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Harold Shipman

An English general practitioner turned serial killer, this fact would be difficult for many to digest but that was what Harold Frederick Shipman turned out to be after the investigations concluded. Considered as one of the most prolific and horrific murderers in history this monster of a man was finally found guilty by a jury on January 31, 2000 for only fifteen murders, all victims were patients under his care.

He was sentenced to life in prison with no parole and a recommendation that he be held until his death without any chance of release. That is what exactly happened when he died on January 13, 2004, by hanging himself at in his prison cell at Wakefield Prison. The investigation revealed some gory happenings and it was estimated that he had not committed just the fifteen murders for which he was convicted but his murder tally was an astounding 218 victims.

There were many others who were not accounted for and his final tally could be around 250 murders and not less. The two year extensive investigation led by a very dedicated team uncovered a string of murders that Harold Shipman had committed where his victims were mostly elderly women. The team concluded from the evidence uncovered that around 80% of his victims were women.

Dr Harold Shipman's surgery in Hyde. Pictured in October 1999
Dr Harold Shipman's surgery in Hyde. Pictured in October 1999

His youngest victim as per the investigations was a 41 year old man but there were suspicions that he would have committed murders of even children as young as four but the investigators had no hard proof but had a few indications and the rest were speculation only. Hence their reluctance to charge and prosecute him for those murders as they had no concrete evidence and if they had done so he could have walked a free man even with the other murders.

They stuck to only the fifteen murders where they had irrefutable evidence and based on those they were able to get a conviction. The audacity of his actions was that it was he who signed the death certificates of all his victims hence there was little chance that the gruesome murders would ever be revealed.

He is the only doctor in British medical history to have been a serial killer and murdered patients under his care though there have been incidents before but no doctor has been charged and convicted for murder other than for lesser offenses. Since the Shipman murders the British Health Care system has been revamped to ensure that such a thing does not repeat itself again. It was the system that Harold Shipman played around with and with a criminal mind to boot he went scot free till he had killed around 250 human beings who were depending on him to cure them of their illnesses.

Early life of an unbelievable serial killer

Harold Frederick Shipman was born on January 14, 1946 in the Bestwood Council estate in Nottingham, England. His father Harold Frederick Shipman (May 12, 1914-January 5, 1985) was a lorry driver and mother Vera Brittan (December 23, 1919 – June 12, 1963) had four children of whom Harold was the second. His parents were devout Methodists and were from the working class and generally had no issues with anyone with whom they interacted.

Harold himself had a fairly decent upbringing and was an accomplished Rugby player who excelled at the sport. He was an above average student and also excelled in school as an accomplished distance runner and was his schools Vice Captain for athletics. He had a decent upbringing and there was nothing from his past, unlike in all the other serial killers which would pick him as a possible criminal, especially a serial killer.

A moment in life

Investigators later concluded that his mother who died of cancer when Harold was just seventeen could have had a profound impact on him to become what he finally turned into. He watched his mother’s suffering from cancer and the doctor who attended on her administering morphine to relieve the excruciating pain that she was experiencing.

His mother’s suffering and her death was ingrained into Harold’s subconscious mind and later it transpired at the investigations that he used this as the modus operandi to embark on an unprecedented killing spree. He would have considered that what he was doing was relieving his elderly patients from the suffering that they underwent. Whether his patients requested him to euthanize them we would not know but the fact remains that he was responsible for nearly 250 deaths where he acted as God and sent patients under his care to eternity.

Suspicion and conviction

Harold had a brush with the authorities when he was detected forging prescriptions and administering the drug pethidine (Demerol) on himself and was subsequently sent for drug rehabilitation. Harold later practiced as a General Practitioner and was a respected member of his community in Hyde. He was interviewed on Granada Television where he discussed how the mentally ill in every community should be treated.

Police exhume a body of one of Harold Shipman's victims in HydePolice exhume a body of one of Harold Shipman's victims in Hyde

In March 1998 instigated by Deborah Massey of the Frank Massey and Sons funeral parlor a concerned citizen Linda Reynolds sounded off the coroner John Pollard for the South Manchester District about the high incidence of patient’s deaths under the care of Harold Shipman. The reason for concern was that most of the victims were cremated hence leaving no trace of what really transpired. A Police investigation was initiated but no evidence of foul play was detected, for one thing the victims had been cremated and the other all documentation was in perfect order.

Later when Harold Shipman inquiry was conducted it concluded that the Police officers who were initially entrusted with the inquiry were not experienced to conduct such a complex murder case which rocked the pillars of the British medical fraternity.

The Shipman inquiry too had little to go on but through painstakingly investigating every case they were able to bring the fifteen murder charges to stand in court and get a conviction. They had to shelve the rest of the estimated 235 suspected murders as they could not find the evidence.