A Netflix documentary called “Capturing the Killer Nurse” debuts this week and sheds light on New Jersey serial killer Charles Cullen, who murdered at least 29 people over his 16 years as a nurse in hospitals in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The West Orange native is suspected of killing hundreds of people but he confessed to about 40 murders, 29 of which have been confirmed.

Cullen, nicknamed “The Angel of Death,” was captured in 2003 and is currently serving 18 consecutive life sentences in New Jersey State Prison.

In 2013, a book about Cullen and the murders came out called “The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder,” by Charles Graeber.

Now, in 2022, there is a new Netflix film, “The Good Nurse,” based on the book, and now the documentary.

What many people may not know is that The New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers was at the forefront of the Cullen murder investigation, starting in June 2003.

Bruce Ruck, managing director at the NJ Poison Control Center, said he and his team received a call from a concerned nurse at Somerset Medical Center who asked them specific questions about a heart drug called digoxin, the high doses given, possibly connected to a patient’s death.

'You got a murderer on your hands'

At first, Ruck said he believed it was a lab error. Two weeks later, he received a call from a pharmacist at the hospital asking questions about the same drug related to a second case at the hospital.

That’s when Ruck became concerned. “You need to go to the authorities. This doesn’t sound like a med error. It doesn’t sound like a lab error and you need to go to the authorities,” is what he told them.

Cullen injected patients with high doses of digoxin and insulin into their IVs, killing them.

The New Jersey Poison Control Center stumbled upon the Cullen killings by the luck of the nurse who called them with a question and then the pharmacy team who called them with a question.

“We then said, you guys have a police matter. You have what looks like a murderer on your hands,” Ruck said.

Charles Cullen in 2003 John Wheeler/Getty Images
Charles Cullen in 2003 John Wheeler/Getty Images
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When hospital officials including the risk manager and the chief medical officer at the time told the NJ Poison Control Center to mind their own business, the center told them if they didn’t report it, the NJ Poison Control Center would, according to Ruck.

Finally, the chief medical director reported it to the New Jersey Department of Health, who in turn, went to the hospital to do an inspection and found discrepancies.

Eddie Redmayne
Eddie Redmayne, a cast member in "The Good Nurse," poses for a portrait during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, Saturday, Sept. 10 2022, at the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
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When the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office got involved with the investigation in October 2003, they decided to reach out to the NJ Poison Control Center to inquire about digoxin.

Ruck said when prosecutors called, they had no idea that the center had already spoken to nurses and pharmacists at the hospital.

“They had no idea we knew. We knew what. We knew when. We did not know who,” Ruck said.

Charles Cullen in 2003 John Wheeler/Getty Images
Charles Cullen in 2003 John Wheeler/Getty Images
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The documentary is an accurate, true-fact piece, complete with interviews with those involved.

“I was interviewed. The medical director at the time, Dr. Marcus, who was also instrumental in trying to get them to report this to the state was interviewed for the documentary. I believe the detectives involved, several of them were interviewed, as well as the nurse whom they (investigators) got to befriend him (Cullen) to help stop him,” Ruck said.

 

While it feels good that they tried to do something, Ruck said it feels bad that they weren’t able to stop Cullen sooner before others were killed.

 

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at jennifer.ursillo@townsquaremedia.com

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