Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Nefarious nurse... A review of Death Angel, another case of a murderous nurse

Since I just reviewed Perfect Poison by M. William Phelps, I am going to repost this older review I did of Death Angel, a 2005 book by Clifford L. Linedecker and Zach T. Martin.  This book is about Charles Cullen, a nurse who, over the course of sixteen years, killed as many of 40 patients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  I gave it three stars because I didn't think it was a great book.  However, if you're looking for stories about nurses who kill, this is one case you should read about.

Nefarious nurse

Feb 16, 2006 (Updated Mar 13, 2006)

Review by knotheadusc

Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Charles Cullen's case is very interesting.
Cons:Annoying writing style. Editorializing about the death penalty.
The Bottom Line: This is one book I'm glad to have finished reading.

I just finished reading Death Angel (2005). Written by Clifford L. Linedecker and Zach T. Martin, this book is the story of Charles Cullen, a nurse who spent sixteen years killing as many as 40 of his patients. It took me at least two weeks to finish reading Death Angel, a book that runs 350 pages. Normally, I'd be able to finish a book of this length within a few days. I have to be honest, though. For a few days, I thought finishing Death Angel was going to be the death of me. But I'll get to why this book was so hard to finish later. First, let me explain a little bit about Death Angel and why I picked it up in the first place.

I bought Death Angel last month while I was waiting for my husband, Bill, to meet me at the airport. His plane was delayed, so I took the opportunity to go shopping at Border's. It happened to be Friday the 13th and I came away from Border's with several true crime books. Having read all of the other books, Death Angel was at the bottom of the stack. And Death Angel was by far the hardest one for me to finish. Sure, I was interested in reading about Charles Cullen, the murderous misfit who spent his nursing career taking care of the sickest patients in hospitals and nursing homes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The book's description on the back cover was compelling and Cullen's story is fascinating. But I could never get further than a few pages every time I sat down to read this book. As someone who is used to whizzing through paperbacks at a good clip, I found reading Death Angel a frustrating exercise. And Charles Cullen's story should have been riveting.

Cullen held nursing licenses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and he worked in a number of hospitals and nursing homes in both states. He liked to work at night, when he had independence and privacy, making it easy for him to carry out his dastardly deeds unhindered. Cullen worked in intensive care and critical care units, where he would inject his very sick patients with drug overdoses. Sadly, some of Cullen's victims weren't even on the brink of death. In some cases, the patients were starting to rally from their illnesses when Cullen appointed himself grim reaper. Most of the time, he used Digoxin to kill his patients, but sometimes he used other drugs like insulin or Pavulon. According to the Linedecker and Martin, Cullen's victims did not die peacefully. In fact, some of them fought back valiantly, only to have Cullen snuff them out with another round of drugs.

The authors make it clear that Cullen was a lifelong loser. Although he was paid well for his work and he worked many hours, Cullen was unable to pay his bills and had to declare bankruptcy. His five year marriage failed and he found himself unable to keep up with child support payments for his two daughters. And Cullen was also chronically suicidal. He attempted to kill himself at least twenty times. Though he was able to kill his patients without a problem, Cullen was never able to pull off killing himself. The authors infer that Cullen's inability to kill himself was yet another personal failing.

Linedecker and Martin go to great lengths to impress upon readers that Cullen wasn't much to look at by using a lot of derogatory adjectives to describe the man. They call him "skinny", "sallow", "gaunt", "sickly", "puny", "creepy", "anemic-looking", "disturbing" "bloodthirsty", "a loser" and "a loner", among other names. Granted, any person who spends sixteen years killing people, especially those who are helpless and sick, probably deserves to be called a few names. But I got the point after the first few pages. The namecalling got tiresome for me after awhile. And the authors didn't just confine their overly descriptive language to Cullen. They used the same technique when they described other players in the story, including Cullen's victims.

Clifford L. Linedecker certainly should know how to write. He was a newspaper reporter for over twenty years and it shows somewhat in his writing, although at times his writing seems to lean more toward an editorial style. He's worked for a number of newspapers, written articles for several popular magazines, and written thirty-four nonfiction books. Zach T. Martin is a popular radio personality in New York and New Jersey. Martin's mother was one of Cullen's first victims.

Death Angel includes a brief pictures section as well as a couple of appendices. The authors laid out a timeline of Charles Cullen's disastrous existence, starting from his birth and ending in late June 2005, when Cullen pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree murder. There's also a copy of Cullen's plea agreement. He agreed to cooperate with investigators by telling them who he killed in exchange for life in prison. The authors express obvious disgust because Cullen isn't going to be executed for his crimes, although even if Cullen had gotten the death penalty, it's likely that he would end up dying on death row anyway. Of course, had Cullen killed in Texas or Virginia, he'd likely be as good as dead.

The two authors make it very clear that they felt that Cullen should have gotten the death penalty for his crimes. They repeatedly refer to New Jersey's and Pennsylvania's records for carrying out capital punishment as "miserable". Since I'm against the death penalty myself, I found this aspect of Death Angel a bit irritating. There are a number of places in the book where the authors editorialize about capital punishment. I think I would have preferred it if they had just stuck to telling the story and left out their opinions and excessively derogatory comments about Cullen. I imagine that Martin has very strong feelings about Charles Cullen since Cullen murdered his mother. Perhaps for that reason, Linedecker should have chosen a more objective co-author.

Yes, Death Angel was a tough read for me. I'm a bit disappointed because I think this book could have been a lot better than it was. Charles Cullen got away with murder for sixteen years. Amazingly, despite the fact that Cullen frequently attempted suicide and was repeatedly fired for poor job performance, his records with the nursing licensure boards in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were clean. Administrators were reluctant to report him because they were afraid of being sued for breaching his privacy. The authors do go into this a bit, but mostly, it seemed like they simply focused on vilifying Cullen. It's not that I don't think Cullen deserves to be vilified; I do think what he did was reprehensible. Death Angel just seems to lack objectivity. What's more, the authors' writing style really grated on my nerves. I can excuse Martin for both the writing style and his justifiable anger, but Linedecker, as a veteran author, should have known better. This should have been a better book.


Charles Cullen was just (in 2006) sentenced to a total of 18 life sentences in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

A review of Perfect Poison: A Female Serial Killer's Deadly Medicine by M.Willam Phelps

As regular blog readers know, I read a lot of true crime.  I find criminals fascinating, even though I hesitate to say I "enjoy" the stories about them because they always involve someone else getting hurt.  Kristen Strickland Gilbert is one fascinating criminal.  I had not heard of her before I purchased author M.William Phelps' book, Perfect Poison: A Female Serial Killer's Deadly Medicine.  Now that I've read the book, I may have to look at certain medical professionals with a more careful eye.

Who is Kristen Gilbert? 

Born in Fall River, Massachusetts on November 13, 1967, Kristen Heather Strickland is the elder daughter of Richard and Claudia Strickland.  Blessed with good looks and keen intelligence, Kristen did well in school and, in 1988, became a registered nurse.  But friends and loved ones noted that Kristen had a flair for dramatic behavior.  She would fake suicide attempts and lie excessively.  She was very manipulative.  She was also known to threaten people.  This behavior was evident from the time she was a teenager and continued into her adult years.

In 1988, Kristen Strickland married Glenn Gilbert and took his last name.  Kristen and Glenn did not have a happy or stable marriage, but they did manage to have a couple of sons with him.  She took a job at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she was known as a competent nurse.  She was even featured in VA Practitioner, a professional nursing magazine.

Sometime around the mid 1990s, Gilbert started an affair with James Perrault, a hospital police officer.  And around that time, patients on Gilbert's shifts started having fatal cardiac events.  Co-workers jokingly started to refer to her as the "Angel of Death".  After her patients died, Kristen was known to leave work early for dates with Perrault.  She was also known to make odd and inappropriate comments about people.  When one man was dying and his wife was justifiably upset, Kristen remarked that the scene was "hysterical"... as in funny!  And yet, she continued to work as a nurse at the VA hospital, tending to veterans who had served their country and sometimes killing them with a little extra epinephrine.

My thoughts

First off, I am delighted that Kristen Gilbert was eventually caught and is now doing time at the Federal Medical Center in Carswell, Texas.  It scares the hell out of me that someone entrusted with safeguarding other peoples' lives could get away with surreptitiously killing patients for so long.  Kristen Gilbert has the distinction of being one of the very few female serial killers in history.  She was convicted of claiming the lives of four men and may have been responsible for as many as 80 deaths and 300 medical emergencies.  As Phelps notes in his book, Gilbert had an incredibly high average of deaths on her shifts compared to her co-workers.  And for some reason, this aberration went unnoticed and unaddressed for a long time.

Given her disturbing history, which was well documented before she ever donned her first nurse's cap, I am shocked that Kristin Gilbert was able to enter the nursing profession.  Before she was a registered nurse, she was a nurse's aide.  During that time, she deliberately scalded an eight year old boy with mental retardation.  There were records of her making violent threats against people from the time she was a teenager.  While attending nursing school at Bridgewater State University, Gilbert faked a suicide attempt and had to undergo psychiatric treatment.  Even when she was a nurse, she did some time in several psychiatric hospitals.  Why she was allowed to continue working as a registered nurse, I will never know.

Kristen Gilbert's story is certainly interesting and disturbing, although it may make some people think twice about submitting to medical care.   VA hospitals already have a pretty bad reputation for being overcrowded and overextended.  My father and husband have always gotten decent care through them, but this tale will do nothing for the VA's image, especially since Phelps also writes about a hospital administrator who never actually had any real training for the job and remained in that role for years.

Phelps also covers the court case and includes photos of Gilbert and other players in this sad and scary tale of a nurse gone wrong.  Crazily enough, Gilbert's husband, Glenn, testified on her behalf even though she tried to poison him at one point in their relationship.  Gilbert's crimes were serious to warrant consideration of the death penalty and Glenn Gilbert asked the court to consider their sons, who would be devastated to lose their mother to the death chamber.  

I think Phelps does a good job with Kristen Gilbert's story and I recommend his book, though it did take me awhile to finish it.  Phelps does get somewhat repetitive at times, but the story is definitely interesting and tragic.  You may never think the same way about epinephrine again.


Day two of window restoration...

So the windows guys finished a lot of their work yesterday, but apparently, there's a lady who works in their front office who always manages to mix up the measurements of the windows.  The way the landlords describe it, it sounds almost like she has a type of dyslexia.  But she is the owner's daughter, so she stays in that job.  Consequently, the windows that go in the living room didn't fit properly.  They are now covered with wood and will hopefully be finished at some point this week.  It would be nice if they were done today, but I have a feeling that's not happening.  They're going to have to cut new glass.

I also got a surprise from Novica.com yesterday.  I ordered a sweater last week because I had some store credit.  Because we're in Germany and they don't ship to APO, I had to use my German address.  The sweater got here super fast, but it turns out I owe a customs duty of just over 20 euros.  I wasn't prepared with cash when the guy came, so I had to rebook the delivery.  I'm actually kind of proud of myself, since I called DHL and asked in German if the person on the phone spoke English.  It turned out they did and I successfully rescheduled the delivery.  I may end up actually learning some German on this tour.

It's nice to have new windows, but if I'm honest, having people in my house all day is a bit nerve-wracking.  If you were to meet me in person, you'd probably think I'm very extroverted.  I'm actually not that outgoing, though.  I like peace and quiet and privacy.  Also, one of the men working had some very pungent body odor that made the whole downstairs reek.  I know a lot of European men are less interested in using deodorant than Americans are, but this guy's pheromones about knocked me over.  It's good that most of the windows were out of the house, if you know what I mean.

The landlords are very nice folks, though.  They rode here on their new motorized bikes.  I had never seen one before.  Apparently, they have small motors in them which make climbing hills easier.  I think the landlady is coming by today to mow the lawn.  I don't mind her doing it because she does a great job.  I don't enjoy yard work, though it does give me an excuse to exercise.  Unfortunately, there were a few land mines in the backyard that got missed yesterday.  She pointed them out to me in the most polite way.  I think I got them all so the yard will be ready for her.

I have been reading some horror stories on the Stuttgart Friends group about government contractors getting screwed over.  I full expect that will happen to us, too, eventually.  So I told Bill we should keep our eyes peeled for the next opportunity.  Another contractor recently emailed him and asked him to stay in touch...  Good sign.  And this job he's doing now will give him valuable experience in yet a third theater--  Europe, South and Central America, and now Africa will all be on his resume after this experience.  Meanwhile, I'm focusing on German.  If it looks like we're going to be here awhile, maybe I'll even consider going back to school...  again.  I might as well use my time wisely, even if I'm just an overeducated hausfrau.

Monday, September 29, 2014

New windows...

Bright and early this morning, two guys who work for a window company showed up to replace the upstairs windows in our house.  They will be here tomorrow, too, doing the downstairs.  Our landlords came by to talk to them and ask me to make them some coffee at lunch time.  I am hoping the new windows will make the house a little more sound proof so I won't worry so much when the dogs go nuts or I practice my music.

The Kong trick is working very well now.  It used to be when Zane and Arran noticed Bill and me getting ready to go somewhere, they'd start getting upset.  Now when they see me or Bill putting peanut butter in a Kong, they get excited.  It's almost like a consolation prize for them and they're starting to be happy when we go out.  They get rewarded for letting us go in peace.  I suspect they don't stay noisy when we go out; it's only at the beginning when they see we're leaving them alone for awhile.  They are always quiet when we get back.

By contrast, our old dogs Flea and MacGregor would make noise when we were gone.  MacGregor was particularly naughty sometimes.  He would actually howl mournfully for us.  We caught him in the act more than once.  The only time he ever howled was when he was alone, but he would definitely howl to beat the band!

Now that our cars are here, we've been able to enjoy Germany a bit more.  That's making it easier to like being here.  Not that it's hard to like being in Germany.  It's mind-blowingly beautiful in this country and now that fall is here, there's a chill in the air that makes everything seem so crisp and clean.  I really do prefer it to the heat of Texas.

It appears that today is going to be a noisy day, so I may not be able to hear myself think enough to write a rant.  On the other hand, since the room I used as my office is now getting new windows, I may need to find something constructive to do.  I can't very well watch cheesy 7th Heaven episodes on Amazon with that racket.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Had a great day yesterday...

And I blogged all about it on my travel blog.  Days like yesterday make all the hassles and expenses involved with moving to Germany completely worth it.  We had great weather, too!

Nothing is coming in mind for me to rant about today.  I'm sure once we've gone to get our weekly AAFES fix, I'll have something to bitch about.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

I love it when people read my WHOLE blog in one sitting...

I have never made it a secret that I pay attention to who visits my blog.  That's mostly because I'm curious about who reads my drivel, which is often entirely too personal.  It's also because there are certain people out there who probably should read what I have to say, but I know if they do, it will cause hard feelings.  I figure if I know they're reading, I can be prepared for the eventual fallout.

For example, I know my brother-in-law has read this blog and showed it to my sister.  I know that my sister was shocked by the personal nature of some of my writings.  She told another sister who then told me.  I have to say, I was kind of surprised they were interested, although I guess I am not surprised my sister's husband was.  I think he enjoys drama and gossip.  To my sister's credit, she realizes that I am a writer and writers write about their lives.  It's hard to be interesting if you're not willing to get personal and sometimes overshare.  To my brother-in-law, I can only say "Thanks for the hit."  Every time you read my blog, I make ad revenue.    

Then there are people like my husband's ex wife and former kids.  There was a time when I didn't really want them to read my rants, so I tried to stay somewhat anonymous.  Now that my husband's kids are adults, I no longer care if they read what I write about them.  I think they ought to know the truth.  I think they should see a perspective that doesn't come from their mother's side.  I think they should know that they really aren't victims, especially now that they are grown.  I might have seen them as innocent victims when they were kids and had no control over their lives, but they are all adults now and they are wholly responsible for acting like shitheads.  I can concede that they were trained to be shitheads by their mother, but that doesn't change the fact that that's what they've become and they don't seem motivated to change.  It's a damn shame.

Every once in awhile, I get a visitor who, for some strange reason, gets interested in this blog and reads the whole damn thing from start to finish.  Whenever I see that, I have to wonder why.  I started this blog in 2010.  I didn't write that much back then because no one was reading, so I wasn't motivated to write every day.  I also didn't have that much to say.  As time went on, I decided to write more and I started picking up the occasional regular reader.

Now this blog pulls in hits every day-- not a whole lot of hits, but enough that I know there won't be any posts that get absolutely no reads.  My other blogs do have occasional hitless posts in them, though my travel blog is picking up a bit.  But shit, some of my posts are really about nothing.  Why anyone would be interested enough to read this thing from start to finish is puzzling.  It's also kind of flattering, even if whoever is doing it is doing it for nefarious reasons.  I didn't realize I was that interesting.

Of course, sometimes I notice a person's location, especially when I see they're reading the whole thing.  If they happen to be in a location that is near someone I know offline, I wonder if it's a friend or a family member or a foe.  Sometimes, it's obvious.  Oftentimes, it's not.  I also think it's funny when I write something about a certain company or corporation and they hit my blog repeatedly looking for updates or comments.  A few months ago, I blogged about USAA and they had people from their company stalking this blog for days.  They also had a PR firm in Dallas hitting the blog repeatedly.  They finally lost interest when the post in question didn't end up going viral.

By the way, none of my posts have ever gone viral.  I have had a few that have been oddly popular.  Like, I wrote about Jessica McCord after being freaked out by an episode of Snapped.  I was later very surprised by the epic shitstorm that post generated by people who apparently think divorced fathers are always at fault for marital breakups and they should all be willing to let their exes murder them for the sake of the children.  My post about not putting unstamped mail in mailboxes is very popular.  So is my post about getting a dog hair splinter.

I have had a few posts that have enticed spammers.  In fact, up until yesterday, I only had one post where comments were closed.  I finally closed comments on a review I wrote about a book on cosmetic dentistry because I kept getting spam comments from people in third world countries or, very oddly, Provo, Utah!  It must be a lucrative business for people in Provo to spam peoples' blogs with ads and links to businesses.  I have gotten spam comments from lawyers, plumbers, and mattress salespeople.  Sometimes the comments are even somewhat genuine, like the person actually read the post and contributed a comment that would be welcome if s/he wasn't also advertising.  Most spam comments, even the constructive ones, get automatically deleted.  Very occasionally, I will leave them up if they are entertaining.

In any case, I decided to write today's post because I want to address those who are taking the time to read my whole blog.  If you are reading it because you are sincerely interested, then that's great and I hope you'll stick around.  If you're reading it because you're digging up dirt, more power to you.  If you are a member of my family or a long lost friend, "Hi."  If you are one of my husband's former daughters, "The truth will set you free.  But first, it will piss you off."  (Gloria Steinem)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Unwanted updates about former friends...

Ever had something like this happen to you?  Say you were friends with someone for many years, but then you had a big falling out.  You decide you're done with this person and you proceed to walk in another direction, intent on maintaining no contact.  But a well meaning person who knows both of you is relentless about keeping you in the loop about what's going on with your former friend's life.

That's what happened to me last night.  I was getting ready to go to bed and was doing a last minute email check.  I got a message from a woman I knew when I was growing up.  She used to sit next to me in church.  My ex friend now attends the church I was raised in and church lady sees her somewhat regularly.  I, on the other hand, haven't been to a Sunday church service since about 2001 and I haven't been to that church in particular since I was a junior in high school.

Apparently, ex friend's daughter was christened the other day.  The woman who used to sit next to me in church, and who invariably gets my friend's name wrong (ex friend and I were formally given the same first name, but I go by a nickname), sent me an email to tell me about it.  I couldn't be less interested, especially since this friend didn't bother to tell me about said child in the first place.  I found evidence that it wasn't just a mere oversight, either.  For some reason, she deliberately took pains to prevent me from finding out about her little bundle of joy by filtering me on Facebook, yet keeping me as a friend so she could keep track of my comings and goings.  That's not something a "friend" would do and when I realized what happened, I blocked her.

But even if she had told me about her baby, I don't think we'd be friends now.  The truth is, we grew apart many years ago and, even before I unceremoniously found out about her "secret baby", I had determined long ago that we were no longer meshing.  There is something about her personality that brings out the worst in me.  And I realize that she may very well feel the same way about me.

The fact is, we really shouldn't be friends.  I resent the drama queen soap opera way she handles the people in her life.  You know?  If you have such strongly negative feelings about someone that you have to filter them from reading your Facebook updates, yet still maintain them as a "friend", you're an asshole with no integrity.  If I feel that way about someone online or offline, I just drop them from the friends list, both literally and figuratively.  And that's exactly what I did.  I honestly can't say I miss her.  

I have to admit I was annoyed to get that email... at the same time, church lady is in her 80s and she did know my ex friend to be my "best" friend for many years.  So, though I doubt she will remember it, I wrote back to the church lady and reminded her, matter-of-factly, that I am no longer friends with ex friend.  I added a few pleasantries in response to the rest of the email and then closed it.  Fortunately, Advil PM put me to sleep before I could dwell much more on it.

I know that last year, when she broke the news of my ex friend's secret baby, I told church lady that we were no longer friends.  I also know that the church lady has asked my mom what happened to our friendship.  I'm not sure what my mom told her, nor is it any of their business.  Of course, I can't very well lay this drama on the church lady and tell her exactly what happened.  She's 80+ years old and means well and I'm sure this situation would seem ridiculous to her anyway.  But at the same time, I don't really want to be updated about my ex friend.  I find the updates hurtful and I'd like to move on with my life without ex friend in it.

It's kind of the same way I feel about Bill's ex wife and ex kids, though I don't have near the same history with them that I do with my former friend.  I've determined that we're better off without their presence.  They shunned us, but they probably did us a favor.  If you want nothing to do with us, we want nothing to do with you.

This song about sums it up...

Goodbye Stranger

It was an early morning yesterday
I was up before the dawn
And I really have enjoyed my stay
But I must be moving on

Like a king without a castle
Like a queen without a throne
I'm an early morning lover
And I must be moving on with you

Now I believe in what you say
Is the undisputed truth
But I have to have things my own way
To keep me in my youth

Like a ship without an anchor
Like a slave without a chain
Just the thought of those sweet ladies
Sends a shiver through my veins

And I will go on shining
Shining like brand new
I'll never look behind me
My troubles will be few

Goodbye stranger it's been nice
Hope you find your paradise
Tried to see your point of view
Hope your dreams will all come true

Goodbye Mary, goodbye Jane
Will we ever meet again?
Feel no sorrow, feel no shame
Come tomorrow, feel no pain

Goodbye Mary, goodbye Jane
Will we ever meet again?
Feel no sorrow, feel no shame
Come tomorrow, feel no pain

Goodbye Mary, goodbye Jane
Will we ever meet again?

Now some they do and some they don't
And some you just can't tell
And some they will and some they won't
With some it's just as well

You can laugh at my behavior
That'll never bother me
Say the devil is my savior
But I don't pay no heed

And I will go on shining
Shining like brand new
I'll never look behind me
My troubles will be few

Goodbye stranger it's been nice
Hope you find your paradise
Tried to see your point of view
Hope your dreams will all come true

Goodbye Mary, goodbye Jane
Will we ever meet again?
Feel no sorrow, feel no shame
Come tomorrow, feel no pain

Goodbye Mary, goodbye Jane
Will we ever meet again?
Feel no sorrow, feel no shame
Come tomorrow, feel no pain

Goodbye Mary, goodbye Jane
Will we ever meet again?
Feel no sorrow, feel no shame
Come tomorrow, feel no pain

Goodbye Mary, goodbye Jane
Will we ever meet again?



Thursday, September 25, 2014


My mom asked me to sing at my dad's memorial in November.  She also asked me to make her a CD with hymns on it.  This was one of the songs she mentioned, so I recorded it this morning.  It turned out pretty damn well, once I figured it out.

I bet my German neighbors think I'm a Jesus freak.