New Jersey has been known to be home to some creepy stories, and a recently-released Netflix movie delves into one such bone-chilling true event. The movie, called The Good Nurse, is a true-crime drama starring Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne. It recounts the real-life events of Charles Cullen (Eddie), a hospital nurse who secretly + successfully killed many of his patients before his friend and colleague, ICU nurse Amy Loughren (Jessica), became suspicious and began to plot to take him down. As with many true-crime films, we are all left wondering how much of this story really happened. We covered what you need to know about the real-life events that inspired the The Good Nurse, which took place right here in New Jersey.
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^ The real-life good nurse, Amy Loughren (in white), pictured with the cast of the movie
(Photo credits: @amythegoodnurse)
About the Movie
The Good Nurse movie was directed by filmmaker Tobias Lindholm and stars Jessica Chastain, who plays ICU nurse Amy Loughren, along with Eddie Redmayne, who plays Charles Cullen.
Per the Netflix blurb, “The Good Nurse tells the true story of Charles Cullen, a hospital nurse whose countless crimes went undetected for years. ICU nurse Amy Loughren discovers her kind new colleague Charlie — who’s selflessly helping her manage her life and family — is hiding a deadly side to his personality.”
The way Charlie helped Amy manage her life was by supporting Amy as she battled a serious heart condition, often taking her shifts and even watching her children.
“As she begins to suspect his involvement in a mysterious death at the New Jersey hospital where they work, she and the detectives pursuing the case face myriad challenges within the hospital and the health-care system at large,” the blurb continues.
The movie takes place at the fictional Parkfield Hospital in New Jersey.
The movie is based on a 2013 book by Charles Graeber called: The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder. There is also a documentary film being released on November 11th, entitled, Capturing the Killer Nurse.
The True Story Behind the Movie
While the movie did take some creative liberties (like the name of the hospital, for one), it got a lot right. We won’t do a deep dive into the movie in case you haven’t seen it — but here’s the story of what really went down.
The true story, just like the movie, begins in North Jersey.
Charles Cullen was born in West Orange and later moved to Phillipsburg. Per NJ.com, he “started his lethal professional path at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (now Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center) in Livingston.” This was in the late 80s. He began secretly killing his patients mainly through intravenous drugs, though he’s also said to have pulled ventilators as well.
Despite going on these killing sprees that raised major red flags among hospitals, Charles was somehow dismissed, released, and allowed to find work elsewhere. Horrifyingly, he was able to find a variety of jobs for over ten years before he was taken down.
That is, until he encountered and befriended one ICU nurse named Amy Loughren.
They met and worked together in the early 2000s at Somerset Hospital in Somerville, NJ. They quickly bonded and became close friends.
“… they shared late night snacks together while on shift and even spoke about Cullen’s divorce,” The Tab reported. “Amy had taken on nightshifts at the hospital as she was ill and needed the extra work to pay for medical insurance. While working together, Cullen helped Amy cover up her illness and helped look after her daughters when she was sick.” As seen in the movie, Amy’s illness was a serious heart condition.
In 2003, the Somerset County Police Department started to investigate a series of mysterious deaths — many of which were based on abnormal signs in patients that were found in hospital reports. Upon interviewing Amy, pieces began to fall together that her dear friend was most definitely suspicious.
“When I was 100% certain that he was not a mercy killer, that he was a cold-blooded murderer, I had to get past my own terror and my own fear that he might actually murder me or murder my children,” Amy told NJ.com.
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But she overcame her fear and worked with detectives Danny Baldwin and Tim Braun from the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office. She even wore a wire, confronted Charles, and got him to confess, helping gather enough evidence that would eventually lead to his demise. She played a key part in the downfall of Charles Cullen — which he only learned about when Graeber’s book came out in 2013.
Amy now has a website where she delves into how she reckoned with her ability to love and care about a person with such a heinous dark side.
“In October 2003 I found out my closest friend at work was murdering people,” she writes. “This was a true friend I confided in, shared secrets with, and trusted with my life. I adored him.”
She now works as a Reiki Master, a Hypnotherapist, NLP Practitioner, and in many more areas of energy healing and spirituality.
According to the Los Angeles Times, after getting arrested in 2003, the real Charles Cullen admitted to having murdered 12 to 15 patients over the course of 16 years by administering lethal drugs or removing ventilators. He later estimated that it was probably closer to 30 – 40, and some guess it may be even higher than that (as in, the number may even be in the hundreds).
Though Charles avoided receiving the death penalty, he is currently serving 11 life sentences at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton — and on top of that, he also faces 6 life sentences for his murders in Pennsylvania.
While it’s terrifying to think this happened right here in our home state, we choose to see this as a story of bravery, justice, and heroism — thanks to New Jersey’s very own good nurse.