In 1982, Dr. Kathleen
Holland opened a pediatrics clinic in Kerville, Texas. She hired a
licensed vocational nurse named Genene Ann Jones, who had recently
resigned from the Bexar County Medical Center Hospital. Then over the
next two months, seven children had seizures. The staff at the
hospital where she transported them was suspicious. Holland had no
idea what to say, and then one of the children died.
However, a bottle of
succinylcholine, a powerful muscle relaxant, had turned up missing,
and then suddenly Genene Jones located it. Holland dismissed Jones,
and was later to learn that the bottle had been filled with saline.
In other words, someone had been using this dangerous drug.
It wasn't the first
time Jones had been in trouble.
In February 1983, a
grand jury was convened to look into 47 suspicious deaths of children
at Bexar County Medical Center Hospital that had occurred over a
period of four years---the time when she had been a nurse there. A
second grand jury organized hearings on the children from Holland's
clinic. The body of Chelsea McClellan was exhumed and her tissues
tested; her death appeared to have been caused by an injection of the
The grand jury
indicted Jones on two counts of murder, and several charges of injury
to six other children. Anyone who knew Jones was not altogether
surprised. She could be inordinately aggressive, had betrayed
friends, and often resorted to lies to manipulate others---a classic
psychopath. While she'd wanted children all her life, the two she had
she'd left in the care of her adoptive mother.
The first child she
picked up in her job at Bexar County Medical had a fatal intestinal
condition, and when he died shortly thereafter, she went berserk. She
brought a stool into the cubicle where the body lay and sat staring at
By 1981, Jones
demanded to be put in charge of the sickest patients. That placed her
close to those that died most often. She loved the excitement of an
emergency, and even seemed to enjoy the grief she experienced when a
child didn't make it. She always wanted to take the corpse to the
It became clear to
everyone that children were dying in this unit from problems that
shouldn't have been fatal. The need for resuscitation suddenly seemed
constant---but only when Jones was around. Those in the most critical
condition were all under her care. One child had a seizure three days
in a row, but only on her shift. "They're going to start thinking I'm
the Death Nurse," Jones quipped one day.
Then a baby named Jose
Antonio Flores, six months old, went into cardiac arrest while in
Jones's care. He was revived, but went into arrest again the next day
during her shift and died from bleeding. Tests on the corpse indicated
an overdose of a drug called Heparin, an anticoagulant. No one had
Then Rolando Santos,
being treated for pneumonia, was having seizures, cardiac arrest, and
extensive unexplained bleeding. All of his troubles developed or
intensified on Jones's shift. Finally one doctor stepped forward and
told the hospital staff that she was killing children. They needed an
investigation. Yet the nurses protected her. Since the hospital did
not want bad publicity, they accepted whatever the head nurse said.
Another child was sent
to the pediatrics unit to recover from open-heart surgery. At first,
he progressed well, but on Jones's shift, he became lethargic. Then
his condition deteriorated and he soon died. Jones grabbed a syringe
and squirted fluid over the child in the sign of a cross, then
repeated it on herself.
Finally, a committee
was formed to look into the problem. They decided to replace the LVNs
with RNs on the unit, and Jones promptly resigned. To their mind,
that took care of the problem.
All it did was let her
know she could get away with medical abuse, and she moved on to the
Kerrville clinic. Despite the risk of exposure in such a small place
to inject children to the point of seizure, she didn't stop.
Although Dr. Holland
was warned in veiled tones not to hire Genene Jones, she viewed Jones
as a victim of the male-dominated patriarchy. She had no idea that by
teaming up with this woman, she was about to kill her own career, her
marriage, and one of her young charges.
At trial, prosecutors
presented Jones as having a hero complex: She needed to take the
children to the edge of death and then bring them back so that she
could be acclaimed their savior. One of her former colleagues
reported that she wanted to get more sick children into the intensive
care unit. "They're out there," she supposedly said. "All you have
to do is find them."
Yet her actions may
actually have been inspired by a more mundane motive: She liked the
excitement and the attention it brought her. The children couldn't
tell on her; they were at her mercy. So she was free to recreate
emergencies over and over.
In a statistical
report presented at the second trial, 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.
On February 15, 1982,
Jones was convicted of murder. Later that year, she was found guilty
of injuring another child by injection. The two sentences totaled 159
years, but she's eligible for parole after 20.
Clearly, Jones made
the deliberate effort to kill, but not all female killers are as
aggressive. Yet denial can still play a part in the tragedies they
cause, as was the case with the next woman, who became quite famous
for her unintentional crimes.
Genene Jones: Baby Killer
by Katherine Ramsland
Too Young to Die
Petti McClellan took
her blond, blue-eyed baby daughter Chelsea into the new pediatric
clinic. It was Friday, September 17, 1982. The clinic had just opened
the day before in Kerrville, Texas, not far from the trailer home
where she and her husband Reid lived. Chelsea was just 8 months old,
but she had a cold, and her mother wanted to be safe. Chelsea had
been born premature, with underdeveloped lungs, so she was prone to
infection. Early in her life, she had spent time on a hospital
respirator. She had also experienced what Petti described as "spells"
of losing her breath. Chelsea was the clinic's very first patient.
In Women Who Kill,
Carol Anne Davis (who bases much of her account on Deadly Medicine)
wrote that pediatric nurse Genene Jones took the child to another area
of the clinic to play with a ball while Dr. Kathleen Holland talked
with the mother. Soon after, Jones told them that Chelsea had stopped
breathing. She placed an oxygen mask over the baby’s face and they
rushed her to an emergency room at nearby Sid Peterson Hospital. To
everyone's relief, the child recovered. Chelsea's parents were
grateful that such a competent nurse was on staff there. They spread
the word to other parents.
Nine months later,
they brought Chelsea in again. This time the results were drastically
different. Peter Elkind, a journalist who briefly met Genene Jones,
offers a fuller account in The Death Shift.
“Chelsea was the first
appointment of the day, just a routine check-up. Petti McClellan
brought her in around midmorning, and Dr. Holland ordered two standard
inoculations. Shortly after nurse Genene Jones injected the first
needle, Chelsea started having trouble breathing. It appeared that
she was having a seizure, so McClellan asked her to stop. Jones
ignored her and gave the child a second injection. Then Chelsea
stopped breathing altogether. She jerked around as if trying to
breathe, and then went limp.”
An ambulance was
called and they transported Chelsea to Sid Peterson Hospital, where
she arrived in nine minutes with a breathing tube down her throat.
Jones carried the child in her arms all the way there. Chelsea tried
to remove the tube, so Dr. Holland replaced it with a larger one and
then gave her something to make her sleep. Jones allegedly said, "And
they said there wouldn't be any excitement when we came to
Kerrville." In fact, there was to be plenty of excitement at that
clinic—more than most clinics get--and Jones was always at the center.
Holland arranged to
transport Chelsea to a hospital where neurological tests could be
performed, and while she was in the ambulance, Chelsea stopped
breathing again and her heart stopped. Jones gave her several
injections while Dr. Holland performed a heart massage, but there was
no response. They pulled into a nearby hospital and continued
treatment. But after 20 minutes it was clear that they had failed.
Chelsea McClellan was dead.
Jones sobbed over the
body as she cleaned it up and wrapped it in a blanket for the
McClellans. Petti McClellan believed that her daughter was merely
asleep. No matter what anyone said to her, she could not come to
terms with the fact that Chelsea was dead.
They all returned to
Sid Peterson Hospital, and Jones carried the child downstairs to the
hospital morgue. Dr. Holland wanted an autopsy. She was not going to
just let this go as a cardiac arrest. The whole thing had been too
unusual. Chelsea had not even come in with a complaint. She had been
there for a routine examination.
The autopsy was
performed and Holland waited for the results. In the meantime, the
McClellans arranged the funeral. After a few weeks, it was determined
that Chelsea had died of SIDS, an often fatal breathing dysfunction in
babies. But new tests would later challenge that conclusion.
Petti McClellan was
unable to cope, according to Elkind. At the funeral, she screamed and
fainted, and her relatives sent her to get psychiatric help. Thanks
to that, she had spent a considerable amount of time in a haze, but
the sharp grief had not yet dulled.
One day, a week after
the funeral, she went to the Garden of Memories Cemetery to lay
flowers on her daughter's grave.
As she approached the
grave, she saw the nurse from the clinic, Genene Jones. Oddly, she
was kneeling at the foot of Chelsea's grave, sobbing and wailing the
child's name over and over. She rocked back and forth, apparently in
deep anguish, as if Chelsea had been her own daughter.
"What are you doing
here?" McClellan asked. Did this nurse feel guilty about her role in
Chelsea's death? Perhaps she had neglected to do something that had
made the crucial difference?
returned a blank stare, as if in a trance, and walked away without a
word. When she was gone, McClellan noticed something else. While
Jones had left a small token of flowers, she had taken a bow from
In The Encyclopedia
of Serial Killers, Michael Newton describes Jones’ background.
She had been a beautician before going into nursing in 1977 and had
worked at several hospitals in the San Antonio area. Peter Elkind
says that she had claimed to have grown up feeling unwanted and
Genene was born on
July 13, 1950, and was immediately given up for adoption. Her new
parents were Dick and Gladys Jones, who adopted three other children
as well—two older and one younger than Genene. They lived in a
two-story, four-bedroom mansion just outside San Antonio. Dick was an
entrepreneur and professional gambler. He worked in the entertainment
business, operating nightclubs. Somewhat larger-than-life, he was
free-spending and generous, but his lifestyle eventually took a toll
on his family. The nightclub went south and there was less money to
spend. Jones tried a restaurant, but that venture failed, too.
When Genene was 10,
her father was arrested. It seems that a large safe had turned up
missing from a home owned by a man who had been at Jones' club at the
time of the burglary. There was $1,500 in cash and some valuable
jewelry inside. A priest turned it over to police, protecting the one
who had given it to him, but the police went after Dick Jones. He
confessed but claimed the episode was a practical joke. The charges
Then Jones opened a
billboard business. For Genene, according to Carol Anne Davis in
Women Who Kill, riding around in the truck with her father while
he put up billboards was the happiest time of her life. Other than
that, she had a hard time getting attention. She felt left out and
unfavored by her parents. She went around calling herself the family's
Sometimes she would
pretend to be ill in order to get people to notice, and at school she
became bossy. She was short and overweight, which added to her
loneliness. There were acquaintances who called her aggressive and
friends who said she had betrayed them. She was known for lying and
Genene was close to
her younger brother, Travis, who loved to be in their father's shop.
When he was 14, he put together a pipe bomb that blew up in his face,
killing him. Genene was 16 at the time, and during the funeral, she
screamed and fainted. She had lost her closest companion. Some
believe this trauma fed her peculiar cruelty. Others said she was
just histrionic and grabbed any opportunity for attention.
During her senior year
of high school, Genene's father began to get sick. He was diagnosed
with terminal cancer, refused treatment and went home to die. He made
it through Christmas 1967, but died shortly afterward at the age of
56, just over a year after the death of Travis.
Genene was devastated
and, though she hadn’t yet finished high school, believed that the
remedy to her pain and loss was to get married right away. She and
her mother fought over it and Gladys soon turned to the bottle,
getting drunk frequently but refusing to give permission for Genene to
marry. It was too soon after the family tragedies.
Finally when Genene
graduated, she married a high school dropout, James “Jimmy” Harvey
DeLany Jr. (Davis claims that she trapped this man into marrying her
by pretending she was pregnant.) He, too, was overweight, and he
cared only about hot rods. After seven months of marriage, he
enlisted in the navy and Genene, who was reportedly voracious in her
desire for sex, was immediately unfaithful. Intense and dramatic, she
went after other men as if to fill the void left by her father's
untimely death, and she bragged openly about it. She even had affairs
with married men and she began to spread rumors that she had been
sexually abused as a child.
She depended on her
mother for money, so Gladys urged her to think about a career. With
no real plans, Genene enrolled in beauty school. Jimmy returned from
the navy and they had a child. After four years of marriage, she left
her husband while he was recovering in the hospital from a boating
accident. Her divorce papers indicated that he had been violent with
her. They reconciled and then parted again for good.
Soon after, Genene's
older brother died of cancer. It was yet another loss, and her
developing fear of cancer from working with hair dyes made a career
change necessary. She had worked in a hospital beauty salon, so it
wasn't a far stretch to train as a nurse. She was also pregnant, so
now she had two children to care for. Although she had wanted
children all her life, she ended up leaving them in the care of her
Genene had reserved
her special ardor for doctors, seeing them as mysterious and
powerful. She wanted to get near them, so she trained for a year to
become a vocational nurse, and LVN or licensed vocational nurse. She
was good at it, although she was not altogether happy about being at
the bottom of the medical totem pole. Her interest in medicine began
to take on mystical dimensions and, as acquaintances put it, she
became obsessed with diagnosing people.
After only eight
months at her first job at San Antonio's Methodist Hospital, she was
fired, in part because she tried to make decisions in areas where she
had no authority, and in part because she made rude demands on a
patient who subsequently complained. It wasn't difficult for her to
find another job, but she didn't last long in that one either.
Eventually she was hired in the intensive care section of the
pediatric unit of Bexar County Medical Center Hospital. It was here
that she would leave her mark—a tragic one.
Her Own Special Shift
The first child she
picked up had a fatal intestinal condition, and when he died shortly
after surgery, she went berserk. She brought a stool into the cubicle
where the body lay and sat staring at it. The other nurses could not
understand her behavior. She hadn't even known the child and had
barely been around him, so why the excessive grief?
It soon became clear
to associates that Genene liked to feel needed, and she would often
spend long hours on the ward during her 3-11 p.m. shift, insisting
that her attention was important to a certain patient. However, she
skipped classes on the proper handling of drugs and in her first year
made eight separate nursing errors, including while dispensing
medication. She sometimes developed a dependency on sick children, so
she would refuse specific orders because she wanted to do what was
"best" for the child.
While there were
sufficient grounds for dismissal, including coming in one night drunk,
the head nurse Pat Belko liked and protected her, which gave Jones a
feeling of invincibility. She never liked to admit any mistakes, and
now she had someone in power to back her up. She tried to bully new
nurses into looking to her for help, and more than one nurse
transferred out of the unit to get away from her.
As she took charge,
Genene grew more arrogant, aggressive and foul-mouthed. She liked to
talk about her sexual conquests, both past and future. Not many
people liked her. She would make harrowing predictions about which
baby was going to die, which upset the new nurses she was training.
Then a new doctor came
to the ward, James Robotham. Hired as the medical director of the
pediatric intensive care unit, he took more responsibility for
patients than other doctors had, and that meant edging out the
nurses. He also made them more accountable, which didn't sit well
with them. All except for Genene, who welcomed the opportunity to
bring more problems to someone's attention—because that meant
attention for her.
Her other means for
getting noticed was to go to outpatient clinics for minor physical
complaints of her own, which Elkind says she did 30 times in just over
two years. Although she was never officially diagnosed, she may have
been suffering from a form of Munchausen Syndrome, in which people
become "hospital hoboes" to get attention from caring staff that they
feel they missed out on as children. Even when Genene wasn't at some
county clinic, she was complaining about her health and seeking some
leverage with it. One physician said her problems were
In 1981, Jones
demanded to be put in charge of the sickest patients. That placed her
close to those who died. She seemed to thrive on the excitement of an
emergency and even on grief when a child didn't make it. While she
prepared a body, she would sing to it and she always wanted to take
the corpse to the morgue. This routine was a regular procession, with
a security guard walking ahead of her to close patients' doors.
Genene often cried as she performed this task, but then again, it did
seem as if she liked to cry.
No one seemed
concerned that many medications were freely available on that ward in
an unlocked cabinet -- not until later. Nor did they give any thought
to the fact that the hospital where Genene had last worked had not
given a reason for her dismissal. No one followed up, although Genene
was placed in a role of significant responsibility. Her special
talent, Elkind points out, was putting intravenous tubes into veins.
She requested special seminars handling certain drugs and asked many
questions. People were impressed by how much she wanted to learn.
It eventually became
clear to everyone that children were dying in this unit from problems
that shouldn't have been fatal. Davis claims there was one two-week
period where seven children died. The need for resuscitation suddenly
seemed constant---but only when Genene was around. Those in the most
critical condition were all under her care. There was no denying the
excitement that an emergency situation engendered, and Genene even
commented on several occasions that it was "an incredible
experience." One child had a seizure three days in a row, but only on
"They're going to
start thinking I'm the Death Nurse," Jones quipped one day. In fact,
some of the staff called her on-duty hours the Death Shift, based on
the many resuscitations that were going on during the hours she was
there—and the many deaths.
She even seemed to
enjoy calling parents to let them know about their child's death and
to commiserate. If a baby's health was bad, she would announce to the
other nurses, "Tonight is the night." If a child was near death, she
always took a special interest. She clearly wanted to be there when
While rumors were
passed around that Genene was doing something to these children, Pat
Belko defended her. It was just gossip from nurses who were jealous
of her competence. She refused to listen.
Then a baby named Jose
Antonio Flores, six months old, came in with some common childhood
symptoms: fever, vomiting and diarrhea. While in Genene's care, he
developed unexplained seizures and went into cardiac arrest.
The Death Shift
It took doctors almost
an hour to save young Jose, but they did. They noticed he was
bleeding badly and they could not determine the cause. They found
that his blood was not clotting, but eventually the problem subsided
and he seemed okay -- until the following day during the 3-11 shift.
Once again, Jose went
into seizures and began to bleed. Early the next morning, his heart
stopped beating. Cause of death: unknown.
When a doctor told
Jose’s father about losing his son, the man had a heart attack. While
helping Mr. Flores to the emergency room, Genene allowed Jose's older
brother to carry the baby’s body. Then she grabbed the dead baby and
ran down the hospital corridor. Several members of the family ran
after her. She lost them and went into the morgue. No one could
figure out what her behavior meant, but blood testing on the body
indicated an overdose of a drug called heparin, an anticoagulant. No
one had ordered it, and her superiors became suspicious.
Then two resident
physicians who were treating a 3-month-old boy named Albert Garza
found that Genene probably gave him an overdose of heparin. When they
confronted her, she got angry and left, but the child recovered. This
incident also resulted in tighter control over the staff’s use of
heparin, making nurses more accountable and records more precise.
Children whose health declined were to be subject to extra lab tests.
If someone was doing something to children on this ward, she was going
to get caught.
It was at this point
that Genene's health seemed to be suffering. She also refused drugs
prescribed by doctors to improve her condition. Often when she
complained of something, there was no evidence for it. Again, it
appeared she was angling for attention. Dr. Robotham, who had once
been her ally, began to complain formally about Genene Jones.
In November 1981, the
hospital administration, somewhat resistant to an internal
investigation of the pediatrics ward, had a meeting. They decided
that Dr. Robotham was overreacting. The struggling hospital did not
need the possibility that such suspicions would come to the public's
attention, so they declined to follow through. Yet that did not end
Robotham's efforts to launch a formal investigation. He continued to
watch the records of the 3-11 shift.
While heparin use was
carefully monitored, another drug suddenly showed up in the death of
Joshua Sawyer, age 11 months. He was brought in suffering from the
effects of smoke inhalation after a fire at his home. He'd had a
cardiac arrest, and doctors ordered Dilantin. He remained in a coma,
but doctors expected him to make progress. Genene told his parents
that he would be better off if allowed to die, however, since he would
surely have serious brain damage. Then quite suddenly, Joshua had two
heart attacks and died. His lab tests showed a toxic amount of
Dilantin in his blood. Clearly someone's handling at the hospital had
killed him, but the test results went unnoticed.
When Genene became
aware that those who had always supported her were now suspicious, she
turned to blackmail. She said she had records on every child that had
died there and she knew which doctor had killed them. Robotham
requested that she be fired, but no one listened. They also did not
listen to the nurse who kept reporting that supplies were missing.
Then Rolando Santos, a
1-month-old baby being treated for pneumonia, was suddenly having
seizures, cardiac arrest, and extensive unexplained bleeding. All of
his troubles developed or intensified on Genene's shift. He began to
urinate so badly that he suffered extreme dehydration. For the three
days Genene had off, the baby improved, but the afternoon she
returned, he began to hemorrhage. Then he had a heart attack. Lab
tests showed an excessive amount of heparin. Initially, a doctor took
over his care, but after Genene got hold of him, he worsened again and
went into a coma. Blood came up into his throat and his blood
pressure dropped dangerously. A doctor saved him and then ordered him
removed from the pediatric ICU and placed under 24-hour surveillance.
Only under these conditions did he improve enough to be released to
his parents. Rolando survived his encounter with Genene Jones. He
was one of the lucky ones.
Finally one more
doctor stepped forward to tell the hospital administration that Genene
Jones, the afternoon shift nurse, was killing children. He had found
a manual in her possessions about how to inject heparin subcutaneously
without leaving a mark, and he had evidence of how Rolando Santos had
suffered during Genene Jones’ working hours. The hospital resisted,
however, not wanting bad press.
Another child was sent
to the pediatrics unit to recover from open-heart surgery. At first,
he progressed well, but on Genene's shift, he became lethargic. Then
his condition deteriorated and he died. The doctors were puzzled and
could only attribute his death to some infection. In view of everyone
in the room where the child had succumbed, Genene grabbed a syringe
and squirted fluid over his forehead in the sign of a cross, then
repeated it on herself. She grabbed the dead baby and began to cry.
complained and finally a committee was formed to look into the
problem. Pat Belko and James Robotham were in charge. An outside
team of investigators came in and determined that there was clearly a
problem, but they declined to pin it on a single nurse. In the end,
the committee decided to replace the LVNs on the unit with RNs, which
meant that Genene would be transferred away from the babies. She
reacted to this change by resigning. The administrators were
relieved. In their minds, that took care of the problem.
All it did, however,
was transfer the problem. The medical emergencies on the afternoon
shift returned to manageable numbers, but they started up elsewhere.
Death Moves On
In 1982, Dr. Kathleen
Holland opened a pediatrics clinic in Kerrville, Texas. Needing help,
she hired Genene Jones. She had worked at Bexar County Hospital with
her and had even testified on her behalf during the investigation.
Although Dr. Holland was warned in veiled tones not to hire Genene,
she went ahead and did it, viewing Genene as a victim of the
male-dominated medical patriarchy. She believed that Genene was a
competent nurse who just needed a chance, and she gave her the title
pediatric clinician. According to Carol Anne Davis, Holland helped to
move Genene to Kerrville and rented rooms to her and her two
Just months after
Genene left Bexar, someone found a novel with her name in it called
The Sisterhood, written by best-selling ER physician Michael
Palmer. The plot centered on a group of medical professionals who
were pledged to end human suffering by terminating patients who they
believed would be better off dead. They had a specific protocol in
place to ensure the most careful scrutiny, but as always in fiction,
someone took things too far.
In Murder Most Rare,
Michael D. Kelleher and C.L. Kelleher reserve a chapter for “lethal
caretakers,” medical professionals who kill their patients. This
contemporary form of the Angel of Death, they say, "embodies an
especially pernicious darkness in our humanity by systematically
attacking the weak and defenseless who have been involuntarily placed
into her care or must rely on her for comfort and support." These
people carry out their crimes within institutions where chemicals and
syringes are abundant and where they can hide their behavior for long
periods of time. Typically they select patients whose deaths are
explainable because they were in some weakened or near-fatal condition
already. Easy to kill, easy to cover up.
Yet what motivates
these people? "Ego and a compulsion for domination," say the authors.
"She is obsessed with the need to control those who are completely
dependent on her. Some, like Genene Jones, are also motivated by a
need for attention. While they appear to be going about their
routines, they are making decisions about who should live and who
should die. What happens to the patient does not matter to the
caretakers; what matters is what the incident does for them.”
Many parents around
Kerrville were happy to have Dr. Holland's clinic available, but
during a period of two months that first summer, seven different
children succumbed to seizures while in her office. In one case,
Genene told a worried mother that the child was just having a
tantrum---an understatement that nearly cost the child her life.
Holland transferred each of them by ambulance to Kerr County's Sid
Peterson Hospital, never thinking the seizures were suspicious. Yet
Genene's accounts of these incidents always differed from those of
other professionals involved—and one of them had seen her inject
something into a child who then had seizures. From the sheer numbers
of children afflicted in the same clinic, the hospital staff thought
something odd must be going on, especially since the kids always
recovered quickly while in the hospital.
Holland assumed the
severity of the situation was because she was a specialist, not a
generalist, so the worst cases were brought to her. At least they had
But then Chelsea
McClellan died while en route from the hospital to another facility.
Dr. Holland was devastated, as were Chelsea's parents. The child had
not even been very ill. The same day, after Genene had returned to
the clinic to see another patient, the boy went into seizures and had
to be resuscitated. The child stabilized and his parents later
commented that Genene had appeared to be quite excited over the
incident, even happy. Tests afterward indicated there was no reason
for such an unexpected episode.
At about that time, a
doctor at Sid Peterson discovered the high number of baby deaths at
the hospital where Genene Jones had previously worked. He brought
this to the attention of a committee, and they began to realize that
she was doing something to these children. They brought in Dr.
Holland and asked if she was using succinylcholine, a powerful muscle
relaxant. She said she had some in her office but did not use it.
Without telling her, someone on the committee notified the Texas
Holland told Genene
about the meeting, and Genene assured Dr. Holland that she had found
the bottle of succinylcholine that was missing. The cap was gone, and
Holland began to have suspicions.
On September 27, while
Genene was at lunch, Dr. Holland examined the bottles of
succinylcholine. They were both nearly full, but one of them had
pinprick holes through the rubber stopper. When Genene could not give
a credible accounting of it and even suggested they just throw the
bottle away to avoid questions, Dr. Holland was alarmed. She later
learned that the near-full bottle had been filled with saline. In
other words, someone had been using a lot of this dangerous drug,
which paralyzed people into a sort of hell on earth: they lay inert
but aware and unable to get anyone's attention.
Before she could take
any action, Dr. Holland was faced with another crisis: Genene told her
that she had taken an overdose of doxepin, a drug to fight anxiety.
She had to have her stomach pumped, but it turned out that she had not
overdosed at all. She had taken only four of the pills, but she had
faked a semi-coma, forcing emergency personnel to treat her.
discovered that another bottle of succinylcholine had been ordered but
was missing. On September 28, she fired Genene and offered any help
she could to the investigation.
Even so, families left
her practice and Sid Peterson suspended her privileges. For hiring
Genene Jones, Holland was losing everything. Even her husband
divorced her. On top of that, she saw evidence that Genene was trying
to frame her and she began to fear for her own life.
On October 12, 1982, a
grand jury in Kerr County organized hearings on the eight children
from Holland's clinic who had developed emergency respiratory problems
and the one who had died—Chelsea McClellan. Her body was exhumed to
examine the tissues with an expensive test that had just been
developed in Sweden to detect the presence of succinylcholine. The
test showed that her death appeared to have been caused by an
injection of the muscle relaxant. However, it was exceedingly
difficult to get real proof against the nurse. No one had seen her
give the actual injection.
In February 1983,
another grand jury was convened in San Antonio, to look into a
stunning total of 47 suspicious deaths of children at Bexar County
Medical Center Hospital. All had occurred over a period of four years
and all coincided with Genene Jones's tenure at that facility. There
was plenty of testimony from coworkers about Genene's behavior, but
again, no real proof.
Three former Bexar
employees, including Jones, then 32, were questioned by both grand
juries. Dr. Holland was also questioned, and Chelsea's parents named
her and Jones in a wrongful death suit. Holland had turned against
Genene, offering the district attorney ammunition against her former
nurse, specifically in her discovery of the bottles of
At some point, Genene
married a 19-year-old boy, possibly to deflect tabloid rumors that she
was a lesbian. She was caught trying to flee with him.
The Kerr County grand
jury concluded first and indicted Jones on one count of murder in Kerr
County, and several charges of injury to seven other children who had
been injected with muscle-relaxing drugs. For these, she faced a
possible sentence of 99 years and she was held in the Kerr County jail
in lieu of a $225,000 bond.
Then in November, the
San Antonio grand jury indicted her for injuring four-week-old boy
Rolando Santos with a deliberate injection of heparin almost two years
earlier. He had nearly died from it. Jones remained a suspect in 10
other infant deaths at the hospital.
Administrators at the
facilities where she had worked were appalled. They were also
embarrassed, because it became increasingly clear that they had known
something and had not acted.
While awaiting trial
Jones supposedly told someone, according to Elkind, "I always cry when
babies die. You can almost explain away an adult death. When you
look at an adult die, you can say they've had a full life. When a
baby dies, they've been cheated."
She claimed she was
receiving death threats, although the notes she showed people bore the
same handwriting and misspellings as those she herself had sent to a
nurse once in San Antonio. When her trial was moved to a new venue in
Georgetown, Texas, her attorney asked to be replaced. She gave
interviews freely to reporters that undermined his attempts to build a
defense and he feared that she would do the same on the witness stand.
There were two
separate trials, and the first one began on January 15, 1984, for the
murder of Chelsea McClellan and injury to other children.
Genene Jones had a hero complex: She needed to take the children to
the edge of death and then bring them back so that she could be
acclaimed their savior. One of her former colleagues reported that
she had wanted to get more sick children into the intensive care
unit. "They're out there," she supposedly said. "All you have to do
is find them." Witnesses testified that she would contradict herself
by telling one person she had injected a specific type of substance,
and another person that it was something else. All in all, her
pattern of behavior was clearly suspicious, including the fact that
she had asked for an educational seminar specifically on the use of
Yet her actions may
actually have been inspired by a more mundane motive: She liked the
excitement and the attention it brought her. There was no doubt that
her behavior had escalated and that she had taken more risks. The
children couldn't tell on her; they were at her mercy. She was free
to create emergencies over and over. It was Munchausen syndrome by
proxy: getting attention from doctors by making someone else sick.
No one raised the
possibility that Genene had acted out something that had been done to
her as a child. While she had hinted at abuse to friends, there was
no one to confirm that.
Much of this was
replayed at the second trial, but specifically in regard to her
behavior at Bexar. In a statistical report presented at that trial,
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. A
psychiatric exam failed to provide her with the testimony she would
need for an insanity defense. Instead, her lawyer brought in
witnesses to testify that Genene was devoted, competent and
The first jury
deliberated for only three hours. On February 15, 1984, Jones was
convicted of murder and she was given the maximum sentence of 99
years. Later that year, in October, she was found guilty of the
charge of injuring Rolando Santos by injection. The two sentences
totaled 159 years, but with the possibility of parole.
Although she was
suspected in the deaths of other children, the staff at the Bexar
County Medical Center Hospital shredded 9,000 pounds of pharmaceutical
records, thus destroying potential evidence that was under the grand
Most of those at Bexar
who had protected her ended up resigning, and the clinic settled the
legal suit brought by the McClellans.
Jones came up for
parole after 10 years, but relatives of Chelsea McClellan successfully
fought to keep her behind bars, where she will remain until at least
2009, when she is again eligible for parole.
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Serial Murderers and Their Victims. 3rd Ed. Belmont, CA:
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