Doctor Death

Nov 21, 2011 - by Mark Pulham

Dr. Harold Frederick Shipman

Dr. Harold Frederick Shipman

During the last quarter of the Twentieth century, Dr. Harold Shipman killed his patients and got away with it.  In the process, he became the most prolific serial killer not just in Great Britain but in the Western World.  It eventually became known that he had murdered 215 patients and that he was probably responsible for killing another 69, bringing his ghastly total to 284 victims.  He may have actually murdered many more. 

by Mark Pulham

It could have been a scene from a horror movie. Men were standing in the shadows, gathered around an open grave as a heavy rain lashed down. Some light showed what they were doing. Night staff at a local nursing home watched as a coffin was raised from the black hole in the ground and taken away.

The exhumation was the first ever carried out by Greater Manchester Police, though it would not be the last.

Kathleen Grundy was 81-years-old when she had died five weeks earlier, on June 24, 1998. Though in general a woman of that age suddenly dying would not be considered unusual, for the people of Hyde it was quite a shock.

Kathleen was a fit and active woman who worked two and a half days a week at an Age Concern shop, handling their banking, and on three days of the week, she volunteered at Werneth House, a social center for pensioners, where she helped with the lunches.

For this former Lady Mayor of Hyde to have suddenly died was unthinkable.

Victim Kathleen Grundy whose forged will was Shipman's downfall
Victim Kathleen Grundy whose forged will was Shipman's downfall

When she had failed to turn up at the pensioner’s center, and she had not answered the phone when they called, two of the volunteers went to her home. Kathleen lived at 79 Joel Lane, a cottage built in the 1600’s, in Gee Cross. When they got there, they were surprised to find the door unlocked. They went inside and found Kathleen curled up on a sofa. She seemed to be asleep, but her complexion was grey and it was clear that she was dead.

They called her doctor, Fred Shipman, and he hurried over to the cottage. Shipman gave her a cursory examination and confirmed that she was dead, and that her death was due to a cardiac arrest. When the two volunteers asked what they should do, Shipman suggested that they contacted Hamilton’s, the local solicitors’ office in town.

Although Hamilton’s was not Kathleen’s solicitors, that morning they had received a will from her. Enclosed with it was a letter, which read, “Dear Sir, I enclose a copy of my will. I think it is clear my intention, and wish Dr. Shipman to benefit by having my estate, but if he dies or does not accept it, then the estate goes to my daughter.” The letter went on to request that she be cremated. There was nothing in the will left for her daughter or her grandsons, who she loved very much.

Unhappy with the way they had been instructed, Hamilton’s decided to contact Kathleen’s daughter, 53-year-old Angela Woodruff, herself a solicitor in Leamington Spa. Angela usually handled all of her mother’s affairs and knew how she wanted the estate to be divided. This new will and the way it had been handled made Angela suspicious.

A short while later, Hamilton’s received a second letter. This one was dated June 28, 1998, and came from someone named either J. or S. Smith. The letter read, “I regret to inform you that Mrs. Kathleen Grundy of 79 Joel Lane died last week. I understand she lodged a will with you, as I am the friend who typed it for her.”

Solicitors are not willing to wind up an estate based solely on two letters, so they sent all the documents to Angela. Reading the letters and the will, Angela’s suspicions increased. The phraseology was all wrong. The will made reference to her mother’s house, yet Kathleen actually owned two houses, and the typing was quite bad, when Kathleen had been a secretary and a very proficient typist.

Angela Woodruff whose suspicions started it all
Angela Woodruff whose suspicions started it all

It was clear to Angela Woodruff that the new will had not been typed by her mother; it had to be a forgery. Before she went to the police with her suspicions, she decided to do a little investigating. She went to the bank that handled the Age Concern account and asked to see the paying in slips that her mother had filled out. The signature that appeared on the slips did not match the one on the will.

The mysterious “Smith” could not be traced, but Angela did track down the two witnesses to the will. They were Paul Spencer and Claire Hutchinson, two of Fred Shipman’s patients. After she talked to them, Angela was certain she was right, the will was a forgery. She called the police, and the case was assigned to Detective Inspector Stan Egerton.

His first thought, that it may be a will dispute between rival siblings, was soon dismissed.

Paul Spencer was 29-years-old, and ran a pet store in Market Street along with his girlfriend. He had been a patient of Dr. Shipman’s since he was 11-years-old and he shared the same view of Shipman as almost everyone else in Hyde. He was caring and kind, a great doctor who would go out of his way to help. He always had time for you, and would make home visits when you needed him to. To Paul, he was like a favorite uncle. There was no doubt that Dr. Shipman was the most popular doctor in town. There was a waiting list of a year just to get on his books.

Paul told the police of what happened in “The Surgery” on June 10 that year. He was there to get some antibiotics when Dr. Shipman called him and another patient, Claire Hutchinson, a young woman with her baby, into his room. He told them he needed them to witness a signature, and they both agreed.

In the room, seated in the patient’s chair, was an elderly woman. Shipman kept asking her if she was sure, if she was certain, and he called her by name, Kath. The old lady told him that she was sure, and the two signed where Shipman indicated. However, neither of them actually saw the elderly woman sign anything.

What Kathleen Grundy signed in the doctor’s office has never been found, though police believe that it may have been a form giving her consent to take part in an ageing survey.

The police showed Paul a copy of the will. He told them that although the signature looked like his, it looked as though it had been forged. He gave them samples of his signatures for comparison and the police also took his fingerprints. When the police talked to Claire Hutchinson, they left with the same results.

It was clear to Egerton that this was a serious case of fraud, and that the suspect had to be Shipman, a well established, busy and popular GP, well respected, with a very successful practice. It was unbelievable.

But there was something else, something in the back of Egerton’s mind. There had been another investigation some months before, while Egerton was away on holiday. That investigation revolved around Shipman as well.

Egerton called Detective Inspector David Smith who had handled the investigation. The case started when another GP in town had drawn the coroner’s attention to the large number of deaths of Shipman’s patients. The investigation cleared Shipman of any wrongdoing, but it made Egerton think. Kathleen Grundy’s sudden and surprising death now looked more serious. Egerton requested an exhumation.

The exhumation of Kathleen Grundy took place in the early hours of Saturday, August 1, and the post-mortem took place later that same day. There were no physical reasons to account for her death, and so tissue samples were taken and sent to the North-West Forensic Science Laboratories, in Chorley, Lancashire. But it would be some weeks before the results would be known.

The Surgery, 21 Market Street, Hyde
The Surgery, 21 Market Street, Hyde

That same Saturday, police quietly raided the surgery and Shipman’s home. Shipman was co-operative, but he was also arrogant. Among the items the police removed was a portable typewriter. As they took it, Shipman remarked to them that Mrs. Grundy borrowed it from time to time. From his remark, it was clear that Shipman knew what this was all about. Forensics later confirmed that this typewriter was the one used to write the will and the letter that supposedly came from Kathleen, and the letter from Smith.

Shipman’s prints were found on the typewriter, which was not surprising, but his prints were also found on the will.

What was more significant was the fact that the prints of Kathleen, Paul Spencer, and Claire Hutchinson were not found on the will, when they should have been present if they had signed it.

Shipman’s house was a shock to the police. It was filthy, and showed that Shipman’s wife, Primrose, did little or no housekeeping. The search of the house turned up nothing that was relevant to the forged will, but they did find a great deal of jewelry, including rings that would never have fitted over his wife’s chubby fingers. They also found plastic bags filled with medical records.

On September 2, the toxicology report on the tissue samples came back. Kathleen Grundy had not died of “old age” which Shipman had put on the death certificate. She had died from an overdose of morphine, and from the amount, she would have been dead within three hours.

Shipman was questioned, and he told the police that he suspected Kathleen Grundy of being a secret drug addict, something that he had hinted at to a district nurse named Marion Gilchrist a short time before.

Kathleen’s medical records were examined, and there were references to her being a drug addict. However, these references were squeezed into the margins, and it was clear that they had been entered later than the main notes. A pattern was beginning to emerge, and the police would know what to look for in future cases, and they knew there would be more.

The investigation into the forgery of Kathleen Grundy’s will had taken a turn. It was now a murder inquiry.

 

The Young Fred Shipman Was a Loner

A Young Harold Shipman
A Young Harold Shipman

Harold Frederick Shipman, known as Fred, was born in Nottingham on January 14, 1946, the middle child of Vera and Harold. His sister, Pauline, was eight years older, and four years after his birth, in 1950, his younger brother Clive was born.

Although Vera was friendly, she had a belief that her family was superior to everyone else, a belief that was firmly shared by Fred. His perceived superiority made making friends difficult, not that he tried that much. Although Vera never shut him off from other children, there were never any prearranged play dates, he didn’t go to the houses of other kids for tea, and whenever he did go anywhere with a group of kids, it was always because he tagged along, not because anyone came calling for him.

He was always looked upon as different, even in his way of dressing. In the school photographs, when all the others are dressed casually, Fred would be easily spotted – he was the only one wearing a tie.

In school, first at Burford Infants, then in Whitemoor Junior, Fred Shipman never made any friends and never joined in. It was the same when he went to High Pavement Grammar School, an elite traditional grammar school that he joined in 1957.

Fred was a model pupil, though despite Vera’s beliefs, academically he was nothing special. If he stood out in anything, it was sports, where he was a long distance runner and played rugby. In his last years at High Pavement, he was the vice captain of the athletics team.

But Fred was a loner, and unlike others of his age, he had no interest in clothes or music, things that would at least have given him some common ground to make friends. He was shy and awkward around girls, and, according to some who knew him, he took life far too seriously.

And there was something for him to be serious about. Vera had made it clear that Fred was her favorite child, and now Vera needed him. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer and someone had to look after her. His father was a lorry driver and was working, Pauline was married and also working and Clive was too young. Fred, at 17, took on the role of Vera’s caregiver.

It was 1963, before chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Vera was doomed to a long and painful death. Each day, Shipman would rush home to tell Vera about his day over a cup of tea, as he watched her become more emaciated and frail as each day passed.

For Vera, chatting with her favorite child was one of the things that kept her going. There was only one other thing that she looked forward to, the visit from her doctor and the injection of morphine that would hold the pain at bay for another day. Young Fred Shipman would watch in fascination as the doctor slipped the needle into his mother and give her some temporary relief from the pain.

On Friday, June 21, 1963, 43-year-old Vera Shipman died, and Fred was devastated. But her illness and the doctor visits left an indelible impression on the young Shipman, and he decided he wanted to join the medical profession.

In the summer of 1964, Shipman made his first attempt to get into Leeds University Medical School. Unfortunately, when he didn’t get the grades he needed, this first attempt failed. After a year of hard work, he re-sat the exams the following year. This time he was successful.

For Harold Frederick Shipman, Leeds promised a new beginning.

 

Fred Meets Primrose

Leeds also promised a new beginning for someone else. Primrose May Oxtoby was born in April, 1949, into a strict and strait-laced family, ruled with rigid control by Edna, her domineering mother. Primrose led a life that was devoid of anything that was fun, which Edna felt was frivolous. She was not allowed to read comics, other than “Bunty,” a comic aimed at girls, and the only activity she was allowed to join was the girl guides. She was allowed to play with other girls, but they had to be approved by Edna first, and then she was only allowed to play with them if it was close to home.

Primrose Shipman
Primrose Shipman

Outwardly, Primrose was unattractive and forgettable, a plain and frumpy girl, plump and with a bowl haircut. But despite the repressed exterior, inside there was a different Primrose, a girl with a sense of humor, a girl waiting to burst out, if only she could get some freedom.

That freedom came when she was 15½. Primrose won a place on an art and design course, and surprisingly, Edna was okay with it, as long as Primrose learned something that was useful. Primrose combined the art and design course with a catering course, and learned to decorate cakes to a professional standard. But more importantly for Primrose, the course was in Leeds, away from home and her controlling mother.

Each day, Primrose caught the number 38 bus into Leeds, and each day she would look for the young man who also got on.

Over several bus journeys, Primrose would focus her attention on the smartly dressed young man, and eventually, she caught his eye. They began chatting, and soon, Primrose and Fred Shipman had their first date.

For both of them, both in their way repressed, it was a time of firsts, first kiss, first love, first sexual experience. Lost in the joy of their flourishing romance, they were reckless and didn’t use condoms. The inevitable happened, Primrose became pregnant.

Abortion became legal in Britain in 1967, but that was too late for the couple. There was no other solution, they had to get married. Both Shipman’s and Primrose’s family were horrified, and to make matters worse, Edna had taken an instant dislike to Fred Shipman. When they got married, at a registry office on November 5, 1966, the occasion was not a happy one. Just under four months later, on February 14, 1967, Sarah Rosemary Shipman was born.

The arrival of a baby granddaughter softened the Oxtoby’s, but their relationship with Primrose and Fred continued to be strained. But the young family had found a small apartment to live in, and the Oxtoby’s supported them financially. For Primrose, as small and cramped as the apartment was, it was a release from the strict regime of the Oxtoby household.

 

The Doctor Begins His Killing Spree with “Safe” Victims

Shipman passed his exams, and after three years for the required clinical work, he needed to spend one year working as a junior doctor in a hospital. For the hospital work, Shipman moved his family to Pontefract in West Yorkshire, and began work at Pontefract General Hospital as a junior houseman. While there, he extended his knowledge by gaining a diploma in child health, and a diploma in obstetrics and gynecology.

But something else happened in Pontefract. What it was is not known, but Shipman, while there, crossed the line from doctor to murderer.

Between March 2 and May 9, 1971, four deaths occurred that were later to be deemed highly suspicious. The first of the deaths was that of Margaret Thompson, aged 67, followed by 62-year-old blacksmith Wilfred Sanderson just over two weeks later. Less than 10 days after that death, 60-year-old Edith Follon also died.

Records for Margaret Thompson no longer exist, and so nothing is known about her, but Wilfred had suffered a serious stroke, and Edith was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor.

In those cases, and possibly Margaret Thompson’s case, they could be thought of as euthanasia, or so called “Angel of Death” murders. It is certain that in the cases of Wilfred and Edith, death was only brought forward by a short while. It’s possible that this is the reason these three were chosen as his first victims.

However, the fourth death, that of 49-year-old Edith Swift on May 9, was not to relieve suffering, and her family were not expecting her to die. It was much more likely that Shipman, by this time, had developed a fascination with death and drugs, at least partially due to his mother’s illness and death, and the pain relief she got from morphine injections.

And his choice of victims was, for the most part, safe. Everyone expected them to die, and so no suspicions were aroused.

But already, as the later investigation would show, Shipman had fallen into a pattern. His death certificates listing the cause of death as cardiac or cerebrovascular causes were far higher than the certificates from other doctors, and he was also present at the time of death more than others.  In addition, there was the timing of the deaths. Shipman’s patients were twice as likely to die in the evening than those of other doctors. This would be repeated in his days as a GP, when the deaths were more likely to occur in the afternoon. Both periods coincide to when Shipman had unrestricted access to the patients.

The Shipman’s second child, Christopher Frederick, was born on April 21, 1971. There was not a lot of money coming in for the family, so for extra money, Shipman spent holidays and other free time working in the A & E.

Shipman didn’t need money for social activities, he was not sociable anyway. He was confident and arrogant, and although some people thought he was very nice, others thought that his niceness was just so he could ingratiate himself with certain people. For many, he was just plain rude.

Shipman was moved to pediatrics, where it would be more difficult to kill patients. The death of a child in hospital is not common, and if one occurred, it would have been investigated thoroughly. It is also possible that the killing of a child was harder for him, seeing as he had young children of his own.

For whatever reason, Shipman did not resume killing until he was moved back onto the medical wards, in February, 1972.

 

The Killings Resume

There were four suspicious deaths on the wards between February 29 and April 12, all women. But on the same day as the last one, April 12, a man named Thomas Cullumbine died. The 54-year-old was a difficult patient. He didn’t like or trust doctors, and Shipman found him annoying.

Thomas was dying from emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and his family was with him on April 11. They planned on staying, but Shipman persuaded them that they should go home, which indicated premeditation.

The next night, Shipman gave Thomas an injection of morphine. Once again, he had only brought forward an inevitable death by a short while. However, this was not the motive. As would be seen with others, Shipman very likely killed Thomas because he was a nuisance.

Thomas Cullumbine has the distinction of being Shipman’s first official murder.

One of Shipman’s hallmarks was group murders. Two days after the death of Thomas Cullumbine, on April 14, Shipman killed three women. Agnes Davidson and Elizabeth Thwaites, both aged 74, and 80-year-old Alice Smith, all died between 10:15 p.m. and 11 p.m. Shipman had given each of them an injection shortly before death.

Shipman’s next official murder came just two weeks later, on April 28. John Brewster was an 84-year-old professional gardener who was suffering from a serious heart condition. He was admitted to hospital around lunchtime, and at 6 p.m., his family left to go home and pack stuff he would need for his stay in hospital. At 9 p.m., they received a call, telling them that he had died.

Shipman told the family that John had slipped into a coma which lasted around 50 minutes before his death. The standard procedure in this case would have been to call the nursing staff, yet there is no record of Shipman having done so.

There is a rule that if a patient should die within 24 hours of being admitted to hospital, the coroner has to be informed of the death. However, Shipman specifically recorded that there was no need to call the coroner. As with other deaths, this one occurred in the evening, and once again, Shipman was present at the time.

More deaths followed, one of which must have caused some concern for Shipman. Phyllis Cooling, aged 58, was admitted to hospital on June 1, 1972, suffering from breathing difficulties. Once she had been admitted, her sons stayed for a while, and then left to get her some fruit, saying they would return later. When they left, their mother was sitting in a chair and chatting to the woman in the next bed.

Within three hours of her admittance, Phyllis Cooling was dead. Her sons were astonished, and were told that she didn’t respond to an injection that Shipman administered to her. What was in that injection, or supposed to be in it, is not known as records for her have not survived. And once again, the coroner was not informed of the death, even though it was less than 24 hours.

But Shipman had to have realized that at least one other doctor, and most likely several of the nursing staff as well, would suspect that what was in that injection was likely the cause of her death. However, if there were suspicions, no action was taken and Shipman was safe.

Even so, Shipman had taken a risk, and it is likely this, plus the fact that he was back on pediatrics, that stopped him killing for a while.

Shipman was on pediatrics for 13 months and again, victims would have been almost impossible to come by. There was, however, one highly suspicious death, that of 4-year-old Susie Garfitt on October 11, 1972.

Susie was extremely ill. She was suffering from cerebral palsy, her vision was very bad, she could not speak, was difficult to feed, and she was also a quadriplegic. She was also severely epileptic, and her health was rapidly deteriorating.

True to his established pattern, Shipman was there at the time of her death, and she died very fast. All the signs point to a lethal injection of morphine. If it is true that Shipman had a problem with the killing of children, then this may have been a genuine case of Shipman acting as an Angel of Mercy.

Once his shift at pediatrics was over, he moved to obstetrics and gynecology where again, there was no opportunity to kill. But although he didn’t find anyone he could murder, he found something else to occupy him. Pethidrine, known more commonly as Demerol, is an opiate drug very similar to morphine and is used to alleviate the pain from labor.

 

Shipman the Drug Addict

Shipman’s fascination with drugs would have tempted him to try it on someone, but there was no opportunity. There was only one person that he could try it on. Himself.

By the time he left Pontefract General Hospital, Harold Shipman had not only become a murderer. He had also become a drug addict.

The Abraham Ormerod Medical Centre in Todmorden, Yorkshire, was a practice with three full time doctors, Dr. Michael Grieve, Dr. John Dacre, and Dr. David Bunn, and one part time doctor, Dr. Brenda Lewin.

When Shipman joined them in 1974, they were impressed by their new young doctor. He was good with patients and a hard worker. The doctors’ wives were less impressed with Primrose. She was plump, seemed not to care about how she dressed, and was considered coarse.

 

An Air of Aloofness and a Sense of Superiority

Shipman himself was a hard man to know. He had an air of aloofness about him, and a sense of superiority.

There is no record of any deaths during 1974 that could be linked to Shipman, which meant that he had not killed since the death of Susie Garfitt. However, this doesn’t take into account any deaths that couldn’t be linked to him.

One death that did occur was not intentional, though Shipman was the cause. In August, Shipman gave the mother of Christian Orlinski an injection of pethidrine while she was at home and in labor. It’s believed that the dosage he gave was dangerously high, and the drug crossed into the unborn child’s bloodstream through the placenta. Christian was born with breathing difficulties and within 24 hours, Shipman was called back. Christian was struggling to survive and the tiny baby had turned blue. The devastated parents expected Shipman to rush him to hospital as an emergency, but Shipman delayed, and Christian, at one day old, died.

The parents, Susan and Mark, were distraught by the death of their first child, and blamed Shipman. A post-mortem was held, and the death recorded as sudden infant death syndrome. People who knew Shipman at the time said he appeared to be traumatized by the death, which would again fit into the theory that he loved children.

Shortly after the death of Christian Orlinski, Shipman drugged a young woman named Elaine Oswald, but not to kill her. She had come to the medical centre complaining of a pain in her side, and thought it may be appendicitis. Shipman said it may be kidney stones, and gave her a prescription for a mild opiate called Diconal. She was to go home and take two tablets, then go to bed. He told her to leave the door unlocked so he could let himself in later and take a blood sample. Why he didn’t take a blood sample there at the office was never explained, and why take a blood sample at all when the test needed was a urine sample.

But, as she was feeling well, Elaine didn’t go straight home. Instead, she shopped and went to the library. When Shipman came to visit, she had only taken the tablets a short while before, and wasn’t out.

In a daze, she saw Shipman take blood from one arm, then cross to the other arm to inject her. She passed out.

She came around to find Shipman and an ambulance crew trying frantically to revive her. Elaine was in hospital for four days, and spent a further four weeks at home recuperating. Shipman told her that she was allergic to opiates. The result was that over the years, she had refused opiates whenever she needed an operation, and gave birth to two children and had throat surgery without taking them.

Why Shipman drugged Elaine Oswald is unknown, though it has been speculated that he was going to have sex with her while she was unconscious. But it could not have been to kill her. The death of a healthy 25-year-old woman would certainly have resulted in a post-mortem.

 

Three Victims in One Day

Shipman resumed killing on January 21, 1975, causing the deaths of three patients all on the same day. Elizabeth Pierce, aged 84, a frail woman who lived with her daughter; Bob Lingard, aged 62, a heavy smoker and drinker who didn’t have long to live; and Lily Crossley, a 73-year-old woman living with her brother, his wife, and another sister. Lily was dying from terminal cancer. As all three died on the same day, it is highly likely that Shipman murdered them, another of his group killings. All were visited by Shipman, and all were dead soon after.

A new problem emerged for Shipman in February, when he came under the scrutiny of the Home Office Drugs Inspectorate and the West Yorkshire Police Drugs Squad. Shipman had been getting large quantities of pethidrine, and it had been noticed. Local pharmacies were interviewed and the police were reassured. Shipman was well regarded in the community, and no further action was taken, though the police report indicated that a watch would be maintained. If anything further came up, the investigation would resume.

Eva Lyons was suffering from terminal cancer of the esophagus and was always in great pain. But she had recently finished a course in radiotherapy and for the first time in months, she was eating well and seemed better than she had for a while.

Shipman, who had made several visits over the previous few weeks, came to see her on March 17, the day before she turned 70. Shipman injected an opiate into her intravenous shunt, and then turned to chat with her husband, Dick. After a few minutes, he turned back to Eva, and announced that she was dead.  

He didn’t make any attempt to revive her, nor did he call an ambulance. He did, however, offer the grieving husband a sedative to help him sleep. Dick turned down the offer.

Whether this was an attempt on Dick’s life is unknown, but it would seem hard to explain both deaths.

In May, 1975, Shipman started to suffer from blackouts, and the partners were very concerned. They referred him to a consultant in Halifax, and he diagnosed the problem as epilepsy. This was a worry for the partners. Epileptics were not allowed to drive, and as he needed to drive to visit patients, they feared that they would lose him as a doctor. But Primrose stepped in, and said she would take on his driving duties.

 

Shipman’s Drug Abuse Uncovered

The following month, June, Boots the Chemist in Todmorden was investigated by the Drugs Inspectorate and the police after it was discovered that they had been receiving large amounts of pethidrine from a local pharmaceutical company. Boots showed the amounts of the drug being dispensed to Shipman and the clinic. Shipman was interviewed, and he had explanations for the amounts being used. But the Drugs Inspectorate found that the practice was not keeping proper records, so it was impossible to account for all of the drugs that were being used. The clinic was told to improve its methods for monitoring the drugs, and another report would be carried out in six months.

Across from the practice there was another chemist shop, Harold Levers, and in July, Marjorie Walker, the receptionist at the clinic, was in there chatting with the staff. She was behind the counter and noticed that the book that detailed the dangerous drugs prescriptions was open. It is likely that, having heard of what happened at Boots, the book was left open deliberately for Marjorie to see the entries.

Marjorie saw that Shipman was still writing prescriptions for large amounts of pethidrine, not only on the clinic account, but also for his patients. Marjorie went back to the clinic and told John Dacre what she saw. Dacre told her not to say anything to the other partners for a while, not until he’d done some checking on his own. He checked with the pharmacists, and then he called the patients who had been prescribed drugs, all of whom said they were never given any.

Dacre called a meeting of all the medical staff, and there, in front of them all, he confronted Shipman. Everyone was stunned by what they heard. If they expected an angry denial, they were wrong. Calmly, Shipman admitted that he was using pethidrine, he was an addict. He was not suffering from epilepsy.

In fact, Shipman had started getting pethidrine within six weeks of arriving at Todmorden.

Shipman then stunned the partners by asking them to help conceal his addiction, and to help support it. Not surprisingly, they refused. Instead, they insisted that he go into hospital for medical treatment, and they told him that they would have to replace him. Shipman agreed and left quietly. But, 30 minutes later, he was back, and he was angry.

He told them that he refused to go to hospital, and that he was not going to leave the practice. The partners rang the practice solicitor who said they had grounds to sack him, and if he tried to sue them on the grounds of wrongful dismissal, then he would lose. Shipman, after being told what the solicitor said, angrily left.

In the 19 months that Shipman had been at the clinic, by writing prescriptions for the clinic use, and by writing prescriptions for patients which he picked up himself, he had acquired over 30,000 mg of pethidrine.

Shipman had no choice but to go into hospital, and he successfully beat his addiction. However, he still faced questions from the police drug squad. He told them that he began using pethidrine 18 months before when he wasn’t getting along with the other doctors, which they denied. But the police believed he was lying. The physical indications, the fact that his veins in his arms and legs had collapsed, pointed to him having been an addict for several years.

The partners bought him out, and the Shipmans had to sell their house. The new owners of the house were horrified by the filthy state that it was in. Primrose, once house proud, now seemed to have abandoned her cleaning.

In February, 1976, Shipman appeared at the Halifax Magistrates Court, charged with three counts of obtaining a controlled drug by deception, three charges of unlawful possession of a controlled drug, and two charges of forging declarations of exemption from prescription charges.

Shipman pleaded guilty to all charges, and asked for another 74 to be taken into account. His fines totaled £700, and he was lucky not to have been suspended, or worse, struck off. He had also said in a written statement to the police that he would no longer work as a GP.

 

Shipman Relocates

Still only 30-years-old, Shipman joined the South-West Durham Health Authority, where he was a Clinical Medical Officer. He spent 18 months there, but despite what he had written in his statement to the police, he wanted to be a GP again. And when he saw an advertisement in the British Medical Journal for a GP position, he applied. The practice was in Hyde.

Hyde is on the eastern edge of Greater Manchester, a former mill town that could once boast of its prosperity, but was no longer as affluent as it once was. In 1977, Shipman joined the Donnybrook practice, having freely admitting to them that he had a past drug addiction, but assuring them that he was now completely cured.

He began on October 1, 1977, and it wasn’t long before he had a patient list that numbered 2,300. At first, the Shipmans lived in a rented house where they stayed for a year before leaving it, in a filthy state, to move to their own house in Longdendale, just 15 minutes from Hyde.

Shipman’s reputation, both good and bad, began to grow. With his patients, he was always kind and understanding, a considerate doctor. With the other doctors in the practice, he was pleasant.

But with other members of the staff, he was incredibly rude, and would snap at them for minor problems. It was not only the staff that had to suffer from this behavior, but also any representatives from drug companies that came to the practice. On at least one occasion, Shipman verbally attacked a young female drug rep so viciously that he reduced her to tears. The other doctors had to console her. Shipman seemed to need to assert his superiority over everyone.

 

House Calls

Frequently, Shipman would take a dislike to one particular member of staff, and concentrate his aggression on that one person. He was a bully, who demanded respect, and treated everyone as though they were inferior. However, everyone agreed that he was a workaholic, and would work long hours, and his patients loved him. He would always make home visits, sometimes unannounced, and even did overnight calls.

On one of his unannounced calls, in August 1978, Shipman killed 86-year-old Sarah Marsland, and then later that same month, he murdered 73-year-old Mary Jordan.

By the end of that year, two more of his patients had died, definitely murdered by him, and he was undoubtedly responsible for five more highly suspicious deaths that year. The following year, there occurred five more highly suspicious deaths, and two more that were definitely caused by him.

But then he stopped killing for a year, and it is easy to see why. The two deaths that were definitely Shipman murders, those of Alice Gorton and Jack Shelmerdine, had both gone wrong.

Alice Gorton was 76-years-old, and during a visit on August 10, 1979, Shipman gave her a fatal injection. Her daughter arrived, and Shipman was explaining to her that there was no need for a post-mortem. As he gave his explanation, there was an audible groan. Alice Gorton was not dead. Outwardly, Shipman seemed calm, but inside he must have been in a panic. With her daughter there, he could not finish the murder he had bungled. Alice was taken to hospital where she lay in a coma for 24 hours before finally passing away, to Shipman’s undoubted relief.

But if the murder of Alice Gorton was unnerving, the killing of Jack Shelmerdine was worse.

Once again, Shipman had administered a fatal injection, but just like Alice Gorton, the 77-year-old man did not die straight away. Jack lasted 30 hours before finally dying on November 28. Jack’s son made an official complaint, not against Shipman, but against the hospital. There was a good chance that the hospital would order a post-mortem, and then the whole truth would come out.

In the end, no post-mortem was carried out, and Shipman was safe. But two close escapes had possibly frightened him, and although there was a suspicious death in January, 1980, for the next year, Shipman didn’t kill at all.

 

Hibernation

Over the next couple of years, Shipman’s murders seemed to be few and far between. There were only two official murders in 1981, those of 84-year-old May Slater and 81-year-old Elizabeth Ashworth, though there were four other deaths that were suspicious and were likely the work of Shipman. The following year, there were no provable deaths, but there were four that could not be proved, and in 1983, there were only three deaths in total.

Whatever it was that caused Shipman to reduce his number of murders is not known. It could be that, as with other times, he was spooked by something, maybe a killing that went wrong, maybe people remarked on the number of deaths. But whatever the cause, Shipman had recovered from it by 1984.

On January 7, 51-year-old Dorothy Tucker was murdered by Shipman. One month later, he took the life of 78-year-old Gladys Roberts. In March, there were two deaths that could not be proved to be his, but were very suspicious, followed by two that were definitely his in April.

Shipman took a five month break from killing, then resumed on September 21, when he killed 76-year-old Mary Winterbottom, and most likely he murdered Beatrice Lowe, aged 88, the following month.

Ada Ashworth, aged 87, was murdered on November 27, four days after the suspicious death of 70-year-old Charles Harris, and Shipman finished the year with three murders, two of them just one day apart, 80-year-old Joseph Everall on December 17, and 76-year-old Edith Wibberley the following day, and Eileen Cox, aged 88, on Christmas Eve.

By this time, Shipman had been with Donneybrook for seven years, and yet, although he had known his colleagues all this time, he was still a loner, still anti-social. When the doctors got together socially, either for dinner or for games of golf, Shipman almost never came.

The Shipmans themselves almost never threw a dinner party or even invited people over for drinks. There were a couple of rare exceptions. In February, 1985, they had a party for Sarah’s eighteenth birthday, and the following year, there was another party, held at the York House Hotel, to celebrate Shipman turning 40.

Shipman also didn’t seem to care about his family, other than Primrose and the children, who had now grown to four, with David born on March 20, 1979, and Sam, born April 5, 1982. When his father died in January, 1985, Shipman didn’t seem to care at all. One member of staff said to him, “I’m sorry about your father,” to which Shipman replied, “Are you? I’m not.” He didn’t take time off to attend the funeral, and appeared unbothered by the death.

One nurse, however, thought he may have been more upset than he showed, telling others that he appeared to be distressed. But there may have been an entirely different reason for his being upset. His sister, Pauline, shared a house with his younger brother Clive and his wife. When he died, their father left the house that they had grown up in to Pauline. She promptly sold it, and put the money into the house that she shared with her brother. Shipman had, effectively, been completely cut out. This led to a rift between him and the rest of the family.

 

“Come on lad, give up.”

On New Year’s Day, 1985, Peter Lewis, who had turned 41-years-old just the day before, was in severe pain. The taxi driver, and former member of the pop group “The Scorpions,” had been under Shipman’s care for an ulcer, though in fact, what he was actually suffering from was stomach cancer. It was around 7 p.m. when Peter’s family called Shipman in. Shipman and Peter’s wife, Muriel, went into the bedroom where Peter lay, and Shipman asked Muriel to help with the injection. As the blood flowed back into the syringe, Muriel got scared and left.

When she returned, she found Shipman with one hand around Peter’s throat, and seemed to be strangling him. Shipman told her he was preventing Peter from swallowing his tongue. This is probably true; Shipman would not be able to explain strangulation.

“Come on lad, give up. We’ve all had enough.” said Shipman. Muriel left once more, and a few moments later, Muriel’s mother, Elsie Gee, went in. This time, Shipman was holding a pillow over Peter’s face. Elsie shrieked, and Shipman calmly put the pillow behind Peter’s head, as though propping him up. A few minutes later, Peter died. Peter was Shipman’s youngest official victim.

Shipman must have explained away his bizarre actions persuasively enough as nothing was done, leaving Shipman free to carry out 10 more murders that year, with another three that were believed to have been caused by him, but could not be proved.

 

The Murders Escalate

For the next three years, Shipman’s death toll among his patients was fairly consistent. There were eight definite murders and two very suspicious deaths during 1986, and eight definite and one suspicious the following year.

In 1988, the number rose to 11 murders, but a gap of seven months suggests that once again, something was wrong.

After two murders in January, Shipman killed 90-year-old Dorothea Renwick on February 9. Shipman must have been feeling confident, as one week later, on February 15, he murdered both 93-year-old Ann Cooper and 83-year-old Jane Jones, and then the next day, he murdered 84-year-old Lavinia Robinson.

Four deaths in just over a week, three of which were so close together, may have caused some comments between the staff at Donneybrook, which possibly led to Shipman’s seven month hiatus. He didn’t kill again until September 18, when he took the life of 80-year-old Rose Ashead, followed by four more for that year.

In 1989, Shipman murdered 12 of his patients, and one of them stands out. Mary Hamer was a fit and lively 81-year-old who loved going to bingo and old time dancing. She came to the clinic on March 8 to see Shipman for something minor. If it had been something serious, something she would have had concerns about, she would certainly have mentioned it to her daughter, Marjorie.

While Mary was in with Shipman, he called for the next patient, explaining that Mary was getting undressed in the examination room, and it may take her some time. Shipman saw a few more patients, then called the receptionist and told her that he believed Mrs. Hamer was dead.

Later he told Marjorie that he suspected her mother was having a heart attack and so had given her some morphine to lessen the pain. He explained to her how he left Mary alone while he went to call for an ambulance, but when he got back, she was already dead.

At a later date, the receptionist would confirm that Shipman had made no effort to call an ambulance, but at the time, Marjorie had no cause to disbelieve Shipman’s account of what happened. Once again, no post-mortem was carried out.

The significant fact of this death is that Shipman now felt confident enough to murder his victims while they were in his office, surrounded by staff, nurses, and other doctors. Mary Hamer was the first victim to be killed in Shipman’s examination room, but she would not be the last.

Nine more murders followed, and then, on November 6, 1989, Shipman murdered Joseph Wilcockson, aged 85. When his body was discovered by the district nurse, he was still warm, and once again, there may have been some comments. Something scared Shipman enough that he didn’t kill again for 10 months.

Shipman had a need to show everyone that he was superior to them, and when, in 1990, the Government insisted that all medical practices had to become computerized, Shipman couldn’t resist.

With his need to demonstrate his superior intelligence, Shipman immediately began giving the impression that he was computer literate. Many of those who talked to him were taken in, but not those who knew anything about computers. To them, it was clear that he had only a superficial knowledge of computers, if that. And this would cause him problems later on.

 

Shipman Starts His Own Practice

After the murder of 56-year-old Dorothy Rowarth in September 1990, and Mary Rose Dudley, aged 69 the following December, Shipman decided he had been with the Donneybrook practice long enough. He had been with them for 14 years, and now he wanted to go it alone. Now, the Donneybrook doctors would discover another aspect of Dr. Harold Shipman’s personality.

When a doctor joins a practice and takes over from another doctor who retires or moves away, the new doctor “inherits” the old doctors’ patient list. This is how Shipman, when he joined the Donneybrook practice, acquired his list of patients.

But Shipman had found a loophole, and when he moved out, he took his list with him. This placed the Donneybrook doctors in a horrendous position. They could not advertise for a replacement doctor, as they had nothing that they could offer anyone. It meant that the remaining doctors had to absorb the cost that a new doctor would contribute to the running of the practice, an amount of around £20,000 per year.

They also had to buy out Shipman’s share of the building, another £23,000. In those days, tax was paid on the previous years profits, and Donneybrook was run as a company. Shipman’s tax for that year amounted to £30,000. Shipman refused to pay. It was another cost that the Donneybrook practice had to absorb. Legally, Shipman was perfectly within his rights, but ethically and morally, that was another question.

To add insult to injury, he promised the practice that he would not poach any of the staff, and then promptly took two of them that were loyal to him. He also claimed that he was going to move to Yorkshire, but then claimed that there was no suitable practice there. Instead, he moved to “The Surgery” at 21 Market Street, just 300 yards away.

He was open for business in July, 1992.

Now that he was on his own, Shipman’s belief in his own superiority grew. He became more arrogant, convinced that he could never be wrong. In effect, he developed a “God Complex,” not uncommon among doctors, but in Shipman, this was highly developed.

So sure he was of his own superiority, he now began to attack other doctors and colleagues of equal standing, and even stood and attacked professors at lectures. Many doctors, embarrassed by Shipman’s actions, now avoided him.

Yet his patients loved him, and it was easy to understand why. Shipman would always insist that his patients received the best drug available for their treatment, whatever the cost, whereas other doctors would prescribe a cheaper, generic, but less effective alternative.

On October 7, 1992, 72-year-old Monica Sparkes became Shipman’s first victim since he moved into the Surgery. But, for some reason, she was the only one murdered that year. In fact, she was the first one to die since he killed Mary Dudley in December, 1990. He did not kill at all in 1991, at least, as far as anyone knows, though there was a suspicious death in January. It’s possible that he was distracted by the conflict that was going on at the Donneybrook clinic.

But in 1993, he got back into the swing of things with two murders on the same day. On February 24, 1993, he killed 92-year-old Hilda Couzens and 86-year-old Olive Heginbotham.

Although Shipman seemed nice enough to his patients, there was a lack of sympathy or even a streak of cruelty within him. Frequently, the remarks he made to relatives of those who died were of a cruel and uncaring nature. On the day he murdered 82-year-old Amy Whitehead, March 22, 1993, he contacted her daughter-in-law and told her that she and her husband should come to her home, but added that there was no need to rush as she would be dead by the time they got there. This callousness would be repeated with other deaths.

 

Life at Home with Shipman

At home, Shipman was strict, and life for the Shipman children was not a happy one. They had to obey his rules and would be told off for any minor upset. One staff member remembered when David, aged 10 at the time, could not find an overcoat that Shipman had sent him to get from the consulting room. When the boy returned empty handed, Shipman was so verbally abusive that a member of staff told him not to talk to his son like that. Shipman, at that point, transferred some of his anger to her.

Sarah, who often helped out at the surgery during the school holidays, confided in one member of staff that she was desperate to escape as her father was selfish and too strict.

Primrose would also come under fire from her husband, not the least of which was Shipman’s constant implications that intellectually, she was inferior to him. But her upbringing in a strict family had made her strong, and she could not be dominated by her husband. Some, who had witnessed her stand up to Shipman, had assumed that it was Primrose that was the dominant partner in the family.

Whatever the family dynamics, Shipman stuck by Primrose, despite his belief that he married beneath himself, and confessing to a nurse that had Primrose not become pregnant, he would not have married her. Primrose, for her part, may not have been his intellectual equal, but she was bright enough, and at one point physically attractive. But somewhere along the line, she gave up. Although she was a good cook, she stopped cooking, she gave up cleaning, leaving the house in a constant mess, and she put on weight, no longer caring about how she looked.

 

In 1993, Shipman Murdered 16 Patients

Shipman was busy in 1993. By the end of the year, he had killed 16 patients. One of his wealthiest victims was Sarah Ashworth, known to her friends as Sally. She was a director and shareholder in a long established textile company in Hyde, J. H. Ashworth and Son, Ltd. The company had assets worth over £1,000,000, and reported an annual profit of more than £400,000. But she was a habitual smoker, and when she died at the age of 74, Shipman put heart disease and hypertension down as the cause of death.

One of the advantages of having his own surgery was that Shipman could, if he wanted to, kill his victim on the premises. It’s unlikely that this was the reason he set himself up on his own, but it is possible that he saw it as an added benefit.

The first patient to die in the Surgery was Joan Harding. Although she was 82-years-old, like many of his victims, she was a fit and active woman. On January 4, 1994, she came to see Shipman about a pain in her shoulder. Outside, waiting for her in the car, was her friend who had driven her down to the surgery and was going to take her home after.

While the friend waited, Shipman gave Joan an injection. The staff told Joan’s friend that she had died while her blood pressure was being taken. Her other friends, when they heard, couldn’t understand why there had been no attempt to resuscitate her, but they were told that she had suffered a massive heart attack.

In May, 1994, Hyde resident Joe Kitchen was voted in as a councilor for the Labour party. His mother, 70-year-old Alice, sat up late that night to listening to the results, even though she was in hospital recovering from a hysterectomy.  Joe promised his mother that he would take her to see him in action at a council meeting. Alice lived with two of her eight children, Bernard and Mick, in a council house in Kirkstone Road, Hyde. Doctors were happy with her progress, she was recovering well from her hysterectomy and was looking forward to life with her grown children and the 21 grandchildren she had.

On May 17, Mick left the house at around 1:30 p.m. Alice was perfectly well and her usual self. When Mick got back, around 6:30 p.m., Alice was on the settee. She was dead.

There was a note from Shipman. He said he had called at around 4 p.m. and found that Alice had suffered a stroke, slurring her words and dragging her foot as she moved. Shipman said that he tried to get her to go to hospital, but she refused, and would not let him ring family members as someone would be home soon.

Mick rang for an ambulance, and they advised him to call the police, which he did. After calling them, he made a call to Shipman and told him what happened. Shipman told Mick that there was no need to call the police, and he would call them and tell them not to bother coming. He explained that he had seen her just a couple of hours before she was found, and there was no need for a post-mortem to be carried out.

When Shipman arrived a short while later, he said that Alice had called the surgery and asked him to drop in, saying she was feeling unwell. She had suffered a slight stroke, he told them, and must have suffered another one after he had left. Shipman said that even if she had been taken to hospital, there was a very high chance that she would have been paralyzed.

 

They never suspected that Shipman had killed her, and when they were told about the chance of her being permanently paralyzed, they thought the death may have been a blessing in disguise.

 

Suspicion Sets in

It would be a few more years before suspicion set in, and it would be a neighbor who clinched it for them. The neighbor couldn’t work out why Alice was sitting on the settee, when she always sat in the armchair. The family realized she was right, but they didn’t think of it at the time of her death.

Victim Marie West
Victim Marie West

Shipman was supremely confident, and so good at killing, that it was inevitable that he would get sloppy and make a mistake. It happened on March 6, 1995. Maria West, known to her friends as Marie, had been getting regular visits from Shipman during the two weeks before her death. She had some pain in her legs and had been having some breathing problems, but other than that, as everyone who knew her said, the 81-year-old was bright and full of life.

On the afternoon of her death, her friend, Maria Hadfield, called around to see her. Mrs. West told her that she was waiting for Shipman to come around. The two women watched TV for a while, and Mrs. West was well enough to go and make tea.

When Shipman came to visit a while later, he gave her an injection, and Mrs. West quietly slipped away. Shipman then walked into the kitchen. It must have been quite a shock. Mrs. Hadfield was standing there.

Unknown to Shipman, Mrs. Hadfield had just gone upstairs to the bathroom when he arrived. As she didn’t want to disturb the doctor, she had waited in the kitchen. Confused and surprised, Shipman said, “Oh, I didn’t know there was anyone else here.” He then told Mrs. Hadfield that he was on his way upstairs to see if Mrs. West’s son was there. Mrs. Hadfield was confused by this as Mrs. West’s son did not live there, so why would he be upstairs in the middle of the afternoon. And why didn’t Shipman call out first before heading upstairs.

Shipman, regaining his composure, told Mrs. Hadfield that Mrs. West had died. Once again, there was no attempt at resuscitation, and no ambulance was called. No post-mortem was carried out.

What went through Shipman’s mind is not known, but there must have been an element of panic. Did Mrs. Hadfield witness the murder of her friend? If she had, would Shipman have killed her as well, and if so, how would two deaths be explained? It must have been a great relief when he realized that she had not witnessed anything. He was still safe.

But there was another victim that was likely causing him some concern. In February, 1994, Shipman gave 47-year-old Renate Overton an overdose of morphine. But, as with Alice Gorton and Jack Shelmerdine 15 years earlier, Renate didn’t die immediately. Renate’s daughter called an ambulance and her mother was rushed to hospital.

To Shipman’s undoubted horror, Renate didn’t die the next day, or the day after. Instead, she lay in a vegetative state for 14 months until April 21, 1995, when she finally passed away.

At the time of the attempted murder, Shipman told paramedics that he had given her a shot of diamorphine. The hospital staff had to have suspected that he’d given her a larger dose than the one he had claimed. If he was investigated for negligence, then his illicitly procured drugs may be discovered. Shipman didn’t kill for three months.

The fact that Renate survived for 14 months meant that Shipman could not be charged with her murder, the year and a day rule was still in effect, and would not be abolished until the Law Reform Act the following year. But while she was alive, Shipman must have been worried.

 

Thirty Patients Murdered in 1995 and 30 more in 1996

Thirty patients became murder victims to Shipman in 1995, including 68-year-old Bertha Moss, and 87-year-old Dora Ashton, both fit for their age, both murdered on a visit to the surgery. With numbers this high, someone had to notice.

John Shaw was a cab driver in Hyde, and most of his passengers were elderly women. They would call him, and he would take them to the post office to collect their pensions, or drive them to the supermarket for their groceries. But he was more than just a cab driver, he was also their friend. If they needed anything done around the house, light bulbs changed, things repaired, anything they couldn’t handle themselves, it was John that they would call.

With an elderly clientele, it was only natural that some of them would die, and Shaw noticed that many of them seemed to be patients of Dr. Shipman. It was just a coincidence, he thought. After all, Shipman has an elderly patient list. But, after a while, Shaw began to get suspicious, and sometime in 1996, his wife Kath began to write down the names of those who died.

There were plenty to write down. Shipman matched his previous year by killing 30 patients in 1996. One of them, John Greenhalgh, was killed simply because he was annoying. Shipman had advised the 88-year-old to move into residential care. At first, he may have agreed, but John soon changed his mind, and told Shipman that he had decided not to move into care. Shipman, irritated that he wouldn’t take his advice, killed him a couple of days later, on February 27, 1996.

Shipman once again showed his uncaring attitude toward the relatives of his victims when he murdered 72-year-old Edith Brady, the third patient to be killed in his surgery. She had called in for her regular B12 shot, and instead, Shipman injected her with a lethal dose of morphine. He then called her son-in-law, a policeman, who asked, “How bad is it?” Shipman’s insensitive reply was, “How bad do you want it? There is no way she is walking out of here.”

The number of Shipman victims who were not ill, other than minor complaints, was increasing. But no-one seemed to notice. Surprisingly, nobody picked up on the fact that Shipman could not keep his stories straight. It’s probable that, distressed by the death of a loved one, no one had paid a great deal of attention to what he was saying, and didn’t discuss what was said with other members of the family. Then, with the passing of time, what memories they had were faded and unclear. Yet frequently, Shipman would tell one person one thing and another person something else.

Victim Irene Turner
Victim Irene Turner

Typical is what he told people after he killed 67-year-old Irene Turner, on July 11, 1996. Once again, he had chosen a fit and active woman as a victim, whose only illness was diabetes, and she coped with that very well.  But Irene had caught a cold and she asked Shipman to drop in. He visited Irene at 3:15 p.m., and after he dealt with her, he called on one of her neighbors, Mrs. Sheila Ward. He asked if she would pack some clothes for Irene as she was going to hospital. He had called and arranged a bed for her.

However, he told Mrs. Ward not to go over straight away, leave it for five minutes as he had to carry out some tests. Then he went away.

When Mrs. Ward went to Irene’s to pack for her, she found her dead on the bed. When Shipman returned, he confirmed the death, and said that the hospital would not have been able to save her. But when Irene’s son-in-law arrived a short while later, Shipman told him that Irene had refused to go to hospital, contradicting what he had told Mrs. Ward. Later investigation revealed that there was no record of Shipman calling a hospital and arranging a bed for Mrs. Turner. As usual, he said there was no need for a post-mortem.

Why he told people different stories in not known. Was he just so confident that he felt he could say anything without being challenged? Was it an extra thrill, an added danger, for him? Or was it a desire to be caught? Maybe he just didn’t realize he was contradicting himself.

Four deaths were particularly cruel. The four patients he chose were immediate neighbors and very close friends. Thomas and Elsie Cheetham was a married couple who lived next door to two brothers, Sidney and Kenneth Smith.  On August 30, 1996, Shipman killed 76-year-old Sidney, leaving his grief stricken brother to live alone, comforted by his neighbors. Then, just over three months later, on December 4, Shipman murdered Thomas, aged 78. Two weeks passed, and then Shipman killed 73-year-old Kenneth.

Elsie Cheetham must have been devastated. In the space of four months, three people close to her had been taken away. Her grief was not to last too long. On April 25, 1997, Shipman took the life of 76-year-old Elsie.

 

Thirty-seven Patients Murdered in 1997

With the deaths among Shipman’s patients increasing, it was inevitable that John Shaw would not be the only one who had suspicions. Mrs. Christine Simpson had also begun to notice. She was the warden at Ogden Court, a sheltered housing complex for seniors.  Deaths were going to occur there as well, given the age of the occupants, but the proportion of deaths were high for a complex that only had 32 apartments.

In 1988, Shipman had killed one of the residents, followed by two more the next year, and another two in 1995. In 1996, another two were killed by Shipman, and a further two in 1997. Once again, it was not only the deaths, but also the fact that Shipman was there at the time.

But, like John Shaw, Christine Simpson could not go around accusing the most popular doctor in town of killing his patients.

Victim Bianka Pomfret
Victim Bianka Pomfret

On December 10, 1997, Shipman was updating details of visits over the previous weeks to the computer record of one of his patients. In the records, he tells of how she had been experiencing chest pains, and details his treatment of her. The patient, 49-year-old Bianka Pomfret, was at home at the time, sitting in her chair, dead from the morphine injection Shipman had given her just a short while before. Shipman was falsifying her records to cover his tracks.

Although Shipman liked to give the impression that he was computer literate, the fact was his knowledge was very superficial, and it was here that this would come back to haunt him. Shipman didn’t realize that the hard drive of the computer kept a permanent, inerasable copy of everything that he typed, all dated and time stamped. Ten false entries were made, and he dated them over the previous 10 months.

Bianka Pomfret was devoted to Shipman, so much so that she planned to leave him some money in her will, a total of £60,000, and Shipman was aware of it. However, Bianka’s ex-husband Adrian knew of her plans, and he persuaded her to leave the money to their children instead. When Shipman killed her, he was not aware that she had changed her will, leaving him out.

Did Shipman murder Bianka Pomfret for her money? It is very likely. Why else would he kill a woman who was in perfect health? Bianka was not suffering from any physical illness, her problems were mental. Why take the risk on murdering a healthy, relatively young woman, if it wasn’t for the money. It must have come as quite a surprised to find the will had been changed.

After her body was discovered and Shipman called round to certify the death, Shipman explained to her son, William, and his wife, Gaynor, that Bianka had been suffering from angina for the last 10 months. This shocked the couple as they had no idea of her illness, she hadn’t mentioned it.  Of course, the angina condition only existed on the computer records. As Shipman knew of the angina, there would be no need for a post-mortem.

On Christmas Eve, 1997, Shipman committed his final murder for the year. James King was Shipman’s 37th patient to be killed in 1997, an exceptionally high number. The 85-year-old man was healthy, walking five miles each day, and fit enough to redecorate his apartment in Ogden Court the week before he was killed.

Both he and his son Jim were patients of Shipman. Jim was being treated for terminal cancer, but the diagnosis was wrong, and Jim would later sue for medical negligence. The morphine that Shipman was obtaining, illegally, for Jim was used to kill not only his father, but also his aunt, 74-year-old Irene Berry, who was murdered on February 15 the following year.

 

The Undertakers Take Notice

John Shaw and Christine Simpson were no longer the only ones who had their suspicions. Alan Massey, his daughter Debbie, and her husband David Bambroffe had also become aware of the high number of Shipman deaths. And they were in a good position to notice, they were the owners of Frank Massey and Sons, Undertakers.

In late 1996, they had begun to notice how many of Shipman’s patients they were being called to. Once again, as with the others, they told themselves that he had an elderly practice, he was bound to have more patients dying than other doctors. They knew how well regarded he was in town; they were even patients of his themselves.  But it was not just the high number; it was also the way the bodies were when they got there, sitting in armchairs, fully dressed, often with a sleeve rolled up. Although finding one or two bodies sitting in armchairs would not be something unusual, finding them all like it was. Usually, bodies were found on floors having suffered strokes or heart attacks, or, if they had been ill for a while, they would be found in bed, and they would be wearing nightclothes.

They had begun to comment on it amongst themselves, but it was a big step to go to the authorities. Debbie and David had also begun to notice how many of the deaths seemed to occur when Shipman was there, or had been there just a short while before.

Cremations and burials were handled differently. For a burial, only one doctor needed to sign, but for a cremation, there was a three-part form that had to be signed by two doctors, the first being the doctor in attendance, and the second a doctor who is not a partner of the first, and who examines the body and confirms the cause of death.  However, for the most part, the second doctor doesn’t bother to carry out the examination, instead trusting the first doctor to have got it right.

By the New Year, 1998, Debbie was convinced that something was wrong at the Shipman practice. She decided to talk with a doctor at the Brooke surgery, whose seven doctors countersigned Shipman’s cremation forms more often than others. She talked to Dr. Susan Booth, who in turn discussed it with her partners at the Brooke surgery. A few days passed, and then Dr. Alastair MacGillivray, one of the other doctors at the Brooke clinic, dropped into the funeral home. He reassured Debbie that there was nothing wrong, that with his high proportion of elderly patients, it followed that he would also have a high proportion of deaths. It was a rational explanation.

But it was not a view that was shared by Dr. Linda Reynolds, another of the Brooke surgery doctors. She had been away when the Shipman deaths had been brought up, but she had also made some comments near the end of the previous year. Once she was aware of Debbie Massey’s concerns, Linda voiced her own concerns once more. Once again, the partners discussed it. This time, they agreed that there may be cause for concern.

Linda Reynolds contacted the Medical Defense Union and, on March 24, 1998, she called the coroner.

By this time, although still early in the year, Shipman had already murdered 15 patients. One of them was Pamela Hillier, a 68-year-old woman who had been a loyal patient of Shipman’s for over 20 years. She caused some problems when her family pressed for a post-mortem. Shipman was relieved when he finally managed to persuade them that a post-mortem was not necessary, and Mrs. Hiller was cremated.

Victim Maureen Ward
Victim Maureen Ward

On February 18, nine days after the death of Pamela Hillier, Shipman murdered Maureen Ward at Ogden Court. Once again, Shipman added details to her computer record indicating that she had a brain tumor. Once he’d finished adjusting the computer records, he went over to Ogden Court and gave 58-year-old Maureen a fatal injection. He then called on Christine Simpson and told her that he had found Maureen dead.

Shipman again gave different versions of what happened to different people. To Christine Simpson, he said he had been delivering a letter to Maureen about an appointment he had arranged for her with a consultant at Stepping Hill Hospital, an appointment he said that was difficult to get, but he had managed it. There is no record of a letter being written at the surgery, and there is no record of an appointment at the hospital.

When he got back to the surgery, Shipman told his receptionist an entirely different story. He said he was passing by Ogden Court when he saw an ambulance there. He went over to inquire as to what had happened. There is no record of an ambulance at Ogden Court at the time. On the cremation form, Shipman stated that Maureen was found not by him, but by Christine Simpson, and that she had been there when she died.

When independent GP’s were consulted later, they said that the notes on the computer record didn’t match the health of the woman. She had been out shopping and visiting with friends, something she would not have been doing had she been suffering from the tumor, she would not have felt well enough.

Maureen Ward would not have been living at Ogden Court under normal circumstances, she was too young. The only reason she was there was that she’d moved in to look after her elderly mother, Muriel. After her mother died three years before, at the age of 87, Maureen had stayed on. Tragically, Maureen’s mother had also been murdered by Harold Shipman.

 

A Murderer and a Thief

Not only was Shipman a murderer, he was also a thief. Although this is unlikely to be the motive for the murders, Shipman would often take money and jewelry from his victims, and would search the house for what he could find after he had murdered his patient. This was no doubt his intention when he killed Marie West, an intention spoilt by the fact that Mrs. Hadfield was there.

When 75-year-old Joan Dean was murdered on February 27, 1998, Shipman left the house with a lot of jewelry and cash. Her sons, Terry and Brian, were sorting out their mothers belongings when they found that a watch worth £1,000 and an engagement ring worth £5,000 had vanished, along with smaller items of jewelry. On the day of her death, Joan had been to the bank and had withdrawn £300, which was also missing.

The murders continued. Harold Eddleston, aged 77, was quite ill, and his concerned son-in-law asked Shipman how long Mr. Eddleston was likely to live. Easter was approaching, and Shipman, in his characteristic uncaring attitude told him, “I wouldn’t buy him any Easter eggs.” Four days later, Harold Eddleston was dead, after a visit from Dr. Shipman.

 

An Investigation Finally Begins

The coroner, John Pollard, listened to what Dr. Reynolds had to say, and then he contacted the Greater Manchester Police. He spoke to Chief Inspector Sykes, and a discrete investigation of Dr. Harold Shipman was opened, carried out by Detective Inspector David Smith.

He interviewed Dr. Reynolds and she told him of her suspicions, and that there were two bodies waiting to be cremated. But Smith didn’t ask for a post-mortem to be carried out on the bodies, nor did he ask Reynolds any important questions or look at any records which could be compared to the death rates. When Smith contacted the West Pennine Health Authority and had Dr. Alan Banks examine the medical records, Banks could find nothing wrong.

However, Banks would later claim that he had not been told that they suspected Shipman of murdering his patients, which may have made him look at the records differently. In the end, Banks’s reassurance about Shipman effectively closed the case. It was a completely inadequate investigation. Shipman was free to carry on, and three more deaths would occur before he was stopped. The last would be Kathleen Grundy.

Detective Inspector Stan Egerton
Detective Inspector Stan Egerton

The news that Kathleen Grundy’s will was being investigated by the police as a forgery got around town, and when John Shaw heard about it, he decided to talk with someone he knew at the Hyde Club, a social club in town. That person was Stan Egerton. Shaw told Egerton that he needed to talk to him, and Egerton asked him to drop into the station the next day. But overnight, the doubts had crept back in. Shaw had second thoughts. If he was wrong about Shipman, he could be sued for defamation of character, and he was only a taxi driver, what did he know?

After Egerton talked to David Smith about his investigation, it was clear to him that Kathleen Grundy could have been murdered. It was also apparent that, despite being cleared by the previous investigation, there was possibly more than one victim, and that the investigation should go back several months.

When it became known around town that Kathleen Grundy’s death was now being investigated as a possible murder, John Shaw rethought his decision, and once again sought out Stan Egerton at the Hyde Club.

Shaw told him of the number of customers he had that were dead and how they were all patients of Shipman. He told Egerton that he had a list of their names. When Egerton asked how far back the list went, Shaw told him about six years. Egerton was stunned. They were only investigating the last 18 months.

Regardless of what was happening, Shipman continued to run his practice. To the police, Shipman continued to be arrogant and disdainful, without being openly obstructive. To Detective Sergeant John Ashley, who had come to the clinic to download computer records from the clinic computers, Shipman showed his superiority by telling him not to damage the data. Ashley told him that he knew what he was doing, and when it became clear to Shipman that Ashley knew much more about computers than he did, he backed off.

 

Shipman Arrested in September of 1998 – Exhumations Begin

On the morning of September 7, 1998, Shipman arrived at Ashton-under-Lyne Police Station, along with his lawyer, Ann Bell. It had been five days since the toxicology report on Kathleen Grundy. At 9:18 a.m., Stan Egerton placed Shipman under arrest. He appeared calm, but his solicitor was shocked at the charges: Murder of Kathleen Grundy, attempted theft by deception, and three counts of forgery. Shipman was taken into custody and appeared at Tameside Magistrates Court the next day.

Kathleen Grundy was the first of the exhumations, but more followed over the next few months. On September 21, the body of Joan Melia was exhumed, and by December 9, another 10 had followed, making 12 exhumations in all, the largest number of exhumations in a single inquiry. Ivy Lomas was one of them. She had come to the surgery in May, 1997, for a routine check on her arm, which had been giving her some pain. Shipman got her to roll up her sleeve, and then gave her a fatal injection of morphine.  The 63-year-old woman died in the surgery while Shipman calmly went about dealing with three more patients before telling the staff that Ivy had died.

When the surgery staff could not reach any of Ivy’s relatives, they called the police. Sergeant Phillip Reade came to the surgery and Shipman gave him an account of the death, which differed from the account he had told the staff.

Reade wondered why Shipman had not made an attempt to resuscitate Mrs. Lomas, and Shipman said that she was clearly dead and that there was no chance of resuscitation. Reade was then shocked by Shipman’s joking remarks about the dead woman, saying that she was in the clinic so often that he’d thought about putting up a plaque to reserve a seat for her.

On July 14, 1997, Barbara Ryan went to call on her neighbor, 76-year-old Muriel Grimshaw. They were close friends and would often go shopping together. Although it was only around 9 a.m., she couldn’t get a reply. Mrs. Ryan was worried and called Muriel’s daughter, Anne. When Anne arrived, she went in and discovered her mother’s body lying fully clothed on the bed. She had been dead since sometime the day before.

Shipman was called and arrived 20 minutes later. After a quick examination, he told Anne that she had died from a stroke, though she wasn’t contorted by spasms that were usual in death from strokes. Muriel was exhumed.

Norah Nuttall had also been exhumed. Norah had been suffering through a cold at the end of January, 1998. On Monday morning, January 26, she had been in to see Shipman. That evening, she was home with her son, Tony, who told her not to worry about supper, he would go out later and get fish and chips for both of them. He then left to deal with their horses. When he got back, Shipman was there, and 64-year-old Norah was sitting in the armchair, seemingly asleep.

Shipman told Tony that she had called him and said that she was experiencing some chest pains. Shipman had called for an ambulance. Tony tried to wake his mother and Shipman said that she appeared to have taken a turn for the worse. Shipman checked her pulse and then told her son that she was dead. He then crossed to the telephone, telling Tony that he would call and cancel the ambulance. Tony was stunned by her death. How could she have become so ill so fast? And why, if she had only just died, did Shipman not try to revive her? A question asked so many times.

The ambulance service keeps a meticulous record of all calls, and the investigation into Norah’s death revealed that there was no call from Shipman, calling for or cancelling an ambulance. There was also no trace of any call from Norah to Shipman asking him to visit.

For a few of the exhumed bodies, no evidence could be found. The bodies were too decayed to obtain tissue samples. But others, the more recent, supplied enough tissue to test, and morphine was found. It was a foolish drug to use. Morphine doesn’t deteriorate over time, and as long as a tissue sample can be obtained for testing, it can be found if present.

 

Shipman Charged with Multiple Murders

In addition to the murder charge in the death of Kathleen Grundy, Shipman was now charged with the murders of Marie West, Irene Turner, Elizabeth Adams, Jean Lilley, Ivy Lomas, Muriel Grimshaw, Marie Quinn, Kathleen Wagstaff, Bianka Pomfret, Norah Nuttall, Pamela Hillier, Maureen Ward, Winnie Mellor, and Joan Melia, plus one charge of forgery.

Between the time he was arrested and charged and the start of the trial, 13 months would pass, a length of time that would take a toll on Harold Shipman. Although he was only 53-years-old, he now looked as though he was in his 60’s.

For two days after his arrest, he was held in Strangeways Prison in Manchester, but there were fears that some of the prisoners may have relatives in Hyde and he would be in danger. This caused him to be moved to Preston prison. Because of the seriousness of the charges, Shipman was a category A prisoner, and was placed on suicide watch, and checked on by a guard every 15 minutes.

During the whole time, Shipman kept up the pretense that he was innocent of the accusations against him.

When it was determined that none of the staff or the prison population had relatives in Hyde, Shipman was returned to Strangeways, making it easier for his family who were regular visitors, and others who needed to see him.

The case against Shipman was extremely strong, and Shipman must have realized that and known that it was hopeless. But Shipman seemed to be reveling in his new found fame. In letters to friends and supporters, he boasted about the offers he had received for book deals and letters from newspapers wanting to publish his story.

 

Shipman on Trial

Preston is 35 miles away from Hyde, and it was there, on Tuesday, October 5, 1999, that the trial of Harold Frederick Shipman began, though legal arguments took up the first week, delaying the proper opening of the trial until the following Monday.

Most of the witnesses for the prosecution were friends and relatives of the victims, which meant they were elderly, and as such, the defense may have hoped to capitalize on this, making them seem unreliable. But with the court filled with other relatives and friends, the defense knew that to pursue this course would lose any sympathy they may have had, if any.

But the defense did try to get them to admit that they may have been confused or their memories may have been playing tricks on them. It did not work. Each witness was adamant about their testimony, and the defense floundered.

The prosecution took 25 days, and each day the evidence built up against Shipman. Other patients were called, and each one told of how they had never been given any injections of morphine, despite there being evidence that it had been prescribed for them. The defense crossed examined, but they made no points.

But Shipman seemed to view the case differently. Although the defense was losing badly, in letters Shipman gave the impression that all was well, and that he was confident of winning.

On Thursday, November 25, the defense began its case, and Shipman took the stand. He talked about his training at Leeds University, and his career at Pontefract, Todmorden, and Hyde, and he talked about the day-to-day routine in the surgery.

He told the court that he believed Kathleen Grundy was taking medicine that had not been prescribed for her, attempting to convey to the court that Kathleen was a drug addict. On the second day, he was questioned about other deaths, and he told the court that they all died from natural causes. He admitted that he had backdated some of the computer records, but this, he explained, was just to bring the records up to date and in line.

As to why he didn’t try to revive any of those patients who had just died, he said it was because their quality of life would have been impaired. During the questioning over the death of Kathleen Wagstaff, Shipman began to quietly sob, and said that he was possibly more upset over her death than the family was, a statement that didn’t make him any friends.

Shipman was questioned for another seven days, and the prosecution asked about the inconsistencies in his records, and asked about the similarities between many of the deaths. The prosecution asked about the morphine that was found in the bodies, and Shipman admitted that he had a habit of prescribing morphine for the patients that needed it. However, he had no explanation as to why it would appear in the bodies, other than to once again stress that he thought Kathleen Grundy was a drug addict.

His inability to explain the death of Ivy Lomas from a morphine overdose was particularly significant as she had died in his surgery. Shipman said that his only conclusion was that while he was out of the room, Ivy Lomas had injected herself with the drug.

By December 13, 1999, all of the evidence had been heard. The prosecution’s case was solid, and the defense had nothing to work with, other than Shipman’s insistence that he was innocent. The court was adjourned for Christmas.

On January 5, 2000, when court resumed, the closing arguments were heard. The defense tried its best to portray Harold Shipman as a caring doctor who worked hard for his patients, and that the toxicology evidence presented by the prosecution was unsafe due to the decomposition of the bodies. They told the court that the scientific evidence was not reliable.

 

“Doctor Death” Convicted of 15 Counts of Murder and One Count of Forgery – Sentenced to Life in Prison

On Monday, January 24, the jury retired to consider its verdict. A whole week passed before they returned. On Monday, January 31, the jury unanimously found Shipman guilty on all charges. It was then that the court was informed of Shipman’s previous conviction for forgery. Shipman’s defense asked that sentencing be carried out that day, and the judge obliged. Shipman was sentenced to life for each of the 15 victims, plus a four year sentence for the forgery charges. The judge recommended that Shipman never be released from prison.

The newspaper headlines the next morning said it all. “DOCTOR DEATH” read one, and “BRITAIN’S WORST SERIAL KILLER” read another. Pages and pages were devoted to Shipman and the murders, and the Shipman family had to face the fact that not only was he a murderer, but he was one of the most prolific in history.

Shipman was taken to Strangeways where he was once again under a suicide watch. He was there a month before being transferred to Frankland Prison, near Durham. His days now followed a routine. He would have to get up at 6:30 a.m., and then have breakfast before taking a shower and starting work. At 11:15 a.m., there would be a break of half hour for exercise, followed by lunch and two more hours of work in the afternoon. There was another meal, and then he was free to mix with the other prisoners until the 7:45 p.m. lock up time in his cell, where he had a satellite TV and a VCR.

He still kept up a correspondence with friends, those who were still writing to him. But his list of friends was diminishing as more of them realized how misplaced their loyalties were.

Dame Janet Smith, who chaired the Shipman Inquiry
Dame Janet Smith, who chaired the Shipman Inquiry

In June, 2001, an official inquiry was set up to look into the Shipman deaths under chair Dame Janet Smith. The police had continued to gather evidence, and as the publicity grew, so did the number of relatives who came forward, concerned that one of their relatives had become the victim of Harold Shipman.

Shipman was still declaring that he was innocent of any wrongdoing, and an appeal was being set up. But the appeal was running into some difficulties. Finding a solicitor to take on the case was almost impossible. All of the solicitors in the Manchester area were busy handling the compensation claims from the relatives of the victims. There were several in London who were willing to take on the appeal, at least until they heard who it was for, at which point they declined. It’s not clear whether this was due to who they would be representing, or if they knew that the chances of winning were virtually zero.

Finally, a solicitor was found that was willing to take on the case. Shipman, in letters, was increasingly critical of the “publicity seeking relatives” of the deceased, as he referred to them, and also critical of the police who he believed should have been out catching “real criminals” instead of persecuting him.

Shipman got a job in the hospital wing of the prison, helping the elderly patients with their meals. When this got into the press, there was, understandably, an outcry as to why the prison authorities would allow it. One month later, Shipman was transferred from Frankland, this time to Wakefield Prison in Yorkshire, a specialized lifer prison.

This was a massive shock to Shipman. In Frankland, a prison that was more relaxed, the barely masked contempt for the prison staff that Shipman displayed was tolerated. But Wakefield Prison was tough, and his disdain and condescension would result in swift and harsh punishment. His insolence got him into conflict with the authorities and soon, he had lost his privileges. His TV was removed, he was no longer allowed to wear his own clothing, and his lock up time was 6:30 p.m., rather than 8:00 p.m.

Shipman found it hard to cope at Wakefield. Unlike Frankland, there were fewer people he could talk to. The lifers in Wakefield were usually murderers, but they were not the sort that had killed during the course of a crime. They were murderers who had a dark side to them, not the sort Shipman would want to be involved with.

Wakefield’s population is made up mostly of sex offenders, up to 90 percent some times. As one prisoner put it, the population was made up of “nutters, homosexuals, maniacs, weirdos, and kinky bastards.” If Shipman had talked to any of them, then he would have been in for a rough time from the other prisoners.

His cell at Wakefield was smaller than the one at Frankland, and unlike other prisoners, he didn’t decorate it with photographs of family members. His only personal touch was the orange and green curtains that his family had given him.

Shipman had been concerned about Primrose and the financial hardship that she had suffered. In May, 2003, one month before he was moved to Wakefield, Edna Oxtoby, Primrose’s mother, died, leaving an estate worth £120,000.

Primrose, who had not even seen her mother for 27 years, sat in the front row at the funeral. Primrose’s sister, Mary, had died, and so Primrose and the children, Sarah and Christopher, and the two that Edna had never seen, David and Sam, were the only family she had.

Edna left a small amount to some of her friends and neighbors, and some went to the church, but the rest of the money, a significant amount, went not to her family, but to a couple of pensioners who had looked after her in her old age. Primrose was left out, and Shipman was most likely angered by this decision.

Shipman’s pension had been stopped after his conviction, and Primrose was living on benefits. But Shipman had discovered something that could help. Although he could not provide for her while he was alive, he could if he was dead. If he died after he was 60-years-old, Primrose would get an annual pension of £5,000. However, if he died before he turned 60, then she would not only get a pension of £10,000 a year, but she would also get a lump sum of £100,000.

The solution seemed clear.

 

Shipman’s Last Victim – Himself

At 5 a.m., Tuesday, January 13, 2004, the prison guard looked into Shipman’s cell. Everything seemed all right. The next check would be in one hour. Shipman was not asleep. As soon as the check had been done, he got up. He had already torn a strip from his bed sheet and had made a ligature which he tied around the bars of his window. There was a heating pipe that stood three feet above the floor of the cell. Shipman climbed onto it and placed his makeshift noose around his neck. Pulling the green and orange curtains around him, he stepped off the pipe.

He was a doctor, he knew how long it would take to die, four minutes at most.

Shipman was found at around 6:20 a.m. The next day would have been his birthday, he would have been 58.

Shipman was an unlikely serial killer. He was older than most, though not when he started. Serial killers are usually alienated, but not Shipman, even though he was a loner. And his victims were not strangers, he knew all of them. His murders were also non-violent, and unlike most serial killers, his victims didn’t fall into a particular type. They were young, old, male, female, there was no pattern in his victims.

These were not so called “Angel of Mercy” killings. For the most part, especially in the later years, the victims were relatively healthy for their age.

For twenty six years, Harold Shipman had been killing his patients, and had got away with it. His choice of victim helped, and despite everything, Harold Shipman really was a good doctor, when he wasn’t killing his patients.

Did he just become addicted to killing, the way a gambler becomes addicted to gambling. And why did he become sloppy at the end, the forgery of Kathleen Grundy’s will was amateurish. Maybe he wanted to be caught and get the recognition he felt he deserved as one of the world’s greatest killers. It’s no use being good at something if no one knows. Or maybe he needed the money fast, possibly to get away before he was caught, knowing that the investigation a few months before would certainly make him a suspect in any new deaths that occurred. Forging the will may have been the only way he could think of to get the money fast.

But Shipman’s suicide robbed everyone of understanding why he did what he did. The inquiry carried on, and resulted in changes in the way death certificates and cremation forms were handled. The inquiry was also highly critical of the first investigation carried out by Detective Inspector David Smith, and put a great deal of the blame for the last three deaths on him.

By the end of the inquiry, it was determined that Harold Shipman had definitely murdered 215 patients, with another 69 highly suspicious deaths that could not be proven, bringing the total to 284. But this is only the ones that are known, how many others did he kill? No one will ever know.

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