On January 31, 2000, British doctor Harold Shipman was jailed for life for murdering 15 of his patients, making him the UK’s deadliest convicted serial killer in history.
Additionally, Shipman is suspected of killing more than 200 other patients, most of whom were women. He was also found guilty of forging the will of one of his patients, which contributed to his undoing.
In sentencing Shipman to life imprisonment the judge, Justice Thayne Forbes, said:
“Each victim was your patient. You murdered each and every one by a calculated and cold-blooded perversion of his medical skills. You brought them death, disguised by the attentiveness of a good doctor.”
All of Shipman’s victims died suddenly after a home visit from Shipman, whose preferred method of murder was slipping the women a lethal dose of morphine. Earlier in his career, an undertaker and another medical doctor both raised an alarm that something may be unusual about the patients who died while in Shipman’s care. Not only did a high number of his patients expire, but most of them were found dead sitting up or reclining on couches, and were fully clothed. This was enough for the police and the courts to investigate Shipman, but the inquiry failed to uncover anything suspicious, and Shipman was cleared.
Angela Woodruff, the daughter of Shipman’s last victim Kathleen Grundy, became suspicious about the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death after Shipman gave his victim a lethal dose of morphine, then forged her signature in order to profit from her estate.
The will excluded Woodruff and her children, but left £386,000 to Shipman. Grundy’s body was exhumed, and when examined was found to contain traces of diamorphine, a drug that is used to control pain in terminal cancer patients.
Shipman was arrested on September 7, 1998, and investigators discovered that his typewriter matched the type used in the forged will.
Shipman’s family — his wife, Primrose; and sons, Christopher and David — were in court for the verdict.
Attorneys for Shipman said the case against the doctor was based solely on unreliable and unsafe toxicological evidence gathered from the exhumed bodies of nine of his victims.
Investigators later launched a two-year probe into the circumstances surrounding all deaths certified by Shipman. They identified 218 victims and estimated his total victim count at 250, about 80 percent of whom were women.
Much of Britain’s legal structure concerning medicine was reviewed and modified as a result of Shipman’s crimes. He is the only British physician to have been found guilty of murdering his patients, although other doctors have been acquitted of similar crimes or convicted on lesser charges.
Shipman died on January 13, 2004, the day before his 58th birthday, after hanging himself with his bedsheets in his cell at Wakefield Prison.
Main photo: Harold Shipman [Wikimedia Commons]