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UNDATED:  Charles Cullen, 43, from Bethlehem, Pennslyvania, is seen in a photograph. Cullen has admitted to killing 40 terminally ill patients in nine hospitals and a nursing home in the past 16 years.  (Photo by John Wheeler/Getty Images)
What Was Serial Killer Charles Cullen’s Time In The
Military Like?
History - Science
Content Warning
This story contains discussions of suicide.
In his long career as a nurse, Charles Cullen snuck into hospital rooms late at night to inject patients with lethal doses of medication, most commonly a heart drug called digoxin. Arrested in 2003, Cullen pleaded guilty to murdering at least 29 patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and he was sentenced to 11 consecutive life terms with no chance at parole for nearly four centuries.
Cullen is now believed to be the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history, with clear mental health challenges in his past that showed up, in particular, while he served in the military. The serial killer joined the Navy after his mother died, and he went through several reassignments due to his multiple unsuccessful suicide attempts.
According to John M. Darnielle, who served alongside the killer “in an environment devoid of many entertainments,” other sailors would often target Cullen, and he did not respond well to the hazing. However, one of the most troubling incidents in the killer’s naval career came in the early 1980s.
While as a crew member on the submarine, which had a payload of 16 Poseidon nuclear ballistic missiles, Cullen was found seated at the control panel in surgical gear, ready to launch the missiles. According to his then-supervisor, Cullen's true intentions at that moment could not be determined, but his suicide attempts while enlisted led to his discharge from the service in 1984.