It was dubbed the “Death Shift”, 3 to 11 p.m. at a pediatric ICU in Texas. Babies who were in stable condition suddenly stopped breathing. The nurse on duty at Bexar County Medical Center was Genene Jones. She was a licensed vocational nurse from 1978 to 1982. A former co-worker told the media that she would play “cat and mouse” with infants, taking them to the edge of death and then bringing them back to life.
Jones left Bexar in 1982 to work in a private practice. In 1984, she was convicted of murdering a baby by injecting her with drugs. That same year she was also convicted of injuring another baby during her time at Bexar. Prosecutors suspect that Jones may have killed as many as 46 other babies during her 5-year career at Bexar. Sam Millsap, Kerr County District Attorney at the time of Jones’ trials says he faced too many obstacles when it came to pressing that many charges.
Raymond Fuchs, the Bexar County Assistant District Attorney, told the New York Times in 1984 that 9,000 pounds of documents at Bexar were shredded in an apparent coverup. But the hospital told the Times that it had nothing to do with the investigation and was routine for older or unnecessary documents.
“Most murder investigations begin with a clearly defined victim – the body on the floor with a bullet wound in the chest. And in this one, we started with nothing more than a tip,” Millsap told HLN.
Jones was sentenced to 99 and 60 years for each crime. At the time of trial, Millsap told the Washington Post, “There will be no additional indictments of Genene Jones. No useful purpose will be served. I think [she] will spend the rest of her life in jail.” But that statement was wrong. Jones could be paroled in 5 years for good behavior, inmate reduction policies, and other relevant laws. Her release date is set for 2018. This fact, apparently unrealized by prosecutors until now, has sparked renewed interest and activity in the case. Nearly 30 years later, Bexar County District Attorney Susan D. Reed is reviewing evidence and getting in touch with parents of those suspected of being Jones’ victims.
“She was implicated in the deaths of 47 little babies,” Reed told HLN’s Kyra Phillips. “We cannot have someone like that free…anybody who shows so little compassion for children should not receive compassion under the parole system.”
Joyce Riley, who worked at Bexar with Jones, said she discovered a disturbing trend of infants dying in 1979 while conducting an audit of records. Riley zeroed in on the times of death and found that they all had one thing in common: the 3 to 11 p.m. shift. She continued her investigation and discovered that one nurse kept coming up every time a baby died, Jones.
“I went to my boss and I said, ‘There’s a problem up there,'” she said. “‘And I can show you that these babies died on 3-11 only and that they all died with Genene Jones.’ And I was told, ‘I’m sorry Joyce, if you say that again, you’ll be fired and you’ll be sued for slander and you’ll never work again.'”
Riley says she was immediately reassigned. Riley was convinced these babies’ deaths were not natural, “She would find something and someway, either heparin or Dilantin or succinylcholine…she would crash that baby…and then knowing how she crashed that baby, she could help revive the baby and be the hero…she loved that!”
Riley wasn’t the only hospital worker who discovered what was going on, Cheri Pendergraft also told administrators she was concerned Jones was inappropriately drugging babies.
“The death rate was higher than it had been…so we started to question why…and I also noticed that it tended to concentrate more on the 3-11 shift, which was the shift that Genene was working mostly,” Pendergraft said.
When Jones left Bexar she went to work for a private clinic where 15-month-old Chelsea McClellan came in for a routine shot and died. While her mother, Patti McClellan-Wiese held her; Jones injected something other than just a routine shot into Chelsea.
“She gave her her first shot in her left thigh and she immediately started gasping for air,” McClellan-Wiese told HLN in August. Then Jones gave her another shot, “She immediately went limp and quit breathing.”
Doctors resuscitated Chelsea and rushed her to the hospital, but amidst the chaos, Jones slipped into the ambulance with Chelsea and gave her a final injection, which killed her. McClellan-Wiese says she tried to say something was wrong, but everyone just ignored her as the grieving mother. Jones had injected her daughter with a muscle relaxant, enough to sedate six grown men.
“Losing a child is something you never get over. You just learn to cope,” McClellan-Wiese said.
Investigating Jones’ other suspected victims will not be easy. The dean of the hospital at the time is dead, as is the director of nursing, and the head pediatric nurse. Reed is still looking at the possibility of trying Jones. She is interviewing the original prosecutor and the trial attorney. She is also looking into any admissions Jones may have made while in prison.
“I can’t promise that we can re-create this,” she said. “There are going to be issues with missing witnesses and whether the documents are there…but we’re going to look at this…to see…what it is we can do. And if we can do it, we’ll do it.”
Jones is currently in poor health and has never confessed to any of the suspected murders. Shortly after one of only two convictions she said, “If I have to spend 99 years in solitary, I could live with myself, because I didn’t do anything.”