Disturbing Details About Serial Killer Charles Cullen's Family Life

The 2022 Netflix film "The Good Nurse" tells the story of former nurse Charles Cullen. In 2004, Cullen admitted murdering at least 40 patients, and possibly more, over the course of his 16-year career as a healthcare provider in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania areas. Now known as the "Angel of Death," according to the New York Daily News, Cullen claimed his crimes were mercy killings, though not all of his victims were terminal, as The New York Times notes.

Today, Cullen is serving 11 consecutive life sentences at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, based on My Central Jersey reporting. We may never know just how many people Cullen killed. As a nurse, Cullen most often killed his patients by injecting them with the heart drug, digoxin. It's hard to fathom what would motivate a person to perpetrate such a crime spree. As a look back at Cullen's childhood and family life reveals, though, that troubling signs about what the divorced father of two could be capable of were there from the beginning.

Members of Cullen's family died young

As the Pennsylvania news outlet The Morning Call reports, Cullen's father died when he was just a baby, and then his mother died in a car wreck while Cullen was in high school — and Cullen was effectively orphaned. Following that, tragedy compounded for Cullen as a young man. His brother died from a drug overdose in the family home, and another of Cullen's brothers would later die from cancer. Remembered as a quiet, smart, and solitary young man, Cullen expressed an interest early on in his life in helping people, and he joined the Navy shortly after his mother's death.

While in the service, Cullen's erratic behavior only worsened, and social interactions with other sailors were strained. Those challenges all combined led to Cullen's discharge from the Navy in 1984, after which time he pursued his interest in healthcare at the Mountainside Hospital School of Nursing, as NYT goes on to note.

His ex-wife cited extreme cruelty in their divorce

Three years after Cullen graduated from Mountainside, Cullen met and married his ex-wife Adrienne Taub. The couple would have two daughters together. At this time, a colleague of Cullen's at St. Barnabas Medical Center remembers inquiring about Cullen's family life to which he'd give one-word answers, according to The New York Times. Taub filed for divorce from Cullen in 1993, and as The Morning Call writes, Cullen was cruel and withdrawn in the marriage, according to statements Taub made in the divorce proceedings.

In Taub's divorce papers, she alleged he was capable of "extreme cruelty," especially toward the family pets whom he'd torture when they got out of line. He was otherwise sullen and uncommunicative, according to Taub, and the married couple did not share a bed. In her divorce filings, Taub remembered one especially troubling incident when she woke up late one night to hear Cullen abusing the family pets in their basement.

To some, Cullen seemed like a family man

Taub and Cullen's divorce was granted in 1994, and despite Taub's troubling allegations in the divorce filings, Cullen was given joint custody of their children. When he had to, Cullen could skillfully mask his darker tendencies, as The Morning Call goes on to note. Divorce lawyer Seth Levine, who represented Cullen during his divorce, recalled Cullen as a hard-working, likable guy, and a loving father. "I have nothing but compassion for the victims, their families, and Charlie. What I'm hearing he's done is difficult to believe," Levine said.

In the period after his divorce, a neighbor of Cullen's, Karin Ziemba, who also saved him from a suicide attempt around the year 2000, remembered seeing his children's drawings in his apartment. Since Cullen's crimes came to light, Taub and Cullen's children have stayed away from the media. When approached by a reporter in 2003, Taub reportedly said, "Leave my family and children out of it. I have nothing to say."