Triumph over tragedy

 

By Andy Kahan

On January 20, 2020, I walked into the Bexar (San Antonio) Courthouse along with several other victims’ families to witness the Nurse Baby Killer/Angel of Death Genene Jones agree to a plea deal 

that would essentially ensure she would spend the rest of her life in prison. Genene Jones is one of the nations most prolific serial killers most people have never heard of. She is generally credited with the murder of over 50 infants and children entrusted with her care as a nurse in the late 1970’s and 80’s. Jones was convicted of only one murder that of 15 Month Old Chelsea McClellan in 1985 and was sentenced to 99 years and 60 years for Injury to a Child (Roland Santos). 

Jones’s weapon of choice was the nerve paralyzing drug called Succinylcholine which injected into small children essentially causes a fatal heart attack. In some cases, Jones would actually revive her patients to absorb a hero like worship mentality. The Hospital District where Jones worked, was well aware of the increase of deaths on her shift simply chose to

 let her go when they were confronted by her co-workers. They were more concerned with their reputation and potential liability than the truth as to why so many young children mysteriously died on what became known as The Death Shift. After Jones was let go by the Bexar County Hospital, she took up right where she left off at a clinic in Kerrville, Texas. It was there she murdered Chelsea and is credited with six other deaths under her care.

I met Chelsea’s Mother Petti in 1996 when Jones was believe it or not actually eligible for parole. I also had the dubious honor of advising her that parole was the least of your worries: Under the Mandatory Release Law Jones was scheduled to be legally released in 2018. Texas had enacted a statute to help alleviate prison overcrowding in 1977 by allowing all offenders to be automatically released based upon a formula including calendar time plus good time credits. It didn’t matter if you were a forger, rapist and or serial killer, if you were convicted between 1977-87, as long you were a good boy or girl you would be released. The law was revised in 1987 to eliminate most violent offenders. We actually had fast tracked legislation in 1995 to abolish Mandatory Release permanently but a little-known court known as the U.S. Supreme Court in a opinion stated we could abolish Mandatory Release for future cases but alas not retroactively to include offenders like Jones.

Another serial killer by the name of Coral Eugene Watts (The Sunday Morning Slasher) who murdered 13 Houston area women 1981-82 and is credited with over 40 nationally was also scheduled to be legally released under the Mandatory Law in 2006 but something thwarted that. Watts, like Jones was suspected in numerous other murders but due to lack of empirical evidence was never charged with any of them. In 2002, we decided to put Watts back on the map and let the world know a serial killer was going to be legally released. My mantra was “If we are going to release a serial killer, then we are going to be kicking, screaming and fighting and let the whole world know of this atrocity”.  I initiated a massive media campaign and as a result Michigan where Watts originally came from formed a Cold Case Task Force to try to find a case with enough evidence to charge Watts with. Four years later we struck gold after the Today Show and MSNBC featured a story with the Michigan Attorney General pleading for the public’s help in an unsolved 1979 murder. An eyewitness to the murder saw the segment and came forward. Watts was subsequently convicted and sentenced to Life in Prison. He dies of Prostate Cancer several years later. For those who want to learn more about our campaign to prevent the release of Watts, I highly encourage you to read my friend the late great Corey Mitchell’s Book ‘Evil Eyes’.

For over a decade Petti and myself would meet with the Parole Board every time Jones came up for release. Obviously, we all knew she would never be released on parole; we simply used each occasion to bring up the inevitable looming automatic release date unless we could find another charge to pin on her. My position was simply this: If lightning struck once with Watts, hopefully we can strike it again with Jones. Thus, the quest to prevent the automatic release of one of the nation’s most clod-blooded diabolical serial killers began in earnest.

Local stations KPRC (NBC), KHOU (CBS) and KTRK (ABC) did numerous story’s spotlighting our quest to find another case to prevent her release. Reporters Robert Arnold and Katie McCall devoted several segments on Jones’s pending release. Jones as expected refused all interview requests just like Watts did. Frankly it made no sense to call attention to yourself when you know you are getting out. CNN, Crime Watch Daily and Netflix aired segments. I highly encourage all to watch ‘Killer Nurses’-Season One-Episode 3 produced by my Emmy Award friend Producer Carolyn Canville. Her story provides an in-depth look into the Jones case and the horror inflicted on those who could not scream, run or cry for help.

Petti made herself available and anytime I called her to discuss strategy she was always there. For years we thought we were the only ones yelling and screaming but finally through social media we were able to connect with numerous other family members whose children were murdered by Jones. All of these families were sold a bill of goods by the Hospital that their infants died by natural causes. In 2013 Petti, myself and Marina Rodriguez whose son was murdered by Jones made an appointment to meet with the Bexar County District Attorney. That meeting changed the course of crime history. 

In 2013, Prosecutors and Investigators agreed to look into Jones extensive file---we were shown a room full of boxes. It was surreal seeing the mounds of evidence and files investigators would have to pour through. No promises were made, only that they would try to do the impossible. Susan Reed then the DA went on CNN and said she would reopen cases. After close to 20 years of banging down doors we had hope. Reed lost her reelection to Nico LaHood who also agreed with us to look into old cases. One of his prosecutors Jason Goss who was just one-year-old when Jones reign of terror ended took a special interest and on his own time reached out to victims’ families to try to find at least one case to merit prosecution.  Several families reached out to me on our closed Facebook Group “Victims of Genene Jones”. Goss discovered Jones had actually essentially admitted to the murders when she spoke to several Parole Officials years ago. For some unknown reasons her confessions were never reported to authorities. Goss was able to secure five indictments on Jones for murdering four boys and one girl. They were between three months and two years old. Petti McClellan attended all Grand Jury Hearings to offer her insight and to comfort so many other families that were finally told the truth about what happened to their loved ones over thirty-five years ago. 

My friend and fellow advocate Petti McClellan sadly passed away June 2019 at the age of 64.  She did not live to see the day The Angel of Death pled guilty to the murder of 11-month-old Joshua Sawyer. Her daughter Kiley took over her mantle stepping up to the plate by reading a poignant victim impact statement. Everyone from victim’s families, prosecutors, investigators and I all felt Petti’s presence was with us. None of this happens without the selfless and bull-dogged determination for over 30 years to seek justice not for her daughter but for all the families who were denied justice during Jones’s reign of terror.

Genene Jones was sentenced to Life in Prison. By statute she will be parole eligible in 2038. She will be eighty-nine. All of us at the court proceedings agreed to meet up again in 2038 to protest her parole if she lives that long.  Petti McClellan is the epitome of someone who took a negative and turned her grief into positive social action. Thanks, Petti, for fighting the good fight. May you rest in eternal peace, knowing full well your efforts were not in vain; The Angel of Death will never be free to harm another child.  You are missed but never forgotten.

For further information on the Genene Jones story I highly recommend the book titled ‘The Death Shift’ by Peter Elkind. 

Copyright 2020 by Andy Kahan. All Rights Reserved

Andy Kahan is the Director of Victim Services & Advocacy at Crime Stoppers of Houston

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