Historical Accuracy (Q&A):
Where did the real-life events surrounding serial killer Charlie Cullen take place?
The Good Nurse true story reveals that like in the movie, serial killer Charles Cullen's murders took place over the course of 16 years at hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Did Charles Cullen have a troubled childhood?Yes. Charles "Charlie" Cullen was the youngest of eight children. His father, Edmund, died when he was just seven months old. His mother, Florence, struggled to raise the children on her own. Charlie's older brothers battled drug addiction and his sisters became entangled in bad relationships. A thin, shy, and introverted child, Charlie found himself the constant target of bullies at school. During his senior year at New Jersey's West Orange High School, his mother had an epilepsy attack while driving and was killed instantly when she collided head-on with another vehicle. While he was informed about the accident, no one told him she was dead until he arrived at the hospital. Not only was he angry at the hospital for not immediately informing him, he was upset that they cremated the body instead of returning it.
While conducting The Good Nurse fact-check, we learned that following his mother's death, Charlie Cullen's mental health worsened and he attempted suicide for the first time, which resulted in his first stay in a psychiatric institution. After his release, he dropped out of high school and joined the Navy.
The real Charles Cullen is pictured on the left. Actor Eddie Redmayne (right) portrays Cullen in the Netflix movie.
How long was Charles Cullen in the Navy?Yes. After dropping out of high school, the real Charles Cullen served in the Navy for six years, reaching the rank of a non-commissioned officer. He served on the submarine USS Woodrow Wilson where he was once discovered sitting at the submarine's controls wearing only a hospital gown, surgical mask, and gloves. This odd behavior prompted him to be transferred to the supply vessel USS Canopus where he was in a lower-stress environment. While in the military, Cullen was hazed and bullied by his fellow crewmen. He attempted suicide multiple times and was sent to the Navy psychiatric ward on several occasions. As a result of his unstable behavior, he was discharged from the Navy in 1984. Within a few months, he enrolled in a three-year nursing program, graduating in 1986.
Did nurse Amy Loughren have a life-threatening heart condition?
Yes. The real Good Nurse, Amy Loughren, suffered from cardiomyopathy, a disease that affects the heart muscle in its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. As seen in the Netflix movie, symptoms include shortness of breath, as well as swollen legs and feet. In the film, Amy (Jessica Chastain) hides her life-threatening heart condition from the hospital so that she can remain an employee long enough to qualify for health insurance. It's true that she kept it a secret, but the book mentions her not wanting to lose her contract job and her attractive salary, including a $20,000 bonus and $1,700-a-month stipend for local lodging (she had a house in upstate New York at the time she took the job at the hospital in New Jersey). There's no mention of her being concerned about health insurance.
Eventually, the hospital found out about her heart condition when she passed out one night at work and was rushed to the ER. She had a pacemaker put in and was prescribed Atavan, an anti-anxiety medication. She took a leave of absence from work.
It's true that Amy Loughren (left) suffered from a serious heart condition. Actress Jessica Chastain (right) portrays the nurse in the Netflix movie.
Did nurse Amy Loughren need a heart transplant?No. In researching how accurate is The Good Nurse movie, we found no mention of her needing a heart transplant in the book. While heart transplantation is a treatment for severe cases of cardiomyopathy, Amy's condition was less severe and treated with a pacemaker and medication.
Was Amy Loughren a single mother at the time?
Yes. Like in the Netflix movie, Loughren was the single mother of two daughters, Maya and Alex, who are pictured below. In real life, her oldest daughter, Alex, was 11 at the time of Charles Cullen's capture.
Amy Loughren with her two daughters, Maya (left) and Alex (right) in 2016, more than a decade after she helped detectives capture Charlie Cullen. Photo: Instagram @amythegoodnurse
Did serial killer Charles Cullen have an ex-wife and children?
Yes. While working at a bakery to help pay his nursing school tuition, Charles Cullen met Adrienne Taub. After a relatively short courtship, Charles married Adrienne in 1987. Later that year, they had their first of two children, a daughter named Shauna. Charles almost immediately lost interest in Adrienne, and after an initial period of happiness over their two daughters, Shauna and Saskia, he lost interest in them as well. Adrienne became increasingly concerned with Charles's strange and disturbing behavior, which is largely what led to their marriage ending in 1993. In Adrienne's divorce petition, which was delivered to Charles by her lawyer while he was at work, she cited psychological violence toward family members, extreme cruelty, and abuse of their dog.
After a domestic violence call to the police, Charles Cullen's wife filed a restraining order against him, claiming he was a danger to herself and their two children. She accused him of burning his daughter's books, spiking people's drinks with lighter fluid, and pawning his daughters off to a babysitter for an entire week. Cullen rejected the accusations, arguing that Adrienne was exaggerating. In her request for full custody of the children, she also argued that Charles drank while watching them.
How did Charles Cullen kill his victims?Serial killer nurse Charles Cullen murdered patients by giving them large doses of drugs like insulin (used to treat diabetes) and digoxin (a heart medication), which weren't as strictly regulated as painkillers and stimulants, which had much higher value as street drugs.
Did nurse Amy Loughren become good friends with Charles Cullen?
Yes. In the film, they become fast friends when Charlie Cullen is hired to help an overworked Amy Loughren on the night shift in the ICU. Charlie gives Amy rides home and helps her cope with her heart condition. The Good Nurse true story confirms that this is in line with how their friendship began in real life. "He was funny. We bonded right away and became friends," Loughren told People magazine.
Actress Jessica Chastain (left) poses for a picture with Amy Loughren (right), the real Good Nurse. Photo: Twitter @amythegoodnurse
Did Charlie Cullen help Amy Loughren take care of her children?
No. In the movie, nurse Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) helps his coworker and friend, single mother Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), with the care of her two children. He plays with them while visiting Amy's home and even cooks dinner. This seems to be creative license taken by the movie. In researching the question, "Is The Good Nurse accurate?" there's no mention in the book of Charlie ever meeting Amy Loughren's daughters or making dinner.
Does actor Eddie Redmayne resemble serial killer Charles Cullen?Yes, at least to some degree. Like Eddie Redmayne in the Netflix movie, the real Charlie Cullen was a frail and quiet man. At the time of filming, Redmayne was approximately the same age as Cullen was at the time of his arrest.
Is The Good Nurse based on a book?
Yes. The Netflix movie starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain is based on author Charles Graeber's 2013 non-fiction book of the same name. The book was also the basis for the 2022 Netflix documentary Capturing the Killer Nurse.
At how many different hospitals did Charlie Cullen work?Male nurse Charlie Cullen worked at nine different hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania over the course of 16 years until his arrest in December 2003. Instead of performing their own thorough investigations into the deaths of patients under Cullen's care, the lawsuit-frightened hospitals opted to shuffle Cullen off to a different hospital and a fresh batch of victims. He was fired from several hospitals, and officials at some even questioned his handling of medications, but those concerns were never passed on to future employers. In this sense, the failure of the hospitals to take action is reminiscent of the story of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, whose own maiming of patients was chronicled in last year's miniseries Dr. Death.
Are detectives Danny Baldwin and Tim Braun based on real people?
Yes. The Good Nurse fact-check confirms that Detective Danny Baldwin and Detective Sergeant Tim Braun, portrayed by Nnamdi Asomugha and Noah Emmerich, are based on the real-life detectives, who in 2003 investigated several unexplained deaths at Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey. The deceased patients had suspicious levels of either the heart medication digoxin or the diabetes medication insulin in their systems.
With the help of nurse Amy Loughren (played by Jessica Chastain in the Netflix movie), they discovered male nurse Charles Cullen had consistently ordered curious combinations of drugs. Amy also discovered Charles had used the hospital's Cerner computer system to browse the records of other nurses' patients, which was very unusual. Like in the film, Detectives Baldwin and Braun recruited Loughren to help them get enough evidence to arrest suspected murderer Charles Cullen.
Detectives Danny Baldwin and Tim Braun began to suspect nurse Charles Cullen during their investigation into unexplained deaths at Somerset Medical Center.
How many patients did serial killer Charlie Cullen murder?Following his confession, Charlie Cullen was convicted of murdering 29 people. He told authorities that he committed as many as 40 murders of patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He pled guilty to murdering 13 and trying to kill two others. The actual number of patients Cullen murdered may never be known. Through various interviews with psychiatrists, police, and journalists, it has become clear that Cullen likely killed far more people. It is suspected that his total number of victims could be as high as 400. If true, this would make him the most deadly serial killer known to man.
Pictured below are his youngest victim, Michael T. Strenko (21), and his oldest victim, Helen Dean (91). Strenko had been in the hospital for routine spleen surgery and Dean had entered the hospital for breast cancer surgery.
Charles Cullen's youngest victim was Michael T. Strenko (left), 21, and his oldest victim was Helen Dean (right), 91. Photos: 60 Minutes
How was Charles Cullen caught? Did nurse Amy Loughren help to catch him in real life?
Like in the movie, Loughren became deeply concerned when Detective Danny Baldwin showed her Charles Cullens' records of accessing drugs, including the dosing information. Loughren worked with Cullen in the ICU at Somerset Medical Center. "It was very, very obvious there was something not right," Loughren told People. She began to put the pieces together, connecting the drugs Cullen accessed to patient deaths. The detectives spent several weeks investigating Cullen and keeping him under surveillance. Then they had Loughren wear a wire and get together with Cullen after work. In real life, they met at The Office Beer Bar & Grill restaurant in Bridgewater, New Jersey.
Loughren says that she was terrified and somewhat conflicted. "I was wrestling with how much I still cared for him. He was my friend. I didn't know the murderer." All that changed when Loughren ended the small talk and confronted him about the deaths his actions had caused at the hospital. She told him that she would accompany him to the police station to turn himself in. Instead of denying her accusations, he sat up straight and said with a smirk, "I'm going to go down fighting." The serial killer nurse was then arrested by police who had been listening outside the restaurant. At the station, Loughren convinced Charlie Cullen to confess. -People
Coworker Amy Loughren convinced Charles Cullen (above) to talk to investigators.
Why did Charlie Cullen commit the murders?While exploring The Good Nurse true story, we learned that Cullen reportedly told prosecutors that he killed the patients to end their suffering, as many were facing difficult illnesses. However, not all of his patients were on their deathbeds and some were expected to recover. A nurse named Lynn Tester told police that many of Charles Cullen's victims were "people on the mend." While in court, he expressed no remorse and offered no explanation for his actions. -The Washington Post
Was Charles Cullen given the death penalty?
No. Like in the movie, Cullen agreed to a plea deal. The terms of the agreement required him to explain how he carried out his crimes and how he managed to elude detection for as long as he did. Though the deal took the death penalty off the table, Judge Paul W. Armstrong sentenced Cullen to eleven consecutive life terms in 2006.
He was given an additional six life sentences by Judge William H. Platt during his sentencing hearing, encouraged by the fact that Cullen disrupted the hearing by continually repeating the phrase, "Your Honor, you need to step down," to the point that the judge had him restrained and gagged with cloth and duct tape. He only agreed to appear at his sentencing if he was allowed to donate a kidney to a man name Ernie Peckman, the brother of an ex-girlfriend who was the mother of Cullen's youngest child, a daughter he'd never met. Cullen is not eligible for parole until the year 2388. -The Washington Post
Murderer Charles Cullen refuses to look at the families of his victims as they address him at his 2006 sentencing.
Is Charles Cullen still alive?Yes. At the time of the movie's release on Netflix in October 2022, serial killer nurse Charles Cullen was still alive and serving his sentence at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.