly suspicious deaths and rejected most of them as originating with him. More interviews were scheduled to go over other cases.

"It all comes down to how much he can remember," one prosecutor commented. They even looked through files going back to Cullen's days in nursing school in 1984, and the potential was there for him to be declared the worst healthcare serial killer in the nation's history.

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