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Kristen Gilbert is a former Veterans Administration (VA) nurse who was found guilty of murdering four VA patients in the early 1990s. She was also convicted of attempting to murder two other hospital patients and has been suspected in the deaths of dozens more.
Kristen Heather Strickland was born Nov. 13, 1967, to parents Richard and Claudia Strickland. She was the oldest of the two daughters in what appeared to be a well-adjusted home. The family moved from Fall River to Groton, Mass., and Kristen lived out her preteen years without any significant problems.
As Kristen grew older, however, friends say she became a habitual liar and would boast of being related to Lizzie Borden, a notorious serial killer. Read more about the life of Lizzie Borden. Kristen could be manipulative, threatening suicide when angry, and had a history of making violent threats, according to court records.
A Nursing Job
In 1988 Kristen earned her degree as a registered nurse from Greenfield Community College. That same year, she married Glenn Gilbert, whom she met at Hampton Beach, N.H. In March 1989, she landed a job at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Northampton, Mass., and the young couple bought a home and settled into their new life.
To fellow workers, Kristen seemed competent and committed to her job. She was the type of co-worker who would remember birthdays and organize gift exchanges during the holidays. She seemed the social butterfly of the C Ward where she worked. Her superiors rated her nursing as "highly skillful" and noted how well she reacted during medical emergencies.
In late 1990, the Gilberts had their first child, a baby boy. After returning from maternity leave, Kristin switched to the 4 p.m. until midnight shift and almost immediately strange things began to happen. Patients began dying during her shift, tripling the medical center's rate of deaths over the previous three years. During each incident, Kristen's calm competent nursing skills shined, and she won the admiration of her fellow workers.
After the Gilberts' second child was born in 1993, the couple's marriage seemed to falter. Kristen was developing a friendship with James Perrault, a security guard at the hospital, and the two often socialized with other workers at the end of their shifts. At the end of 1994, Gilbert, who was actively having an affair with Perrault, left her husband and their young children. She moved into her own apartment and continued to work at the VA hospital.
Kristen's co-workers began to grow suspicious about the deaths that always seemed to occur during her shift. Although many of the patients who died were old or in poor health, there were also patients who had no history of heart problems, yet were dying of cardiac arrest. At the same time, supplies of ephedrine, a drug with the potential to cause heart failure, began to go missing.
Suspicious Deaths and a Bomb Threat
In late 1995 and early 1996, four patients under Gilbert's care died, all of cardiac arrest. In each case, ephedrine was the suspected cause. After three of Gilbert's coworkers voiced their concerns that she may have been involved, an investigation was opened. Shortly thereafter, Gilbert left her job at the VA hospital, citing injuries she sustained while at work.
By the summer of 1996, Gilbert and Perrault's relationship had become strained. In September, federal authorities investigating the hospital deaths interviewed Perrault. That's when the bomb threats began. On Sept. 26 while working at the VA hospital, Perrault took a phone call from someone claiming to have planted three bombs at the hospital. Patients were evacuated and police called, but no explosives were found. Similar threats were made to the hospital the next day and on the 30th, all during Perrault's shifts.
It wasn't long before police linked Gilbert to the calls. She was tried and convicted in January 1998 of making a bomb threat and sentenced to 15 months in prison. Federal investigators, meanwhile, were getting closer to linking Gilbert to the patient deaths at the VA hospital. In November of 1998, Gilbert went on trial for murder in the deaths of Henry Hudon, Kenneth Cutting, and Edward Skwira, as well as the attempted murders of two other patients, Thomas Callahan, and Angelo Vella. The following May, Gilbert was also charged in the death of patient Stanley Jagodowski.
The trial began in November 2000. According to prosecutors, Gilbert committed the murders because she craved attention and wanted to spend time with Perrault. In seven years at the hospital, prosecutors said, Gilbert was on duty when more than half of the 350 recorded patient deaths occurred. Defense lawyers countered that Gilbert was innocent and that her patients had died of natural causes.
On March 14, 2001, jurors found Gilbert guilty of the first-degree murder in three of the cases and second-degree murder in the fourth. She also was convicted of attempted murder in the case of two other hospital patients and sentenced to four life sentences. She dropped her appeal of the sentence in 2003. As of February 2017, Gilbert remained incarcerated in federal prison in Texas.
- Farragher, Thomas. "Caregiver or Killer?" The Boston Globe. 8 October 2000.
- Goldberg, Carey. "Former Nurse on Trial in Patients' Deaths." The New York Times. 23 November 2000.
- Gorlick, Adam. "Murderous Nurse Escapes Death Penalty." ABC News. 26 March 2001.
- HLN Staff. "When Serial Killers Strike: The Angel of Death on Ward C." CNN. 1 April 2013.