She poisoned her patients to induce cardiac arrest—so she could show off her nursing skills
Kristen Heather Gilbert was an intelligent and skilled nurse, but she had a disturbed soul.
During childhood, friends and neighbors knew Kristen to be a pathological liar. She would tell people that she was related to the notorious ax murderer Lizzie Borden. In high school, boyfriends described Kristen as scheming, often faking suicide attempts. She also abused them both verbally and physically. And when upset, she was known to tamper with their cars or attack them with her nails.
Regardless of her interpersonal skills, Kristen graduated from high school one and a half years early, with high honors, and then went on to state college to major in pre-med. While at school, she landed work as a home health care worker. While at that job, she once scalded a mentally challenged child using hot bathwater. Over 60% of the boy’s body was burned, but she was never charged because of the incident. Kristen received her degree as a registered nurse in 1988. In the same year, she met and eloped with Glenn Gilbert. The marriage was trouble from the start. Once during an argument, she chased Glenn through their home while wielding a butcher knife. Shortly after the marriage, Kristen got a job on Ward C at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Northampton, Massachusetts.
In 1990, upon returning from maternity leave after the birth of her son, Kristin started working the 4 PM to 12 AM shift, and very shortly, odd occurrences began. While she was on duty, abnormally high numbers of patients started dying from cardiac arrests. The death rate tripled over what it had been the previous 3 years. And after each heart attack, Kristen would administer to her patients in a composed and capable manner, winning over her co-workers.
After the Gilberts had second son in 1993, their marriage began to disintegrate. During this time, Kristen developed a friendship with James Perrault, who had been recently hired as a security guard for the VA Hospital. His shift was from 3 PM until 11 PM, and they often went out after work to have drinks with co-workers. When a medical emergency occurred on Ward C, James was always called to the scene. In fall 1994, the friendship between Kristen and James escalated to romance. Not long after, Kristen’s husband started to notice that the meals Kristen cooked for him included an odd taste. Although never proven, Glenn was convinced that Kristen was trying to poison him, noting to friends that she wanted to kill him before Thanksgiving. When James gave Kristen an ultimatum to either leave Glenn or their relationship was finished, she left her husband and 2 sons straightaway and moved into her own apartment, and her affair with James flourished.
During this time, the oddly high death rates during Kristen’s shift in Ward C persisted. In fact, her co-workers jokingly nicknamed her “Angel of Death” due to the number of her patients who died under her care. But there were several nurses in Ward C who thought joking about this was inappropriate. Gossip about Kristen continued, but it was difficult for many to believe that she was directly involved in the deaths of her patients. However, other staff members were not so sure, and they started monitoring the medications that could produce cardiac arrests. They found that one such drug, epinephrine, was consistently disappearing. Under Gilbert’s care, 4 patients had died and 3 others had succumbed to near-fatal heart attacks. Although most of the patients affected were elderly or in serious condition, some had no prior history of cardiological problems. In one instance, Kristen was even accused of murdering a patient so that she would be on time for a date. Eventually, in 1996, an investigation was started as a result of 3 nurses coming forward with concerns.
After all Ward C staff members were interviewed, the administration determined a possible explanation for why the death rate had tripled: Gilbert was using stolen hospital epinephrine to induce cardiac arrests in the victims. She did this because standard hospital procedure was to have a security guard called to the ward in the event of serious medical emergencies. The security guard on duty during her shift happened to be her lover, James. She would then impress him with her nursing skills, as well as flirt with him, which several staff members noted.
Gilbert’s actions soon became reckless. She called Perrault at the hospital, and using a toy to disguise her voice, told him there were 3 bombs in Building One that were set to explode in 2 hours. The hospital was forced to evacuate all staff and patients, many of whom were weak and/or elderly. She was arrested and convicted of attempting to sidetrack the investigation into the high death rates. She spent 15 months in a federal prison for making a bomb threat to a federal institution.
While Gilbert was in prison, federal investigators disinterred several of the patients who died during her shifts on Ward C. Toxicology analyses discovered epinephrine in their bodies even though none of the victims had been prescribed the drug. In addition, the death rate on Ward C immediately dropped back to normal after Gilbert left the hospital. At this time, she and Perrault began to have relationship troubles, as her disposition became more unstable when the accusations became focused on her. In June 1996, he decided to break up with her. She begged him to stay with her, but it was no use. The following month, Gilbert took a drug overdose and was admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward.
In 1998, she was indicted for murdering 4 patients and attempting to kill 3 others by epinephrine injection. Perrault took the stand and testified that Gilbert had confessed to him that she had killed her patients. During the 7 years she worked at the VA Hospital, it was discovered that 350 deaths had occurred during her shifts.
In 2001, Gilbert was found guilty of 3 counts of murder in the first degree, 1 count of murder in the second-degree, and 2 counts of attempted murder. As these crimes had been committed on federal territory, she could have been given the death penalty. Instead, she was given 4 consecutive life terms plus 20 years, without the possibility of parole. She is currently serving out her sentence in a Texas federal prison.
- Killer nurse gets life. CBS News website. February 11, 2009. http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-281605.html.
- Kristin Gilbert. Wikipedia website. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristen_Gilbert.
- Kristin H. Gilbert. Dr. Mike Aamodt website. http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu/Psyc%20405/serial%20killers/Gilbert,%20Kristen%20-%202005.pdf.
- Serial Killer Kristen Gilbert – the investigation. About.com Crime and Punishment website. http://crime.about.com/od/serial/p/kristengilbert2.htm.