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       July 04, 2012 1:42 PM

 Guardian angel or serial killer?


Guardian angel or serial killer?


Kristen Strickland enrolled in Bridgewater (MA) State College as a pre-med major in 1984. Bright and attractive, she never lacked for boyfriends. In 1986 she met Glenn Gilbert and transferred to a college in western Massachusetts to be closer to him. They married in 1988. Later that year, Kristen earned a nursing diploma from Greenfield Community College.


In March 1989 she got a job at the Leeds VA Medical Center. Co-workers were impressed with her nursing skills and dedication. Her supervisors rated her work as "highly skillful" and said she reacted especially well during medical emergencies. Or so it seemed.

But soon an alarming number of patients began dying during Kristen's shift.

Terrific in an emergency


During these frightening incidents, Kristen appeared calm and collected. Her fellow nurses and supervisors admired her. Friendly and gregarious, she always remembered their birthdays and organized gift exchanges during the holidays. Her marriage to Glenn appeared to be thriving. In 1991, she gave birth to a son.

After her maternity leave, Kristen switched to the 4 PM-midnight shift. Almost immediately, patients began dying at an alarming rate, three times the number of deaths in previous years. One doctor refused to allow Kristen to treat any of his patients.

A strange role model


The first child of Richard and Claudia Strickland, Kristen (left) was born in Fall River, MA, in 1967. Her mother worked as a substitute teacher, her father was an electronics engineer. Seven years later, her sister Tara was born. The family moved to Groton, MA.

Kristen excelled in school, but some called her a pathological liar. One said Kristen stole a blouse from her. When confronted, Kristen claimed it was her own.


She also claimed to be a relative of Lizzie Borden (right). In 1892, Lizzie, who lived with her parents in Fall River, MA, was accused of giving her parents 40 whacks with an ax.

At left, Borden's deceased father at the murder scene

[Borden was acquitted in 1893]

Kristen told one college roommate that her mother was an alcoholic and sometimes beat her. Family members said this was untrue. Former boyfriends described her as controlling. She might fake suicide to gain attention. When angry, she would tamper with their cars or attack them, scratching them with her nails.

An angel of death?


Some of her co-workers began calling Kristen an "angel of death." Others dismissed this as a silly rumor. One night Kristen reported receiving a bomb threat. All patients on Ward C were evacuated for several hours while police searched for the bomb. They found nothing.


In November 1993, Kristen gave birth to another son. When she returned to work, she met James Perrault, a newly hired security guard who worked the 3PM to 11PM shift. Whenever there was a medical emergency on Ward C, Perrault would be called. Coworkers later reported seeing her flirt with him.

During these emergencies, Kristen impressed him with her exceptional nursing skills. They began going out for drinks after work. In 1994, Kristen and James Perrault began an affair.

My food tastes funny


Glenn began to suspect Kristen was trying to kill him. He told friends he had noticed an odd taste in the food Kristen served him. At the hospital, the unexplained deaths continued. Some of Kristen's co-workers began monitoring the drugs that could cause sudden cardiac arrest.

In December 1994, Kristen took a vial of epinephrine (a synthetic form of adrenaline) out of her pocket and offered it to a nurse who suffered from asthma.

Clearly, Kristen was the person who had been stealing drugs from the locked cabinet. 

Stop! You're killing me!


In August 1995, a nurse saw Kristen enter a patient's room with a syringe in her hand. Moments later she heard the patient scream: Stop! You're killing me! Fifteen minutes later he went into cardiac arrest. He died the next day.


That fall, Perrault told Kristen he would end their relationship if she didn't leave her husband. In November 1995, Kristen left her two sons with Glenn and moved into her own apartment. A month later, she filed for divorce. The frequent patient deaths continued.


In February 1996, three nurses contacted hospital administrators to voice their concerns about Kristen. Police began an investigation. They exhumed the bodies of Ward C patients who had recently died of cardiac arrest at the VA Medical Center.

Toxicology analysis found epinephrine in the tissues. Because the drug had not been prescribed for these men, there was no reason for it to be in their bodies. 

A woman spurned


In June 1996 Perrault ended their relationship. Distraught, Kristen overdosed on drugs and was admitted to the hospital psychiatric ward. While there, she phoned Perrault and said: "You know I did it. I did it. You wanted to know. I killed those guys." Perrault filed a restraining order against her and gave testimony to a Grand Jury in July about her confession.


In August Glenn asked police to search his house. Police found The Handbook of Poisoning in the pantry. Kristen later went to Glenn's house and attacked him with her car keys. Convinced that Perrault had turned against her, she bought a device to alter her voice and used it to call him at the hospital while he was on duty. She told him three bombs were set to go off in the hospital. Employees and patient (many of them sick and elderly) were evacuated. No bombs were found.


The court sent Kristen to Baystate Medical Center for evaluation. Upon her release, she was arrested and released to the custody of her parents on Long Island (NY). Now that Kristen wasn't working on Ward C, the death rate dropped dramatically. In fact, during the 7 years Kristen worked there, 350 deaths had occurred.


In January 1998, Kristen was found guilty of phoning in the false bomb threat and sentenced to serve 15 months at the Danbury (CT) Federal Prison. She received treatment for psychiatric problems. In November 1998 she was indicted for murder and moved to a prison in Ludlow, MA to await trial.

A mountain of evidence


On March 14, 2001, after considering a mountain of evidence and testimony from 70 witnesses, a federal jury convicted Kristen Gilbert of 3 counts of 1st degree murder, one count of 2nd degree murder, and 2 counts of attempted murder.

Some suspect she murdered more than forty hospitalized veterans. Would she get the death penalty? 


During her incarceration before and during the trial, Kristen sent more than 300 letters and cards to her sons. In fact, she had not seen them since the fall of 1996, having left them with her husband to be with her lover. Her correspondence was sent to the boys' therapist, who decided whether to read it to them.


Emotional testimony


During the sentencing phase, relatives of the victims wept as they spoke of their deceased loved ones. Glenn Gilbert and Kristen's parents pleaded with the court not to impose the death penalty, saying it would adversely affect her children and her relatives. Kristen declined to address the court. When the killing spree began, Kristen was 23 years old. At the age of 33, she was sentenced to 4 consecutive life terms without possibility of parole, plus 20 years.


Kristen Gilbert was transferred from a federal prison for women in Framingham, MA, to a federal prison in Carswell, TX, where she remains at this writing.

More details are in my ebook, DARK DEEDS, Volume Two: Serial killers, stalkers and domestic homicides


Did she get what she deserved? Or should she have gotten the death penalty? I'd love to hear what you think. Please leave a comment! 

Sources: Kristen H. Gilbert: information researched and summarized by Elizabeth Daley, et al, Department of Psychology, Radford University, Radford, VA.


Southcoasttoday.com  Testimony during trial   http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20001122/NEWS/311229990&cid=sitesearch


Serial Killer Kristen Gilbert, About.com http://crime.about.com/od/serial/p/kristengilbert.htm


Just For the Fun of It



Perfect Poison: A female serial killer's deadly medicine, M. William Phelps, Pinnacle Books (June 1, 2003) http://www.amazon.com/Perfect-Poison-Killers-Medicine-ebook/dp/B003TSEL4G/

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[ Posted by Myrna, July 06, 2012 10:34 AM ]
     My guess would be that she might have chosen death herself, so incarceration would be a real punishment.....BUT, that would apply to a sane person....hmmmmm.

[ Posted by admin, July 06, 2012 6:17 PM ]
     Although she attempted suicide a few times, I'm not sure she was ready to sit in a chair and be executed. And her 300 cards and letters to her sons, after she had showed no interest in them for several years seemed to me to be a blatant ploy to gain sympathy.

[ Posted by Caroline Trippe, July 13, 2012 6:58 AM ]
     Not a proponent of the death penalty, but no doubt she did it. Too bad it took them so long to catch her. What I'd find interesting is what made her kill, since female serial killers are so much less common than male serial killers. The fact that she was married and had two children would indicate that she was able to live (or appear to live) a normal life on one level---compartmentalizing her criminal self and actions? And poison is the woman's weapon of choice, I guess. Ann Miller Kuntz gave arsenic to her husband---and manipulated her lover into adminstering one of the doses. She also appeared to lead a normal happy married life. "The mask of sanity."

[ Posted by admin, July 13, 2012 8:02 AM ]
     Thanks for the comment, Caroline. The death penalty issue caused quite a furor at the time. Massachusetts hadn't executed anyone in many years, but many people wanted her to be the first because they believed she had actually committed many more murders than she was charged with. Kristen Gilbert did appear to be "relatively" sane, married with children, etc, but she quickly abandoned them when she found a new admirer.

[ Posted by Danny Haze, September 04, 2012 2:38 PM ]
     For those interested in the topic of serial killers, check out the new youtube series, The Video Journal of Danny Haze

[ Posted by admin, September 04, 2012 4:14 PM ]
     Thanks for the tip, Danny. I will.

[ Posted by TCM, September 23, 2012 4:30 PM ]
     This case always fasinates me. Im curious as to how she feels today, about the families she has affected

[ Posted by admin, September 23, 2012 5:11 PM ]
     Thanks for your comment. It was indeed a horrible case. I have no idea how she feels about the families of her victims. But keep in mind that she ignored her own children for months and months, only to contact them after she was convicted and in jail awaiting sentencing. If that is any indication, my guess is that she probably has no empathy for the victims' families, either.

[ Posted by Don, February 27, 2013 1:41 AM ]
     Get what she deserves? How could she "get what she deserves"? What could possibly balance out her killing who knows how many people? Even if she killed just one or hundreds, how is killing her her "getting what she deserves"? How does killing a killer help anything? Americans are so obtuse on this. As if logic has anything at all to do with wanting to kill someone. The actual point that most people don't want to face is really "Will I feel better, somehow, if we kill this horrible person?" What IS it about our society where so many want to kill a killer. How is it that people in other countries manage to not feel the need to kill someone who does despicable things? But, it's probably pointless for me to to try to argue the point, since it's not logic, not logic AT ALL, that drives the issue. It's visceral and it's part of the simplistic American psyche. Just kill them and let me not have to think any deeper about it.

[ Posted by admin, February 27, 2013 8:02 AM ]
     Thank you for your comment. You obviously feel rather passionate about the "death penalty" issue. Personally, I agree with you. However, none of my loved ones have ever been murdered murdered. I don't know about you. I believe the "logic" behind the American POV that approves of the death penalty is of the "eye for an eye" variety.

And many people believe that too many killers put in prison eventually get out and kill again. This is a fact. Right now in Massachusetts, people are working to free a man who, as a teenager, stabbed his neighbor 93 times. This is ridiculous. I don't want this guy to be back in the community EVER AGAIN.

[ Posted by John Foxjohn, May 31, 2013 12:27 PM ]
     An interesting story, but I'm not a believer in the Angel of mercy theory.

As the author of Killer Nurse, a true crime about another female nurse serial killer, I became familiar with the burdens of proof in these cases and how many are out there that actually get away with it because they are so difficult to prove.

But angel of mercy, no. Devil of cruelty, yes!

John Foxjohn
Paradox—don’t miss Sterling’s story
August 2013 Berkley true crime—Killer Nurse
She was hired to nurse them back
to health...instead, she took their lives.

[ Posted by admin, May 31, 2013 12:57 PM ]
     Thanks for the comment. I don't subscribe to the angel of mercy theory either. That's what she claimed to be, but the facts showed otherwise.

[ Posted by Teresa a Sparks, August 06, 2014 12:30 PM ]
     I have just watched a documentary on the ci network on Kristen Gilbert and after reading this I ask myself, do we have the right to ask the 'eye for an eye'? I don't know. Although I completely agree that a severe punishment should be handed down, and 4 life sentences can never be fully served. I don't think it's right to have her live while the public foots the bill, but to 'kill' her-is that right?? She clearly should be in a mental institution, not prison. In prison there are PLENTY of ways to get a hold of poisons or other means to hurt, mame, or kill. I just think she was failed in the system, not to get the psychiatric care she clearly needs.

[ Posted by admin, August 06, 2014 5:28 PM ]
     Thanks for the comment. I can't answer the question re life in prison vs the death penalty. However, I believe studies have shown that including the appeals process that always follows a death sentence, the cost may be equal to or greater than keeping her in prison for life. Agree that she needs help for the mental health issues, but she was deemed well enough to stand trial for the murders she committed, of her own free will, knowing this was wrong.
Just my opinion.

[ Posted by Richard Dey, February 17, 2015 10:09 PM ]
     The victims were veterans, and she still wasn't executed. What if she had been a male and the veterans all female? She'd have been executed, regardless of psychiatric intervention. All psychiatrists are under the care of a psychiatrist; isn't that like putting prisons in the hands of thieves? politicians in charge of our money? or lawyers in charge of the law. These are blatant conflicts of interest. Why, it's like putting serial killers in charge of helpless patients!

[ Posted by admin, February 18, 2015 5:56 PM ]
     Thank you for the comment. I can understand your distress about the veterans, especially since most were very ill and helpless. However, I don't believe her gender had anything to do with her not being executed. Her mental health issues were long-standing and several psychiatrists judged her to be mentally ill. The jury chose not to sentence her to death.

However, I agree with your last statement. She was a serial killer and she was hired to care for helpless patients. The real crime is that it took so long for her deeds to be discovered.

[ Posted by Anonymous, March 26, 2016 10:03 AM ]
     First, thank you for insight into the history/life of this women. It brings up some many questions and that cannot be fully answered, even if answered by the killer. I believe we do things that we cannot or not fully capable of explaining ourselves-the gift of being able to reason I suppose.
As for the death penalty, I see people discussing vehemently from both point of views. Personally, I could take it or leave it. The damage has been done and it appears, from families/victim's perspective after the verdict is rendered, only get a sliver of closure. But maybe that might be just enough to go on living one's life after such an horrific experience. From a deeper level, after reading stories like this, it makes me not want to do such acts- not that I am capable nor have any desire. The consequences are too severe not to mention the destruction it causes. So in that sense, it acts like a deterrent.

[ Posted by admin, March 26, 2016 5:00 PM ]
     Thanks for the comment. She may have been mentally impaired. However, she showed no concern for her children. I'm not in favor of the death penalty, simply because i believe the government shouldn't be in the business of killing people, no matter how guilty they may be. Put them in jail and throw away the key. In my mind, that is just as much of a deterrent.

[ Posted by admin, April 08, 2017 10:13 AM ]
     Thanks for the comment, but I'm not sure I agree with you. There was plenty of blame to go around. Your assessment of Robin's "options" may be overblown. And the professor, AND his wife, who surely knew about his obsession with Robin, were not blameless either.

posted by SUSAN FLEET   July 04, 2012 1:42 PM  Serial Killers 


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