Will This Angel of Death be Released?

Legal loophole lets suspected serial killer skirt full punishment.

Posted Jun 25, 2017

Praeger
Source: Praeger

In my book, Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers, I included Genene Jones. Of the nurses who kill, she ranks as one of the most notorious, because her targets were infants. I mentioned that she would be eligible for release, and that date is approaching. People who have followed this case are worried. Texas is seeking a way to block it.

The Lone Star State had once paroled triple murderer Kenneth McDuff. When he got out, he killed again and ended up executed. They had to release serial killer Coral Eugene Watts in a complicated legal arrangement, but Michigan snapped him up for crimes in that state.

Now, there’s Genene Jones. What’s the story?

In 1982, Dr. Kathleen Holland opened a pediatrics clinic in Kerrville, Texas and hired Jones, who was a licensed vocational nurse. Having worked at the Bexar County Medical Center Hospital in the pediatric unit, Jones had solid experience with kids. However, it wasn’t long before several children succumbed to inexplicable seizures. Fifteen-month-old Chelsea McClellan, who was brought in for a routine check-up, ended up dead.

Nurse Jones understandably wept over the small body. Then something bizarre happened. A week after the funeral, Chelsea’s mother spotted Jones at the cemetery kneeling at the foot of the grave, rocking and wailing the child's name. Mrs. McClellan confronted her, but Jones stared at her, rose, and walked away.

Dr. Holland learned that just before Chelsea died, a bottle of succinylcholine, a powerful muscle relaxant that can paralyze, had turned up missing. Jones then found the bottle. It wasn’t completely full. Holland saw a needle hole in the rubber top. Jones suggested they just toss the bottle to avoid suspicions. Holland tested the contents and found only saline. Another bottle of succinylcholine had been ordered but was now missing, so she fired Jones.

The police in Kerr County investigated Jones. On October 12, 1982, a grand jury listened to accounts of the seizures suffered by eight children from Holland's clinic and the events on the day when Chelsea McClellan had died. Her body was exhumed to examine with a test just developed in Sweden to detect the presence of succinylcholine. The test confirmed an injection. But no one had seen Jones administer it, so key evidence against her was lacking.

Another grand jury looked into 47 suspicious deaths of children at Bexar County Medical Center while Jones was a nurse there. The grand juries indicted her on two counts of murder and several charges of injury to other children. Investigators suspected her in more than forty deaths, but it was difficult to acquire evidence. Most was circumstantial.

Jones had a history of lying and pretending she was ill to get attention. She had requested to be put in charge of the sickest patients, which had placed her close to children more likely to die. When they did, she seemed to thrive on the emergency. Afterward, she always wanted to take the corpse to the morgue. There she would sit in a chair, rocking it in her arms.

Jones apparently even gave herself a grim nickname - the Death Nurse. One frightening behavior was her predictions about which children were going to die – and she was unerringly correct.

These are among the red flags for healthcare serial killers.

People often ask why someone who wants to be a nurse would harm people. Some enter healthcare professions to gain personal power, control, or attention. Victims are readily available and it is easy to exploit the atmosphere of trust. A study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences in November 2006 examined ninety cases from twenty countries of criminal prosecutions of suspected healthcare killers between 1970 and 2006. Fifty-four of the defendants had been convicted. Nurses (male and female) comprised 86%, and the number of suspicious deaths among the confirmed killers was over 2,000.

Thanks to the cases successfully identified, we can use statistical analysis to determine the comparative death rate on the shifts of suspects vs. their colleagues. If a suspicious number is documented, then we examine whether a high percentage had been unexpected, or if the death symptoms failed to match the patients’ conditions. This is just one factor, but an important one. It’s also important to investigate whether a suspect has a history of mental instability, depression, or odd behavior. Jones did.

We now know that most nurses who became serial killers had a number of red flags. They were often given macabre nicknames by patients or others on staff; were seen entering rooms where unexpected deaths occurred; were secretive; had a difficult time with personal relationships; liked to “predict” when someone would die; were associated with several incidents at different institutions; craved attention; hung around during the immediate death investigation; and had lied about personal information or credentials, or had falsified reports.

Jones exhibited most of these. One day, a baby named Jose Antonio Flores, six months old, went into cardiac arrest in Jones’ care. He was revived, but the next day, on her shift, he went into arrest again, and died. Testing showed an overdose of heparin, an anticoagulant. No one had ordered it for this patient.

Rolando Santos, being treated for pneumonia, went into cardiac arrest, with extensive unexplained bleeding. His troubles had developed or intensified on Jones's shift. With intensive care, he survived.

At Jones’s first trial in January 1984 for the murder of Chelsea McClennon, the prosecutor said she had a hero complex: She needed to take the children to the edge of death so she could save them. Jones was convicted, receiving 99 years.

At a second trial for the injury of Rolando Santos, a statistical report was the key evidence: An investigator stated that children were 25% more likely to have a cardiac arrest when Jones was in charge, and 10% more likely to die. Jones was found guilty and received 60 more years. Evidence was too ambiguous in other suspicious deaths to form a case against her.

So how can she be released? Jones has been up for parole half a dozen times and each time has been denied, but a mandatory release program set up in 1977 (no longer in force) applies to her. Jones is eligible for release early in 2018.

However, new evidence has supposedly been found to link Jones to the death of Joshua Sawyer in 1981. Injected with Dilantin, he was just 11 months old. Jones was recently served with this new indictment, which could delay her release. Prosecutors would like to reopen other old cases, but most of the evidence in them has been destroyed.

References

Ramsland, K. (2007). Inside the minds of healthcare serial killers: Why they kill. Westport, CT: Praeger.