The Dark Side of Dr. S: The World's Most Prolific Serial Killer
His patients mainly elderly women were living alone and vulnerable. They adored their doctor, Harold Frederick Fred
Even when their contemporaries began dying in unusually high numbers, patients remained loyal to the murderous M.D.
For as long as he spared them, his victims loved their doctor to death.
No film director could plan a grislier scene.
In the dead of a black August night, relentless rains and driving winds formed the perfect backdrop for an exhumation.
But this was no psychological thriller the Manchester police were observing a real-life drama. Experts were raising
the mud-streaked coffin of wealthy Kathleen Grundy.
Interned just 5 weeks earlier in the Hyde cemetery, the 81-year-old ex-mayoress held, in death, the key to solving nearly
400 murders. This would give killer Dr Harold Shipman the dubious distinction of being the greatest serial murderer the world
has ever known.
It puts him well ahead of modern historys most prolific serial killer to date Pedro (monster of the Andes) Lopez. Convicted
of 57 murders in 1980, Lopez allegedly killed 300 young girls in Columbia.
55-year-old Shipman is already serving 15 consecutive life sentences in Frankland Prison, County Durham, plus four years
for forging the will of his last victim, Kathleen Grundy.
In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he continues to maintain his innocence.
How could this prolific serial killer go undetected for so long? And what made him the monster he became? The answers
lie in a story that began in earnest over fifty years ago in a government-owned red brick terrace house in the north of England.
Born into a working class family on June 14, 1946, Harold Frederick Shipman, called Fred or Freddy, knew a childhood
far from normal. He maintained a distance between himself and his contemporaries mainly due to the influence of his mother,
Vera. This distance was to manifest itself in later years.
One neighbor notes, Vera was friendly enough, but she really did see her family as superior to the rest of us. Not only
that, you could tell Harold (Freddy) was her favorite the one she saw as the most promising of her three children.
Vera decided who Harold could play with, and when. She wanted to distinguish him from the other boys he was the one
who always wore a tie when the others were allowed more casual dress. His sister Pauline was seven years older, his brother
Clive, four years his junior. But in his mothers eyes, Harold was the one she held the most hope for.
As a student, Shipman was comparatively bright in his early school years, but rather mediocre when he reached upper school
level. Nonetheless, he was a plodder determined to succeed, even when it meant re-sitting his entrance examinations for medical
Strangely, he had every opportunity to be part of the group he was an accomplished athlete on the football field and
the running track. In spite of this, his belief in his superiority appears to have precluded forming meaningful friendships
with his contemporaries.
And there was something else that isolated him from the group. His beloved mother had terminal lung cancer. As she wasted
away, Harold willingly played a major supportive role.
Much has been made of the way young Harold Shipman dealt with his mothers final months justifiably so. Because his behavior
then closely paralleled that of Shipman the serial killer. Every day after classes, he would hurry home, make Vera a cup of
tea and chat with her probably about his day at school. She counted the minutes as she waited, and found great solace in
For his part, this is likely where Shipman learned the endearing bedside manner he would adopt later in his practice as
a family physician. Toward the end, Vera experienced severe pain. But, because pumps to self-administer painkillers did
not exist at that time, Veras sole relief from the agony of cancer came with the family physician.
No doubt young Harold watched in fascination as his mothers distress miraculously subsided whenever the family doctor
injected her with morphine. As the disease progressed, the already trim Ms. Shipman grew thinner and frailer until, on June
21st 1963, the cancer claimed her life.
Veras death left her son with a tremendous sense of loss. After all, his mother was the one who made him feel special,
above the rest. Significantly, her passing left him with an indelible image the patient with a cup of tea nearby, finding
sweet relief in morphine.
Etched upon the 17-year-olds mind, it was a scene he would re-create hundreds of times in the future.
And when it happened, he would be a doctor one with no regard for human life or feeling.
Two years after his mother died, Harold Shipman was finally admitted to Leeds University medical school. Getting in had
been a struggle. In spite of his self-proclaimed superiority, hed had to re-write the exams hed flunked first time around.
Nonetheless, his grades were adequate enough for him to collect a degree and serve his mandatory hospital internship.
It is surprising to learn that so many of his teachers and fellow students can barely remember Shipman. Some who do remember
claim that he looked down on them and seemed bemused by the way most young men behaved. It was as if he tolerated us. If
someone told a joke he would smile patiently, but Fred never wanted to join in. It seems funny, because I later heard hed
been a good athlete, so youd have thought hed be more of a team player.
Most of his contemporaries especially from his earlier years simply remember him as a loner. They also remember the
one place where his personality changed the football field. Here, his aggression was unleashed, his dedication to win intense.
Even so, he was more sociable in medical school than his mother had allowed him to be while living at home.
A former teacher said, I dont think he ever had a girlfriend; in fact he took his older sister to school dances. They
made a strange couple. But then, he was a bit strange a pretentious lad.
But Shipman finally found companionship in a girl and married before most of his contemporaries did. At nineteen, he
met Primrose 3 years his junior.
Her background was similar to Freds. Her mother restricted her friendships, and controlled her activities.
No poster girl, Primrose was delighted to have finally found a boyfriend. Shipman married her when she was 17 and 5
By 1974 he was a father of two and had joined a medical practice in the Yorkshire town of Todmorden. In this North England
setting, Fred seemed to undergo a metamorphosis; he became an outgoing, respected member of the community in the eyes of
his fellow medics and patients.
But the staff in the medical offices where he worked saw a different side of the young practitioner. He was often unnecessarily
rude and made some of them feel stupid a word he frequently used to describe anyone he didnt like. He was confrontational
and combative with many people, to the point where he belittled and embarrassed them. He also had a way of getting things
done his way even with the more experienced doctors in the practice.
Not yet thirty, Shipman had become a control freak.
Hard working, and enthusiastic, Shipman fitted well into the social matrix.
His senior partners saw him as a Godsend. One, Dr Michael Grieve, appreciated Freds contribution in providing up-to-date
information, as he was so recently out of medical school.
But his career in Todmorden came to a sudden halt when he began having blackouts. His partners were devastated when he
gave them the reason. He suffered, he said, with epilepsy. He used this inaccurate diagnosis as a cover-up.
The truth soon surfaced, when practice receptionist Marjorie Walker stumbled upon some disturbing entries in a druggists
controlled narcotics ledger. The records showed how Shipman had been prescribing large and frequent amounts of pethidine in
the names of several patients.
Moreover, hed written numerous prescriptions for the drug on behalf of the practice. Although this was not unusual (drugs
are kept on hand for emergencies and immediate treatments), the prescribed amounts were excessive.
Pethidine a morphine-like analgesic was initially thought to have no addictive properties. Now, some sixty years after
scientists first synthesized it, pethidines non-addictive reputation is still hotly debated.
Following the discovery of Shipmans over-prescribing, a covert investigation by the practice including Dr John Dacre
- followed. To his alarm, he discovered many patients on the prescription list had neither required nor received the drug.
Dacre challenged Fred in a staff meeting, as one of his partners, Dr Michael Grieve recalls:
We were sat round with Fred sitting on one side and up comes John on the opposite and says, Now young Fred, can you explain
this? And he puts before him evidence that he has been gleaning, showing that young Fred had been prescribing pethidine to
patients and theyd never received the pethidine, and in fact the pethidine had found its way into Freds very own veins.
Shipmans way of dealing with the problem was to provide an insight into his true personality. Realizing his career was
on the line, he first begged for a second chance.
When this was denied, he became enraged and stormed out, hurled a medical bag to the ground and threatened to resign.
The partners were dumbfounded by this violent and seemingly uncharacteristic behavior.
Shortly afterwards, his wife Primrose stormed into the room where his peers were discussing the best way to dismiss him.
Rudely, she informed the people at the meeting that her husband would never resign, proclaiming, Youll have to force him out!
She was right. Ultimately he was forced out of the practice and into a drug re-hab center in 1975.
Two years later, his many convictions for drug offences, prescription fraud and forgery cost him a surprisingly low fine
just over 600 pounds sterling. Shipmans conviction for forgery is worth noting. First, because his skill in this area was
nothing less than pathetic; second, he failed to learn that his ineptitude in this area was readily exposed.
Yet in spite of this early warning, some 22 years later he actually believed he could get away with faking signatures
on a patently counterfeit will that of his last victim, Katherine Grundy.
This lack of judgment some say arrogance set in motion the mechanism for his downfall.
As for the pethidine charges, the question remains: Did he really self-inject the drugs (as he claimed) or had he already
begun using them to kill unsuspecting patients? This is currently under review.
Today, it is unlikely Harold Shipman would be allowed to handle drugs unsupervised, given his previous track record.
Nonetheless, within two years, he was back in business as a general practitioner.
He was accepted into the Donneybrook Medical Center in Hyde in the north of England. How readily he was accepted demonstrates
his absolute self-confidence and his ability to convince his peers of his sincerity.
Dr Jeffery Moysey of the Center explained His approach was that I have had this problem, this conviction for abuse of
pethidine. I have undergone treatment. I am now clean. All I can ask you to do is to trust me on that issue and to watch
Perhaps he was not watched carefully enough.
Again, he played the role of a dedicated, hardworking and community-minded doctor. He gained his patients absolute trust
and earned his colleagues respect.
Some of those who worked under him have told of his sarcastic and abusive nature, but he was skilled at masking his patronizing
attitude in front of those he chose to impress. As for any signs of addiction, there were no blackouts as before, and no
indication of drug abuse.
In Hyde, Harold Shipman was home free and free to kill.
Because of the nature of the Shipman case, it may never be possible to document every murder he committed.
A clinical audit commissioned by the Department of Health estimates his responsibility for the deaths of at least 236
patients over a 24-year period.
This audit, by Professor Richard Baker of the University of Leicester, examined the number and pattern of deaths in Harold
Shipmans practice. It then compared them with those of other practitioners. Significant differences appeared, notably that
the rates of death in elderly patients were disproportionately higher.
Other variations appeared; deaths were often clustered at certain times of the day, patients records and previous symptoms
mismatched, and Shipman was usually in attendance.
Professor Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health, wrote that these factors must now be investigated
by the proper legal authorities.
Detective Chief Superintendent Bernard Postles, who headed the original investigations, said of the report many of its
conclusions accord with our own findings to date. He noted the death toll estimated in the audit was broadly in keeping with
the number of deaths investigated by Greater Manchester Police during the course of the investigation.
Even so, the final numbers are anyones guess Coroner John Pollard once speculated we might be looking at 1000.
But whatever the final count, there is no immediate plan to try the killer on future findings nor would it serve much
purpose because hes already serving 15 concurrent life sentences.
Instead, other cases are being investigated as they come to light, with coroners verdicts of unlawful killing continuing
to mount. As they do, the question most asked is this: Why wasnt he stopped sooner?
In this macabre and unfinished story, Shipmans former patients are grateful indeed he was finally stopped. The feeling
I could have been next will always haunt them. And there is little doubt that some owe their lives to a determined and intelligent
woman named Angela Woodruff.
Her dogged determination to solve a mystery helped ensure that, on Monday, January 31, 2000, the jury at Preston Crown
Court found Shipman guilty of murdering 15 of his patients and forging the will of Angelas beloved mother, Katherine Grundy.
But Ms. Woodruff was not the first to realize something was dangerously wrong where Dr. Shipman was involved.
Local undertaker Alan Massey began noticing a strange pattern: not only did Shipmans patients seem to be dying at an unusually
high rate; their dead bodies had a similarity when he called to collect them. Anybody can die in a chair, he observed, But
theres no set pattern, and Dr. Shipmans always seem to be the same, or very similar. Could be sat in a chair, could be laid
on the settee, but I would say 90% was always fully clothed. There was never anything in the house that I saw that indicated
the person had been ill. It just seems the person, where they were, had died. There was something that didnt quite fit.
Worried enough to voice his unease, Massey decided to confront Shipman, and paid the doctor a visit.
Massey recalls, I asked him if there was any cause for concern and he just said no there isnt. He showed me his certificate
book that he issues death certificates in, the cause of death in, and his remarks were nothing to worry about, youve nothing
to worry about and anybody who wants to inspect his book can do.
Reassured by Shipmans ease at being questioned, the undertaker took no further action. But his daughter, Debbie Brambroffe
also a funeral director was not so readily appeased. She found an ally in Dr. Susan Booth.
From a neighboring practice, Dr. Booth had gone to the funeral directors to examine a body. British law requires a doctor
from an unrelated practice to countersign cremation forms issued by the original doctor. They are paid a fee for this service
which some medics cynically call cash for ash. Debbie told Dr Booth she had misgivings.
Booth explained, She was concerned about the number of deaths of Dr. Shipmans patients that theyd attended recently.
She was also puzzled by the way in which the patients were found. They were mostly female, living on their own, found dead
sitting in a chair fully dressed, not in their nightclothes lying ill in bed.
Booth spoke to her colleagues. One of them, Dr. Linda Reynolds contacted coroner John Pollard. He in turn alerted the
police. In a virtually covert operation, Shipmans records were examined and given a clean bill of health because the causes
of death and treatments matched perfectly.
What the police did not discover was that Shipman had re-written patient records after he killed.
The quality of that investigation has been questioned because the police failed to check for a previous criminal record.
Nor did they make inquiries with the General Medical Council. Had they done so, Shipmans past record of drug abuse and forgery
might well have led to a more thorough approach.
But more intense scrutiny was about to blow the Shipman case wide open.
Kathleen Grundys sudden death on June 24th 1998 came as a terrible shock to all who knew her. A singularly active 81-year-old,
she was well known to the people of Hyde. A wealthy ex-mayor, she had energy to burn and was a tireless worker for local charities
until the day of her death.
Her absence was noted when she failed to show at the Age Concern club. There, she helped serve meals to elderly pensioners.
Because the wealthy widow was noted for her punctuality and reliability, her friends suspected something was wrong.
When they went to her home to check up on her, they found her lying on a sofa. She was fully dressed, and dead.
They immediately called Dr Shipman.
He had visited the house a few hours earlier, and was the last person to see her alive. He claimed the purpose of his
visit had been to take blood samples for studies on ageing. Shipman pronounced her dead and the news was conveyed to her
daughter, Angela Woodruff.
The doctor told the daughter a post mortem was unnecessary because he had seen her shortly before her death.
Following her mothers burial Ms. Woodruff returned to her home, where she received a troubling phone call from solicitors.
They claimed to have a copy of Ms. Grundys will.
A solicitor herself, Angelas own firm had always handled her mothers affairs - her firm held the original document lodged
in 1986. The moment she saw the badly typed, poorly worded paper, Angela Woodruff knew it was a fake. It left 386,000 pounds
to Dr Shipman.
My mother was a meticulously tidy person, she later told the Shipman trial, the thought of her signing a document which
is so badly typed didnt make any sense. The signature looked strange, it looked too big. The concept of Mum signing a document
leaving everything to her doctor was unbelievable.
It wasnt a case of Look, shes not left me anything in her will. she later said.
Initially, she wondered if Shipman was being framed. But after interviewing witnesses to the will, she reluctantly concluded
the doctor had murdered her mother for profit.
It was then she went to her local police. Her investigation results ultimately reached Detective Superintendent Bernard
His own investigation convinced him Angela Woodruffs conclusions were accurate. Of the forged will itself, Postles was
to later say, You only have to look at it once and you start thinking its like something off a John Bull printing press.
You dont have to have twenty years as a detective to know its a fake. Maybe he thought he was being clever an old lady, nobody
around her: Look at it; its a bit tacky. But everyone knew she was as sharp as a tack. Maybe it was his arrogance
Now Det. Supt Postles had the oldest motive in the world greed to justify his future actions.
To get solid proof of Kathleen Grundys murder, a post mortem was required which, in turn, required an exhumation order
from the coroner.
This is a rare occurrence for any British police force, one the Greater Manchester Police had not experienced. We did
not have one officer who had ever taken part in an exhumation. We asked the National Crime Squad for advice. Det. Supt Postles
By the time the trial had begun, his team would be uncomfortably familiar with the process. Of the fifteen killed, nine
were buried and six cremated. Katherine Grundys was the first grave opened. Her body was the first of the ongoing post mortems.
Her tissue and hair samples were sent to different labs for analysis, and the wait for results began.
At the same time, police raided the doctors home and offices. It was a low-key exercise, but timed so Shipman had no chance
of learning a body had been exhumed for a post mortem Police had to be certain no evidence could be destroyed or concealed
before their search. When the police arrived, Shipman registered no surprise. Rather, his approach was one of arrogance and
contempt as the search warrant was read out.
One item crucial to police investigations was the typewriter used to type the bogus will. Shipman produced an old Brother
manual portable, telling an improbable tale of how Ms Grundy sometimes borrowed it. This unbelievable story was to work against
Shipman especially when forensic scientists confirmed it was the machine used to type the counterfeit will and other fraudulent
Searching his house yielded medical records, some mysterious jewelry and a surprise. The Shipman home was littered with
filthy clothes, old newspapers and, for a doctors home, it was nothing short of unsanitary.
But an even bigger surprise was due.
When toxicologist Julie Evans filed her report on the cause of Ms Grundys death, Det Supt Postles was astounded.
The morphine level in the dead womans body was the cause of death. Not only that, her death would have occurred within
three hours of having received the fatal overdose.
Postles later said Shipmans use of the drug was a serious miscalculation. A doctor would surely have known morphine is
one of the few poisons that can remain in body tissue for centuries. Postles observed, I was surprised I anticipated that
I would have had difficulty if he gave them something in way of poison lost in background substance. He gave insulin, which
the body produces naturally, as an example. It was an unexpected bonus once I had checked that Kathleen Grundy did not take
Shipman would claim later that the stylish and conservative old lady was a junkie. Even today psychologists speculate
on the possibility that he wanted to be caught. Otherwise, why would he hand them the typewriter and use a drug so easily
traced back to him? Others believe he saw himself as invincible, believing that, as a doctor, his word would never be questioned.
The detective realized the case went far beyond one death, and the scope of the investigation was broadened immediately.
Just which deaths to investigate became the priority. To decide, a scale was devised, based on patterns.
Those who had not been cremated and had died following a Shipman house call took precedence. Other issues were factored
in, but obviously only uncremated bodies could yield tissue samples for examination.
Slightly different criteria were applied to the next group for police investigation. All cremated, they were investigated,
mainly, on the basis of known pre-existing conditions, recorded causes of death, and Shipmans presence before they died.
Whenever he could, the doctor had urged families to cremate their dead and had also stressed no further investigation
was necessary. It may seem strange now that no relatives found this peculiar, but people typically trust their doctors, especially
in times of great stress.
After all, the causes of deaths Shipman presented were rational, even though bereaved families were often surprised to
learn of conditions their loved ones had never mentioned.
Even if they had questioned the doctor, he had the computerized medical notes to prove patients had seen him for the very
symptoms he cited as leading to causes of death. Police would later know hed altered computer records to make everything match.
Callously, Shipman made most of these changes within hours of his patients deaths. Often, immediately after killing, he would
hurry to his office and adjust his records.
In the case of 82-year-old Kathleen Grundy, he reinforced his later statement that she was a morphine junkie by inventing
and backdating several entries.
His sheer audacity in suggesting this highly respected woman had been scoring hits from drug dealers was overwhelmingly
stupid. The moment he made the statement, his credibility crumbled.
When Shipman first encountered the computer, he was technophobic. But once he reluctantly agreed to embrace the (then)
new technology, he declared himself a computer expert. This was consistent with his need to assert his superiority
But what the self-proclaimed computer wiz didnt know was that his hard drive recorded to the second every phony alteration
he made to a patients records.
A taped interview with the Greater Manchester Police demonstrates this lack of knowledge:
Police Officer: Ill just remind you of the date of this ladys death 11th May 98. After 3 oclock that afternoon, you
have endorsed the computer with the date of 1st October 97 which is 10 months prior, chest pains.
Dr Shipman: I have no recollection of me putting that on the machine.
Officer: Its your passcode; its your name.
Shipman: It doesnt alter the fact I cant remember doing it.
Officer: You attended the house at 3 oclock. Thats when you murdered this lady. You went back to the surgery and immediately
started altering this ladys medical records. You tell me why you needed to do that.
Shipman: Theres no answer.
In another recorded interview, Detective Constable Marie Snitynski also demonstrated how Shipmans computer trapped him.
Following her advising the doctor he had killed a patient (73-year-old Winnifred Mellor) with morphine overdose, then altered
records to show a history of angina and chest pains, the police officer continued her interview:
Police Officer: The levels were such that this woman actually died from toxicity of morphine, not as you wrongly diagnosed.
In plain speaking you murdered herOne feature of these statements from the family was they couldnt believe their own mother
had chest pains, angina and hadnt been informed.
Harold Shipman: By, by whom?
Officer: By her.
Shipman: By her, thank you.
Officer: They also found it hard to believe Because she didnt have a history of chest complaints and heart disease and
angina, did she doctor?
Shipman: If its written on the records then she had the history and therefore
Officer: The simple truth is youve fabricated a history to cover what youve done, youd murdered her and you make up a
history of angina and chest pains so you could issue a death certificate and placate this poor womans family didnt you?
Officer: Weve got a statement from a detective sergeant John Ashley who works in the field of computers. He has made
a thorough examination of your computer, doctor, and the medical records contained on itwhat hes found is that there are a
number of entries that have been incorrectly placed on this record to falsely mislead and to indicate this woman had a history
of angina and chest pains. What have you got to say about that, doctor?
It should be apparent from the above exchange that Shipman was unwilling to cooperate with the police in any way. Throughout
the entire ordeal he was to be arrogant and supercilious. This behavior earned him no friends during the ensuing trial, which
commenced on a bright, sunny day in the Lancashire town of Preston on October 5th, 1999.
The first week was spent with the usual courtroom minutiae. Shipmans Defense Counsel Nicola Davies went first.
Primarily a medical lawyer, 46-year-old Ms. Davies mainly dealt with matters outside the criminal courts.
She had three applications to present.
First, that the trial be halted. Ms Davies claimed that Dr Shipman could not receive a fair trial because of the prior
inaccurate, misleading coverage of the case. For the better part of two days, she drew attention to the range of newspaper
articles reportage of nearly 150 patients cases and financial searches, plus the extensive coverage of the exhumations.
The prosecutor Mr. Henriques countered with a statement that the reports had actually been beneficial they had helped
alert other families to possible irregularities in the deaths of their loved ones.
In the Second Application, Ms. Davies wanted the court to hold three separate trials.
She claimed the case of Kathleen Grundy should be separate it alone had any alleged motive, greed.
The second trial, she said, should involve only patients who had been buried, because this was the only group where physical
evidence of cause of death morphine poisoning applied.
The third trial, she believed, should cover those cremated, as no physical evidence of death existed.
Again, the prosecutor countered with an argument that, because the cases were inter-related, trying them all together
was required to present a more comprehensive picture.
Ms Davies then presented the prosecutions third application one that stunned the court. She wanted evidence referred
to in volume eight disallowed.
Essentially, volume eight detailed how Shipman had accumulated morphine from 28 patients many now deceased. It showed
the doctor continued prescribing for some after they had died, and kept the drugs for his own purposes. Similarly, he had
prescribed opiates for many still living patients who had never required strong painkillers, much less morphine.
After considering the defenses three applications, Mr. Justice Forbes carefully explained why he was denying each one.
The trial would proceed; it would include the sixteen charges in the indictment, and evidence in volume eight would be
Proceedings were adjourned until the following Monday, October 11th 1999. Then, the jury would be made up.
And a torrent of damning evidence would flow.
The trial began in earnest as Counsel for the prosecution; Richard Henriques delivered his opening address. One of the
top barristers in Britain, he had handled many sensitive and difficult trials, including the sensational Jamie Bulger trial,
where two ten-year old boys kidnapped, tortured, then murdered two-year-old Jamie.
Addressing the case at hand, Mr. Henriques stated None of those buried - nor indeed cremated were prescribed morphine
or diamorphine. All of them died most unexpectedly. All of them had seen Dr. Shipman on the day of their death.
As he briefly outlined the case, Henriques dismissed euthanasia or mercy killing on the basis that none of the dead had
had a terminal illness.
He claimed Shipman killed the fifteen patients because he enjoyed doing so: He was exercising the ultimate power of controlling
life and death, and repeated the act so often he must have found the drama of taking life to his taste.
His first witness was Angela Woodruff. An accomplished solicitor, she was as striking as her mother had been in life.
Fashionably dressed in an expensive gray suit, she found it difficult to retain her usual strong demeanor. Understandably,
she appeared on the verge of breaking down throughout her long and arduous time in the witness box.
First, she explained in detail the police photographs of the house where her mum had lived so happily. She then told
of the harrowing phone call from the Hyde Police to inform her that her mother had died.
Seeking clarification, she later had a conversation with Dr. Shipman: Exactly what he said was difficult to remember Its
very hazy because I was very, very upset. Dr Shipman said he had seen (my mother) on the morning of her death. He said he
had seen her at home. She couldnt remember why the doctor claimed to have been there.
Speaking of the clumsy attempt made to fake the will leaving everything to Shipman, she told of her mothers meticulous
attention to detail, how doing everything neatly was her mothers way.
This would later be apparent to anyone reading her mothers diary, where every detail of importance was meticulously recorded
in perfect penmanship. In contrast, Ms Woodruff said how her mother viewed my writing; mines appalling.
She went on to show how healthy her 81-year-old mother had been. She was just amazing. We would walk five miles and come
in and she would say, Wheres the ironing? We used to joke she was fitter than we were.
This portrait of an elderly but extremely fit woman was to be repeated frequently as other victims families took the witness
In the ensuing cross-examination, Ms. Davies seemed intent on emphasizing Ms Woodruffs wealth. She had analyzed and described
the familys finances, and asked, You are not a family in need, are you?
Ms. Woodruff concurred it was common knowledge that she and her husband David had inherited one million pounds from her
father in law. She confirmed the couple earned sizeable incomes.
A subsequent attempt by Ms. Davis to show Ms Woodruffs relationship with her mother had been unharmonious was totally
dispelled when the victims writings and a host of witnesses were examined.
Several days later, Dr John Rutherford a leading government pathologist appeared. He was tactful and dignified as he
led the court through the gruesome details of the post mortems carried out.
In great detail, he explained how the procedure was performed, focusing on the importance of collecting body tissue for
The outcome of the tests was consistent. In case after case, Dr. Rutherford said the victims had not died from old age
or natural disease. Typically, morphine toxicity was the cause of death.
To analyze any fingerprints found on the will, fingerprint expert Dr. Rutherford who had worked on the Waco cult disaster
was called. He explained how he had taken fingerprints from the hands of the deceased Ms. Grundy.
The defense fingerprint expert claimed the methodology was inconclusive, but Dr. Rutherfords expertise helped destroy
the counter-claim. Then, Rutherfords associate told how prints on the fake will only identified three people two witnesses
to the documents signing, and Dr Shipman.
Det. Sergeant John Ashley ©Cavendish Press/UK
Because there were no prints matching Kathleen Grundys, it was obvious she had never handled the will. This observation
was reinforced when calligraphy analyst Michael Allen described the signatures as crude forgeries.
Computer Analyst Detective Sergeant John Ashley then testified how Shipman had doctored his computer records to create
symptoms his dead patients never had.
Recorded interviews were beyond contest.
In the second week, Shipmans former staff and colleagues were called to bear witness.
District nurse Marion Gilchrist took the oath and immediately burst into tears. Regaining her composure, she told how
Shipman had reacted when he realized he would be arrested any moment.
The doctor had broken down and he said, I read thrillers and on the evidence they have I would have me guilty, But the
nurse said she took it as black humor when he said, The only thing I did wrong was not having her cremated. If I had had
her cremated I wouldnt be having all this trouble.
Another patient, whose statement was read out in court, described Shipmans feelings on the will when he told her, If I
could bring her backI would say look at all the trouble its caused. I was going to say I didnt want the money but because
of all this trouble, I will have it. He had claimed he would use most of the money for philanthropic causes.
The last part of the Grundy case heard evidence from GP Dr. John Grenville.
Analyzing Shipmans medical notes, he spoke of how he would have behaved quite differently under the circumstances.
Whereas Dr. Shipman had quickly pronounced Kathleen Grundy dead, I would examine the body carefully to ensure death had
occurredif I found no pulse at the neck, I would look for a more central point.
Grenville claimed he would have attempted to revive the patient standard medical practice.
By now, onlookers were forming a picture of a very callous, inefficient defendant this impression would only intensify
in the grueling weeks ahead.
By now, the trial had gained a momentum that is characteristic, where evidence follows a set pattern over and over. Although
the Kathleen Grundy case had taken over a week, those to follow would progress more quickly.
What speeded up the trial were emerging characteristics, among them the ambulance-telephone scam. Here, Shipman would
pretend to call emergency services. But when he discovered a patient dead, he would pick up the phone and pretend to cancel
One sad example of this ruse involved a vibrant 77-year-old, Lizzie Adams.
She loved dancing with her dance partner, William Catlow She played Ginger to his Fred. William dropped in to visit Lizzie
the day she died.
When he arrived, he found Shipman examining her impressive collection of porcelains and crystal. In the next room, Lizzie
Catlow told the court, I just burst past himshe felt warm. I said, I can feel her pulse.
Shipman said, No, thats yours. I will cancel the ambulance.
But telephone records proved Shipman never phoned the ambulance service that day.
In another case, that of Nora Nuttall, her son Anthony told how he had left his mother alone for just 20 minutes. He
returned to find Dr. Shipman leaving their house. I asked him what was wrong. He said I have rung an ambulance for her.
I ran in and she looked like she was asleep in the chair. I took her by the hands and shook her, saying, Mum, Mum
Shortly after, Shipman merely touched her neck and told the son, Im sorry, she has gone.
Tales of phone calls the doctor never made continued.
Norah Nuttalls sister went to Shipmans office to examine the dead womans records she wanted details of her sisters death
Annoyed, Shipman addressed his staff: I knew it would happen, I told you it would happen.
Quickly, he fabricated a story of how Norah had called his office to say she was ill. Shipman then claimed hed been paged
and just happened to be nearby. When telephone records proved him wrong, Shipman quickly fabricated a new story.
But he outdid himself with the tale of the missing blood samples. His reason for visiting his last victim, Kathleen Grundy,
was allegedly to collect blood samples for a study on aging. When asked what had happened to them, he initially said they
had gone for analysis.
When the prosecution proved there was no study on aging, he suddenly remembered what happened. He had left the samples
under a pile of notes, and, as they were no longer useful he disposed of them.
With each new revelation his credibility sank
Other witnesses told of Shipmans lack of compassion toward the bereaved.
Jean Lilly, victim ©Cavendish Press/UK
Truck driver Albert Lilley broke down as he recalled the way Shipman announced the death of his wife, 59-year-old Jean
He said, I have been with your wife for quite a while now, trying to persuade her to go to the hospital, but she wont
go. I was going to come home (later) and have a word with you and your wife and I was too late.
I said, What do you mean too late? He said, You are not listening to me carefully. Perhaps Shipman took pleasure in forcing
Lilly to guess his beloved wife had died.
He repeated this tactic with Winnie Mellor, a healthy outgoing 73-year-old who still played football with her grandchildren.
Excited about a planned trip to the Holy Land, she, too, died following a Shipman visit. When he called her daughter Kathleen,
he was deliberately obtuse, forcing her to guess her mother had died:
He said, Did you realize that your mother has been suffering from chest pains and I said No.
Winnie Mellor, victim ©Cavendish Press/UK
He said, She called this morning andI came to see her and she refused treatment. So I says well Ill be up as soon as
I can. He said, No, no theres no need for that. So I said has she gone to hospital?
And he said, Theres no point in sending her to hospital. And I just went silent then, and he didnt say anything neither.
And then I just realized what he was not saying. And I said do you mean my mothers dead? He says, I see you understand.
Shipmans rudeness to a neighbor Gloria Ellis - was consistent with his personality. But Ms. Ellis was to play an important
role in bringing him down.
She had witnessed Shipmans visit to Winnie Mellor just hours before her death. He was to return later, as Detective Chief
Inspector Mike Williams explained:
A neighbor, teatime, gets a knock on the door from Dr. Shipman saying hes come to see Winifred Mellor. He can see her
sat in a chair and he thinks shes dead. They go into the house and again they find Winifred Mellor dead in a chair.
When the neighbor Gloria asked, You were here before, werent you? Shipman did not answer. When she asked Has Gloria had
a stroke? Shipman was irritated and insulted her with: You stupid girl!
Far from stupid, the neighbor knew to the minute the times Shipman had arrived and left. She brought a smile to the court
when she claimed to have been surprised to learn he was a doctor, I thought he was an insurance man.
In an outrageous example of Shipmans heartless behavior, the killer ridiculed dead Ivy Lomas. Of the fifteen deaths Shipman
was charged with, only Ms Lomas occurred in his offices.
Detective Sergeant Philip Reade a constable at the time, told how he had gone to the doctors office to locate Ivys next
of kin. He recalled his bizarre encounter with Shipman:
He was laughing. He said he considered her such a nuisance that he was having part of the seating area permanently reserved
for Ivy with a plaque to the effect seat permanently reserved for Ivy Lomas.
Even worse, Shipman told the officer that as he left the room Ivy could have taken her last breath. And yet, he had made
no effort to resuscitate the woman. Instead, he left her alone while he saw other patients.
Medical expert for the defense, Dr Grenville told the court: This was a medical emergency. I would have given my entire
attention to this particular patient.
But 63-year-old Ivy would have been past resuscitation.
Again, Shipman had murdered with morphine.
It became apparent Shipman had used every device he could think of to avoid scientific scrutiny. As the prosecuting counsel
observed, the poisoner fears pathology, ambulances and hospitals.
Pamela Hillier is just one example of how Shipman deflected detection; by bullying vulnerable people into doing things
his way twice. After Ms. Hillier had died, a paramedic from the ambulance service suggested they call the police. Shipman
vetoed the idea with an abrasive, I dont think there is any need to do that.
But the Hilliers were far from happy with Shipmans diagnosis he had cavalierly suggested, Lets put it down to a stroke.
This made no sense to the family the woman had been extremely strong and active until Shipman made his house call. Small
wonder Pamelas son Keith wanted the cause of his mothers death clearly defined. But when he suggested a postmortem, Shipman
capitalized on the familys vulnerable condition. Mr. Hillier told the jury how the doctor had manipulated him:
He said what an unpleasant thing to happen, what an unpleasant thing to happento put my mum through.
There had been other cases where Shipman intimidated families into having their dead cremated, including that of 77-year-old
Similarly, had it not been for Angela Woodruffs decision to bury her mother, Kathleen Grundy, she too would have been
cremated Shipman had arbitrarily ticked the cremation box on the relevant form.
Throughout the trial, Shipmans Defense mainly Angela Davies, backed by junior counsel Ian Winter valiantly and professionally
attempted to portray Shipman as a kind and caring human being. She painted a rosy portrait of a plain old-fashioned family
doctor one prepared to go the extra mile for his patients.
His prior record of drug misuse, pethidine addiction and forgery went unmentioned. Instead, Ms. Davies focused on his
happy family life with wife Primrose and their four children.
But the defense fought an uphill battle from the start. On the one occasion Ms. Davies appeared to be gaining the upper
hand, she suddenly lost.
She had been questioning the forensic analyst about the validity of tissue testing for drugs:
As a scientist you have been breaking pretty new ground in this analysis?
That is correct, the forensic analyst replied.
Ms. Davis then asked whether finding morphine in tissue samples was proof of single or multiple doses.
I cant say, the scientist replied.
It was easy to see where the defense was heading. If it could be proven that the tissue samples might not have resulted
from a single dose, perhaps the jury could be convinced the high levels of morphine in the bodies resulted from years of use.
It was a desperate long shot. And it failed miserably when Dr Karch Steven, took the stand. An American whose credentials
were as impressive as his evidence, Steven explained a relatively new technique.
He described the test he had performed. It was so new, Britains prestigious medical journal The Lancet had covered it
just a year earlier. It analyzed hair samples for ongoing drug use.
This remarkably accurate test proved conclusively that not one victim was a long-term morphine user. Clearly, any of the
narcotic in murdered womens tissue samples resulted from a single, massive dose.
Finally, the trial turned to evidence revealing Shipmans devious ways of hoarding drugs to kill.
During the trial, Shipman had claimed he never carried morphine, therefore he could not have killed any of his patients.
But the family of Molly Dudley (another victim) disproved this assertion.
Although Shipman was not charged with Mollys death in the original trial, he had admitted to giving her morphine.
Daughter-in-law Joyce Dudley received a call from Shipman telling her, Im afraid your mother-in-law has only got about
half an hour left to live. Molly was dead when by the time her son Jeffrey and his wife arrived. Shipman told them she had
died from a heart attack.
Joyce Dudley stated, And this is when he said to me and Jeff that he gave her a shot of morphine for the pain.
This proved Dr Shipman did carry morphine. Just how he amassed enough of the drug to kill so many would soon be revealed.
Shipman told many outrageous stories but few as ludicrous as his morphine-related tales. He had, he said, prescribed 2000
milligrams of morphine to patient Frank Crompton, who had prostate cancer. Although Mr. Crompton was not in pain, Shipman
said he wanted to have it on hand in case pain developed later.
He said the patient had told him he didnt want to be a drug addict. So he broke them (the ampoules) and put them in the
rubbish. We talked about it again and Mr Crompton agreed to keep them in the house. So, Shipman said, he got him another supply.
Of course, since the patient had died, it was impossible to prove Shipman had confiscated both batches.
In another example, Shipmans staff told how he had confused them regarding drug entries. He explained away some missing
morphine with the excuse he was merely giving it to a colleague who had loaned him some for a prior patient emergency.
But the doctor vastly overrated the gullibility of the court with one ridiculous story: He said a supply of diamorphine
(the medical term for heroin) must have been put through a slot in his office door, because he found it lying on the office
doormat when he arrived at work.
Prosecution counsel Richard Henriques sarcastically dismissed this nonsense, referring to Dr Shipmans magic mat where
restricted drugs could simply materialize overnight.
In most instances, Shipman got his morphine through patients who had never needed it in the first place, or he confiscated
unused supplies from patients who had died. Detective Superintendent Bernard Postles explained:
What he tended to do is overprescribe to individuals who legitimately required diamorphine, certainly in the days just
prior to them dying. What he would do then is go along to the home, offer to dispose of any excess that was left at the house,
and he would take that away.
One man who narrowly escaped being an unwitting supplier is Jim King. In 1996 he was incorrectly diagnosed as having
cancer. Shipman treated him with masive doses of morphine. Jim King told how he kept saying to us well you can take as much
morphine as you wish because of course it didnt really matter, I was dying anyway.
When Jims condition worsened, Shipman made a house call He diagnosed pneumonia and said he needed to give an injection.
Jim looked at his wife who seemed wary. Perhaps her unease was prompted because both Kings aunt and father had died following
She remembers how the doctor asked me if I wanted him to give him an injection and I said no. I said can we write out
a prescription for him. He kept being a little bit persistent about it and I kept telling him no, no, I dont want it. He
was a bit arrogant about it, a kind of snotty attitude towards me, a little bit
So, King probably cheated death and the doctor out of more morphine.
The Kings learned later that Shipman had killed their relatives.
It took the judge Mr. Justice Forbes two weeks to meticulously dissect the evidence heard by the jury. He urged caution,
noting that no witness had actually seen Shipman kill. And he also urged the jurors to use common sense in arriving at their
In summing up, he said, in part:
The allegations could not be more serious a doctor accused of murdering 15 patients You will have heard evidence which
may have aroused feelings of anger, strong disapproval, disgust, profound dismay or deep sympathy.
At 4:43 pm on Monday January 31st 2000, the foreman declared all the jurys verdicts were unanimous: they found Shipman
guilty on 15 counts of murder and one of forgery.
The disgraced doctor stood motionless and betrayed no sign of emotion as he heard the jurors verdicts read.
Wearing black, Shipmans wife Primrose also remained impassive. Her boys one beside her and the other seated behind
looked down and seemed to diminish on hearing the results.
In the public gallery, some gasped as Shipmans previous forgeries were described.
Defense counsel, Nicola Davies, asked that sentence be passed immediately.
Mr. Justice Forbes obliged, addressing Shipman:
You have finally been brought to justice by the verdict of this jury. I have no doubt whatsoever that these are true
verdicts. The time has now come for me to pass sentence upon you for these wicked, wicked crimes.
Each of your victims was your patient. You murdered each and every one of your victims by a calculated and cold-blooded
perversion of your medical skills, for your own evil and wicked purposes.
You took advantage of, and grossly abused their trust. You were, after all, each victims doctor. I have little doubt
that each of your victims smiled and thanked you as she submitted to your deadly ministrations.
The judge passed fifteen life sentences for the murders and a four-year sentence for forgery.
Then he broke with the tradition that usually involves writing to the Home Secretary about his recommendations on length
of the sentence:
In the ordinary way, I would not do this in open court, but in your case I am satisfied justice demands that I make my
views known at the conclusion of this trial My recommendation will be that you spend the remainder of your days in prison.
Fifteen murders had been dealt with and the fifty-seven day trial was over.
But the extent of the killing was yet to be revealed.
British police are so convinced that Shipmans killing spree started long ago that a special helpline has been set up for
those concerned about how friends and relatives died while under the killers care.
The Baker report, noted earlier, is filled with chilling statistics.
When he compared Shipmans patient list with those of doctors with similar lists, Professor Baker concluded that Shipman
had 236 more in-home patient deaths than would normally be expected. Most of these deaths involved women over 75.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Liam Donaldson stated: The questions raised in the report will be distressing reading
to the patients and relatives who were under Shipmans care over the years, but it is important for their sake that this work
has been done and is publishedthere must be serious concerns about deaths of some patients during Harold Shipmans entire career
as a GP.
High Court judge Dame Janet Smith heads a proposed inquiry expected to start in March 2001 and last over two years.
Initially, the government said the inquiry would be held behind closed doors, but in September 2000, concerned relatives
won their battle to have it held in public.
The reason Harold Shipman killed may never be known. As long as he professes his innocence, the mystery will remain,
for this serial killer is unique.
There were no signs of violence, no sexual overtones, no known motive except for the one exception and no smoking gun.
Also, serial killers often like to toy with their victims, to reinforce their self-portrait of power, before they strike.
But Shipmans victims seem to have died peacefully, and in surroundings where they felt safe and comfortable at home.
Endless, contradictory theories abound.
Some psychoanalysts speculate he hated older women, citing comments he made about the elderly being a drain on the health
Others feel he was re-creating his mothers death scene, in order to satisfy some deep masochistic need. His belief in
his own superiority makes this questionable.
That fact that he left so many indelible clues indicates, some say, that Shipman desperately wanted to be discovered and
stopped; that he was fighting a compulsion he simply could not control.
But the consensus seems to be that he felt he was so superior he could do whatever he wanted with no fear of discovery.
Even this seems hard to comprehend he had already been caught red-handed forging prescriptions and stockpiling drugs when
he was hooked on pethedine.
Perhaps prosecutor Richard Henriques got it right when he said:
He was exercising the ultimate power of controlling life and death, and repeated the act so often he must have found
the drama of taking life to his taste.
July 24, 2002
Until last week, Britains worst serial killer was Victorian serial poisoner, Mary Ann Cotton, who murdered an estimated
21 people in the 1870s. Now that dubious distinction is claimed by Dr. Harold Shipman.
Officially, Dr. Harold Shipman murdered at least 215 of his patients 171 women and 44 men ranging in age from 41 to 93.
After a year-long public inquiry, the 2,000-page report into his 23-year murder spree was released by High Court Judge Dame
Janet Smith. The records of nearly 500 patients of Shipmans who died while in his care between 1978 and 1998 were scrutinized
in the investigation.
Another investigation, conducted by University of Leicester professor Richard Baker determined that the real minimum number
of Shipman victims was 236. Associated Press reported that Judge Janet Smith said the full toll may be higher, citing a real
suspicion that Shipman had killed 45 more people for whom there was insufficient evidence to be certain. In another 38 cases,
there was too little information to form any opinion on the cause of death.
Despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, the 56-year-old former physician maintains his innocence, continuing to shroud
the motives for his extraordinary crimes. The official report speculated that the doctor was addicted to killing much like
he was addicted to painkillers around the time the murders started. Like other death angels such as Dr. Michael Swango, the
American doctor who killed patients in both Africa and the U.S., there was no hint of a sexual interest in his victims. Rather,
as South Manchester coroner John Pollard speculated, Shipman simply enjoyed viewing the process of dying and enjoyed feeling
the control over life and death.
A fatal fascination with death, dying and drugs is consistent with the behavior of the 17-year-old Shipman who spent hours
comforting Vera, his cancer-stricken dying mother. In the young mans mind, there was a powerful emotional connection between
the visit of the family doctor and the relief that his injections of morphine brought to her suffering. Is it just a coincidence
that he began abusing painkillers himself and shortly after he began practicing medicine, he used a lethal injection of pain
medication to murder his first victim?
Judge Smith found Shipmans non-violent killing almost incredible. The way in which Shipman could kill, face the relatives
and walk away unsuspected would be dismissed as fanciful if described in a work of fiction. Even more incredible was that
his murders of so many people did not arouse suspicion for decades, even though there were supposedly safeguards in place
at that time.
Clearly new safeguards are needed and a number of them are now in the works in Britain. For example, after he murdered
a victim, Dr. Shipman would often arrange for the body to be cremated if the family did not object, thereby destroying evidence
of his crime. Judge Smith points out that new pre-cremation procedures are needed to prevent future abuse. Also, the system
failed tragically when Shipman, after being convicted of drug abuse in 1975, was allowed to obtain enormous quantities of
painkilling drugs. For example, in the name of a dying patient, Dr. Shipman obtained enough of the painkiller diamorphine
to kill 360 people.
Is Shipman a one-off monster as some have suggested? There is growing evidence that he is not as rare as one hopes him
to be. Disguised in the aura of respectability that normally surrounds medical professionals, a number of monsters like Shipman
have gradually been masked, but only after numerous deaths have taken place. These angels of death are not only doctors, but
nurses, therapists, hospital workers and proprietors of care facilities for the sick and the elderly. Dr. Michael Swango
killed his patients because it gave him a thrill and a feeling of power; Beverley Allitt and Genene Jones, pediatric nurses,
killed their young patients to get more attention for themselves; Dr. Marcel Petiot and Dr. H.H. Holmes killed for money;
Dr. Josef Mengele killed for political beliefs, and so on. The medical profession clearly needs more oversight if the world
is to rid itself of this problem.