If you can't trust your own doctor, who can you trust?

If You Can’t Trust Your Own Doctor, Who Can You Trust?

  • A family doctor, Britain’s worst serial killer and one of the most prolific one in recorded history.
  • Found guilty of 15 murders, but an inquiry after his conviction confirmed he was responsible for at least 218.
  • Died a day before his 58th birthday, after hanging himself in his cell.

Harold Frederick Shipman was a British doctor and one of the most prolific serial killers in recorded history. Shipman, who was at the time of his trial 57, was found guilty of the ultimate betrayal. If you can’t trust your own doctor, who can you trust?

In 1988, police were informed about the high death rate among Shipman’s patients. Most of the death certificates cited the reason of death as old age or heart attack. One of the deceased patients of Shipman, Grundy’s daughter lawyer Angela Woodruff, became concerned when she found out that her testament left her and her children out but left £386,000 to Dr. Shipman. Woodruff had doubts about the testament’s authenticity. A little later Shipman was found to own a similar typewriter used to make the forged document. When the suspicions around Shipman rose, authorities decided to exhume Grundy’s body, finding her decomposed remains contained traces of diamorphine.

This is the only known instance of Shipman’s victims where there was evidence the motive was money. The consensus is that Dr. Shipman wanted to get caught, his motive was not money, and that he simply enjoyed killing people.

Harold Shipman
“Almost nothing need be said when you have eyes.”
Young Harold Shipman
Harold Shipman (in the middle) in his younger years.

Death by Morphine

Shipman was officially tried for killing 15 of his patients with a lethal dose of Morphine – a strong opioid analgesic drug often used for pain relief for patients with terminal cancer. The judge sentenced him to 15 concurrent life sentences with a recommendation to never be released again, for murdering Marie West, Irene Turner, Lizzie Adams, Jean Lilley, Ivy Lomas, Muriel Grimshaw, Marie Quinn, Kathleen Wagstaff, Bianka Pomfret, Norah Nuttall, Pamela Hillier, Maureen Ward, Winifred Mellor, Joan Melia and Kathleen Grundy.

Shipman denied his guilt and even went as far as claiming the patients were drug addicts themselves, who overdosed with opioids. Shipman being particularly close to his mother might shed some of the light to his motives. His mother died of lung cancer when Shipman was 17. Her death came in a manner similar to other patients — morphine administered at home by a doctor.

Artist's Drawing of Harold Shipman
A court sketch from the Shipman's case
A court sketch from the Shipman’s case.
The victims of Harold Shipman.
The victims. Notice the pattern?

Irene Turner (67), Lizzie Adams (77), Winifred Mellor (73), Norah Nuttall (65), Jean Lilley (59), Marie West (81), Pamela Hillier (68), Kathleen Wagstaff (81), and Maureen Ward (57), Bianka Pomfret (49), Joan Melia (73), and Kathleen Grundy (81).

The Suicide

Ship

Shipman had promised his wife Primrose she would receive National Health Service pension and a lump sum, which she wouldn’t have been entitled to if he had died at the age of 60. Being a man of his word, on the eve of his 58th birthday, Shipman hanged himself using the bed sheets in his cell at Wakefield Prison, leaving questions about his motives unanswered.

Some British tabloids expressed joy at his suicide, but the families of victims felt cheated for the monster taking all secrets to his grave.

Primrose Shipman
Widow Primrose: still loyal and wearing his ring.
Harold and Primrose Shipman
Harold Shipman's wife Primrose
Harold Shipman and her wife Primrose

The Shipman Inquiry

Following the suicide, the British government conducted so-called Shipman Inquiry in order to find out the real number of victims who died by the hand of Harold Shipman. After two years, the inquiry made a grizzling conclusion: the once loved doctor killed at least 215 of his patients, most of them elder women in good health. The killing spree lasted 23 years, from 1975 to 1998, making him one of the most prolific serial killers in recorded history.

The Shipman Inquiry
The Shipman Inquiry revealed the real number of victims — 215 to 260.
Harold Shipman
Shy.
Harold Shipman
Shipman even gave a television interview on the benefits of care in the very same community he terrorized for long 23 years.

Shipman was not the first and last doctor to switch from saving lives to taking them.

Serial killers, Crime
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