Harold Shipman: A Doctor Who Became Serial Killer

Harold Shipman: A Doctor Who Became Serial Killer_ Forensic Yard (9)

“I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm. If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter? May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.” – These are the words from the oath taken by every medical practitioner in the world.

What do we feel, when we think about the occupation of a doctor? I surge with pride, considering how they save millions of lives worldwide! How they keep their priorities and families aside and struggle so hard to keep a person alive for at least one day! How they console wholeheartedly those who have lost their dear ones!

A doctor- the savior of lives is a word that is supposed to bring happiness to millions of patients. But what about doctors who take away the lives of the people? Hospital scams, organ chain rackets, corpse rackets for research, and the list goes on.

Recently the media and the public are discussing various scams by the hospitals that took away millions of lives. When people faced the first-ever worldwide lockdown after being attacked by the SARS-Cov-2 virus, perhaps hospitals were the only crowded and demandable place across the world which wasn’t shut down.

Even during the pandemic, there were criminals arrested who were doctors in search of money. Yes! Money!

A very similar example of Harold Shipman comes into my mind who could have been the world’s finest doctor instead turned into a serial killer due to the need for money too. Scam in the medical field is not a new scenario. It has existed for ages.

Harold Shipman’s Early Life and Love for Medicine

Harold Frederick Shipman was born on January 14, 1946, in Nottingham, England. A normal child born to a regular working-class family; he was close with his very domineering mother. He was her favorite child too among the three of them.

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Shipman possessed all the domineering traits his mother had, as a result of which he soon lost friends. He was a bright child, good at academics and sports since his school days. One fine day he was informed that his mother suffered from lung cancer and she was not left with much time.

He watched his mother receive Morphine injections which eased her pain during death. This made Shipman turn his interest towards the medical field. In 1970, he received his medical degree from Leeds University. A few years later he started to work as a general practitioner at Todmorden, in Lancashire.

Modus Operandi and Motive of Dr. Harold Shipman

 Shipman’s motive to kill his patients is unknown to date. He did not admit of having any motive either once he was caught. However certain psychologists and a few investigative media had speculations about what the motive could have been.

The first speculation was that he was seeking to avenge the death of his mother. Second, being, he was removing older people from the world to reduce the burden on the healthcare system, more like Euthanasia. And the third was the usual psychologically affected serial killers’ motive of deriving pleasure from the position he was put in, where he had complete control over every human’s life and death.

If there ever existed a motive, it could be the third one considering his domineering trait.

Diamorphine is a narcotic analgesic, which is used for the treatment of severe pain. It is more than a painkiller and can produce diverse effects in the human body relating to pleasure, exhilaration, euphoria, and a sense of detachment.

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The crude preparation of Diamorphine is Heroin which is sold in powder to patches. Diamorphine is obtained through acetylation of Morphine, extracted from dried latex of Papaver Somniferum. The lethal dose of Diamorphine is 200mg generally, depending upon the tolerance level it can change.

The principal psychoactive component of this is Diacetylmorphine. Being a doctor, this was used by Shipman as the murder tool. He used to administer the lethal dose of Diamorphine via injection to his patients. Once they died of Morphine overdose, he would make a fake death certificate signing for the natural cause of death.

Crime Career of Harold Shipman

In 1975, while he was working as a general practitioner in Todmorden. He was forced out of practice due to a fraudulent prescription by him for the Opiate Pethidine to which he was addicted. Later Shipman was turned into a drug rehabilitation center.

Further on, while practicing in a regular hospital, a local undertaker at the hospital noticed that Shipman’s patients were dying at a high rate. Due to this he initially doubted him. Most of the patients who died were also seated in a similar position, like fully clothed and sitting upon a reclining on a settee.

When he pointed this out to Shipman, he twisted it around and made his excuses. However, Dr. Susan Booth, Shipman’s colleague, had a very strong suspicion about his actions and requested police for an inquiry.

Due to the lack of any criminal record in the past and with no evidence against him, Shipman cleared it all. The police did not check with the General Medical Council either, who had pretty good evidence against him.

In 1998, 81-year-old Kathleen Grundes, a patient of Shipman, was found dead at her house a few minutes after he visited her. Even though Shipman stated it as due to general health conditions, the victim’s daughter Mrs. Woodruff was suspicious, especially after finding out about an alternate will of her mother which was written in the name of Shipman.

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She was a lawyer and did an investigation in her way with the help of a Questioned Document expert. She found out that the will was forged, because of a difference in the time details recorded by Shipman’s computer on the will as it was not manually entered but instead automatically updated by the system.

Woodruff informed the police and they exhumated her mother’s corpse and conducted a Post-mortem. It was found that Mrs. Grundy died due to an overdose of Diamorphine. Police raided Shipman’s house to find a couple more forged medical records confirming various deaths as an act of Shipman.

Trial and Conviction

Shipman’s trial commenced in Preston Crown Court on October 5, 1999. He was given sixteen charges. It was asserted that he had killed 15 of his patients and was non-recorded. Mrs. Woodruff appeared as the first witness.

Forensic Pathologists led the court through the horrific post mortem findings and Fingerprint experts uncovered Shipman’s fingerprints all over the forged documents. As the trial progressed onto other victims and the accounts of their relatives, the pattern of Shipman’s behavior became much clearer.

A lack of compassion, disregard for the wishes of attending relatives, and reluctance to attempt to revive patients were bad enough, but another fraud also came to light: he would pretend to call the emergency services in the presence of relatives, then cancel the call out when the patient was discovered to be dead.

Further, the false drug prescription case was also discussed and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. On January 13, 2004, Shipman was found hanging in his cell at Wakefield. He killed himself using his bedsheets to hang at the windows.

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