The story of killer nurse Genene Jones, who was a real-life Annie Wilkes – Stephen King’s unforgettable and deranged character in Misery
The mega-selling horror writer Stephen King has conjured up many human monsters on the pages of his novels Carrie, Salem’s Lot, It, and The Shining. But no evil borne from King’s pen can compare to the terrifyingly human Annie Wilkes, the deranged nurse and “number one fan” of Paul Sheldon, the protagonist of King’s novel Misery.
Written during one of the darkest periods in King’s life, Misery was a strangely therapeutic tale for him to write as he fought his addiction to alcohol and cocaine. He later told The Paris Review, in a 2001 interview, when asked what inspired Misery, “I was having such a tough time with dope, then. I knew what I was writing about. There was never any question. Annie was my drug problem. My ‘number one fan’. And she never wanted to leave…”
However, there was more to the creation of Annie Wilkes than just Stephen King’s struggles with addiction. To flesh out the twisted personality of Annie Wilkes and to establish the pattern of her past murder victims, the innocent babies at Annie’s former place of employment, King no doubt took some inspiration from real-life killer nurse Genene Jones, who, in 1985—the period of time King was writing Misery—set fear into the hearts of every mother-to-be in her home state of Texas for being infamously convicted of the murders of infants under her care. When director Rob Reiner was making the film adaptation of Misery, he subtly injected the case into the script by having actress Kathy Bates—who turned in an Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes—read about the Genene Jones case and incorporate the weirdness into her role.
Genene Anne Jones was born July 13, 1950, in San Antonio, Texas. She was given up for adoption immediately at birth and was adopted and subsequently raised by Dick and Gladys Jones, also from the San Antonio area. She and her three siblings—all boys—had a privileged, upper-middle-class childhood, as their father Dick was an entrepreneur, professional gambler, and nightclub owner. Genene was given everything in her childhood, until at age 10, her father was arrested for stealing $1,500 cash and thousands of dollars worth of jewelry from an acquaintance who frequented his nightclub. The charges were later dropped but the financial impact on the family was devastating.
When Genene was 16 years old, she found her younger brother, Travis, dead in their garage from an accident involving a homemade bomb he had built. She was left traumatized and withdrew, losing motivation for school and socialization with people her age. When her father died of cancer in 1968, Genene was left absolutely devastated. Her family was nearly gone.
She married, straight out of high school, a local high school dropout named Jimmy Harvey DeLany Jr. In the fall of 1968, he enlisted in the Navy. While he was gone, Genene slept with as many men as she could. Some say it was to fill a void left by the death of her father and brother. Others think she was simply trying to get attention. Either way, she needed a way to make money with Jimmy gone. Lacking any other skills, she enrolled in cosmetology school, encouraged by her mother to do so. Four years later, after Jimmy’s return and the birth of their two children, she walked out on Jimmy while he was recovering in the hospital from a boat accident. As much as she had always wanted children, she could not afford them, and left them with her mother, Gladys.
Lack of steady clients led Genene to abandon cosmetology and consider a new career choice. Having an interest in the medical field, she trained to be a vocational nurse for a year. She greatly enjoyed her time training for her new career, and became strangely fixated with the “power” she felt doctors had, and became obsessed with diagnosing people.
She got her first job in 1977 at San Antonio’s Methodist Hospital, but she was fired after eight months for unprofessionalism and uncouth behavior towards fellow employees. She was then hired to work in the Pediatric Intensive Care unit of Bexar County Hospital (now known as the University Hospital of San Antonio.)
When infants hospitalized in Bexar County Hospital’s Pediatric ICU started dying at an alarming rate—20 babies dead between May to December 1981—it would not have taken long to link these deaths to Genene, as the majority of the cases had been babies under her care. However, the devoutly Christian and seemingly good-natured Genene was perceived as highly professional—a loving, dedicated nurse. So well respected, that as the hospital looked into what could have caused the deaths, it never occurred to anyone that Genene could have been capable of such a thing.
Except for one person: Deborah Saltenfuss, a fellow vocational nurse who bluntly accused Genene of killing the babies.
Nobody on the hospital staff, other than Saltenfuss, could believe that Genene could be responsible for the deaths. As a quick fix to this troubling problem, they asked Genene to resign. Then they asked Saltenfuss to resign as well.
Luck was on Genene Jones’s side once again as she promptly found another job at Kerrville Clinic in Kerrville, Texas, again as a nurse in the pediatric ward. Within months of starting her job, several babies began to have respiratory problems. They recovered quickly, and no suspicion was attached to Genene.
But in fall of 1982, when 14-month-old Chelsea McClellan was brought to Kerrville Clinic to receive routine mumps and measles immunizations, it was Genene who administered the first injection, sending the baby into a seizure instantly.
While being rushed to emergency treatment in San Antonio, Chelsea McClellan went into cardiac arrest and died. Other children at Kerrville began suffering seizures, too. Taking into account the tales about her deadly tenure at Bexar, health authorities grew suspicious of Genene. On September 26, 1982, Genene was fired after a bottle of succinylcholine, marked with pinprick holes in the rubber stopper, was found. Succinylcholine, a type of muscle relaxant, was found in the body of Chelsea McClellan, and the pieces of the puzzle were put together. Genene was injecting babies with extremely powerful drugs to induce seizures and major organ failure, especially heart failure.
The media exploded with detailed articles about the killings, reporting about more than forty of the babies who were alleged to have died at the hands of Genene Jones, the killer nurse. Genene received a front-page story in Texas Monthly, and even the international press covered the murders, calling Jones the “Angel of Death.”
As Genene’s murder trial unfolded in Georgetown, Texas, in 1984, one thing became clear: Genene Jones wanted to be the author of destiny, both a hero and miracle worker. Her motivation for murder was to take the babies to the edge of death and then act as hero and do “all she could” to save them. She also craved the attention she got from the sick children. She could repeat tragedy over and over again without ever being suspected. She almost romanticized it, reportedly saying, while awaiting trial, “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.”
On February 15, 1984, Genene Jones was convicted of the murder of Chelsea McClellan and was given the maximum sentence of 99 years in prison. In October of the same year, she was convicted of the murder of another child, Rolando Santos. The two sentences totaled 159 years – but she was given the possibility of parole.
After she was convicted, her former place of employment, Bexar County Hospital, destroyed four and a half tons of medical records, erasing any trace that she had ever worked there and who she had treated. The exact number of babies she killed remains unknown.
While she pled not guilty during trial, she has reportedly confessed to her crimes, saying, “I really did kill those babies.” Though she has been denied parole multiple times, she is set to be released later this year, due to the overcrowding in state prisons.