Kristen Gilbert was a bright, attractive, well-trained nurse who, in 2001 was found guilty of killing her patients at a Veterans Administration medical center in Northampton, Mass. What made this talented young woman turn to murder? Some believe it was for the thrill, other’s say it was so she could meet up with her boyfriend who also worked at the hospital.
Gilbert’s Childhood Years
Kristen Heather Strickland was born November 13, 1967 to parents Richard and Claudia Strickland. She was the oldest of the couples two daughters in what appeared to be a well-adjusted home. The family moved from Fall River, Mass to Groton, MA and Kristen lived out her preteen years without any significant problems.
A Young Liar
As Kristen grew older her appearance became more refined and she had a natural sophisticated air that her friends admired. She was smart, pretty but with reportedly one major flaw – she was a chronic liar. She told her friends that she was a distant relative to Lizzie Borden and also managed to convince her college roommates that her mother was an abusive drunk. Neither tale was true, but lying came so naturally to Kristen, it was hard to know what was the truth.
Stealing From Friends
The closer people came to know Kristen, the more they seemed to edge away from the friendship. One friend recounted how Kristin showed up in a blouse which her friend had discovered missing from her closet. When questioned, Kristin insisted the blouse was her own. Former boyfriends described Kristin as strange and controlling. For attention she would fake suicide or when angry she would tamper with the boys’ cars or physically attack them, scratching them with her nails.
In 1988, Kristen earned her degree as a registered nurse from Greenfield Community College. She also married Glenn Gilbert, who she met at Hampton Beach, N.H. By March 1989, she landed a job at the Veterans Administration medical center in Northampton, Ma., and the young couple bought a home and settled in to their new life.
The Office Social Butterfly
To fellow workers Kristen seemed competent and committed to her job. She was the type of coworker who would remember birthdays, organize gift exchanges during the holidays and 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. All in all, things during this span of Kristen’s life were good, or so it appeared.
The Death Rate Triples
In late 1990 the Gilbert’s 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 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.
The Perrault Affair
After the Gilbert’s second child was born in 1993, the couple’s marriage seemed to falter. Kristen was developing a friendship with James G. Perrault, a newly hired VA Hospital security guard. He worked from 3 p.m. until 11 p.m. and the two often went to have drinks with other workers at the end of their shifts. Perrault was also called anytime there was a medical emergency on Ward C. It was during such emergencies that Kristen would impress Perrault with her exceptional nursing skills.
Dead By Thanksgiving
In the fall of 1994, the relationship between Kristen and Perrault moved from friendship to intimacy. Glenn, Kristen’s husband, began to notice the food Kristen served him had an odd taste to it. Although nothing was ever proven, Glenn Gilbert became convinced his wife was trying to kill him, telling friends she wanted him dead by Thanksgiving. When Perrault presented Kristen with the ultimatum to leave Glen, or end their relationship, Kristen promptly told Glen she was leaving.
Out On Her Own
At the first of December, Kristen left her husband and kids and moved into her own apartment and she and Perrault’s relationship was in full bloom. Things were not as merry at the VA Hospital. A lot of patients were dying and Kristen’s coworkers began to whisper about the deaths always occurring on Kristen’s shift. Although many of the patients who died were in serious condition and old, there were also patients who, although sick, had no history of heart problems, yet were dying of cardiac arrest.
Whispered Suspicions: Months went by with business as usual at the hospital. The whispers about Kristen continued, but many chose not to believe she would be involved in something as sinister as killing the patients. Others were not so trusting and began to monitor drugs which could cause cardiac arrest. One such drug, epinephrine kept coming up missing. Unofficially, Ward C was under a close eye of a handful of the nurses assigned to it.
“If My Patient Dies, Can I Get Off Early?” In December 1994, Kristen offered a vial of ephinephrine to a fellow nurse who suffered from asthma. This left little doubt as to who was responsible for the missing vials of the drug from the locked cabinet. But perhaps the event which most raised suspicion occurred on Feb. 2, 1996, when Gilbert, anxious to leave work to meet Perrault, asked her supervisor if she could leave work early if her patient in ICU died. She was told yes and within hours the patient was dead from cardiac arrest.
Nurses Report Suspicions On February 15, an AIDS patient who was being treated with antibiotics suddenly passed out after Kristen had flushed his intravenous lines and the nurses on Ward C finally decided to report their suspicions. It did not take federal investigators long to figure out the common thread to many of the deaths occurring on Ward C, was Kristen Gilbert. In the seven years she worked at the VA Hospital, 350 deaths had occurred during her shift, statistically impossible to attribute to coincidence.
Authorities interviewed all the employees on Ward C and put together a grisly motive for why the death rate had tripled. According to the prosecutors, Kristen Gilbert administered ephinephrine to patients, causing them to go into cardiac arrest, so that her lover, Perrault would be summoned to ICU where she could then be close to him, and impress him with her skills as a nurse. It also allowed her time to flirt with him as was witnessed by several of her coworkers.
A Faked Suicide Attempt
Meanwhile, Gilbert was not working during the investigation and immediately the death rate on Ward C dropped to a normal rate. After Gilbert left the hospital her relationship with Perrault began to dissolve. At first he kept her informed as to what was going on with the investigation at the hospital, but as her temperament began to get more volatile as the finger-pointing became firmly directed at her, Perrault began to pull away.
The End of the Affair
By June 1996 Perrault decided to end the relationship, a decision which did not bode well with Gilbert. She tried unsuccessfully to convince him to change his mind. Then on July 8, 1996, Gilbert overdosed on drugs and was admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward. While in the hospital, she phoned Perrault and during the call told Perrault, “You know I did it. I did it. You wanted to know. I killed those guys.” The following week, Perrault told the federal grand jury of Gilbert’s confession.
Over the next weeks Gilbert’s behavior was unpredictable. Convinced her lover had turned against her, Gilbert was desperate. In a strange twist, she purchased a toy to disguise her voice and called the VA hospital while Perrault was on duty. She told him, in a man’s voice, that three bombs were set to go off in two hours, in Building One of the hospital. Employees and patients, many of which were sick and elderly, were evacuated.
Gilbert’s First Taste of Prison
An investigation into the bomb threat resulted in Gilbert’s arrest and conviction of 15 months in a federal prison. What she hoped to accomplish by making the bomb threat is unclear.
During her trial for making bomb threats the federal investigators were busy exhuming many of the bodies of those who died during Gilbert’s shift at the VA Hospital. Finally in 1998, Kristen Gilbert, age 30, was indicted for murdering four of her patients and attempting to kill three others by injecting them with epinephrine.
After a lengthy and costly trial, a jury found Gibert guilty of first-degree murder in three of the deaths and second-degree murder in one more and the attempted murder of two other patients.
Life or Death
She was eligible to receive the death penalty since her crimes occurred on federal property, but was sentenced instead to life in prison.