Born in England in 1946, serial Killer Harold Shipman attended Leeds School of Medicine and began working as a physician in 1970. Between then and his arrest in 1998, he killed at least 215 (possibly as many as 260) of his patients, by injecting them with lethal doses of painkillers.
Harold was born the middle child into a working class family in 1946, and the favourite child of his domineering mother, Vera. She instilled in him an early sense of superiority that tainted most of his later relationships, leaving him an isolated adolescent with few friends. When his mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he willingly oversaw her care as she declined, fascinated by the positive effect that morphine had on her suffering until she died in June 1963. Devastated by her death, he was determined to go to Medical School and he was admitted to Leeds University Medical for training two years later, having failed his entrance exams first time. Still a loner, he met his future wife, Primrose, at the age of 19, and they married when she was 17 and pregnant with their first child.
By 1974, he was a father of two and had joined a medical practice in Todmorden, Yorkshire, where he initially thrived as a family practitioner, before allegedly becoming addicted to the painkiller Pethidine. He forged himself prescriptions for large amounts of the drug, and he was forced to leave the practice when caught by colleagues in 1975 – at which time he entered into a drug rehab program. He received a small fine and a conviction for forgery.
A few years later, Shipman was accepted onto the staff at Donneybrook Medical Centre in Hyde, where he established himself as a hardworking doctor who enjoyed the trust of his patients and colleagues, although he had a reputations for arrogance against junior staff. He remained on staff there for almost 20 years, and his behaviour incurred only minor interest from other healthcare professionals.
The local undertaker noticed noticed that his patients seemed to be dying at an unusually high rate, and exhibited similar poses in death; most were fully clothed, and usually sitting up or reclining on a settee. He was concerned enough to approach Shipman about it directly, who reassured him that there was nothing to be concerned about. Later, another medical colleague also found the similarity disturbing, and so the police were contacted. An investigation followed, but he was cleared, as it appeared his records were in order. Later, a more thorough investigation revealed that Shipman altered the medical records of his patients to collaborate with causes of death.
It is impossible to establish exactly when Shipman began killing his patients, as he hid behind his status of being a caring, family doctor. His killing spree was only brought to an end thanks to the determination of Angela Woodruff, the daughter of one of his victims, who refused to accept the explanations given for her mother’s death. Kathleen Grundy, an active 81 year old was found dead in her home in 1998, following an earlier visit from Shipman. Woodruff was advised by Shipman that an autopsy wasn’t required, and Kathleen was buried. Woodruff was a lawyer, and had always handled her mother’s affairs, so it was some surprise when she discovered that another will existed, leaving the bulk of her mother’s estate to Dr.Shipman. Woodruff was convinced that this document was a forgery and that Shipman had murdered her mother. She alerted the local police and Superintendent Bernand Postles quickly came to the same conclusion on examination of evidence. Kathleen’s body was exhumed, and it was revealed that she died of a morphine overdose, administered within three hour of her death, precisely in the timeframe of when Dr Shipman had visited her. Shipman’s home was raided, yielding medical records, an odd collection of jewellery and an old typewriter which proved to be the instrument in which the forged will had been produced.
It was immediately apparent to the police that the case would extend further than a single death, and priority was given to those deaths it would be most productive to investigate. Shipman had urged many families to cremate their relatives, stressing that no further investigation was needed, even in instances where their relatives had died of causes previously unknown. In situation where questions were raised, Shipman would provide computerised medical noted that collaborated his cause of death pronouncements.
Police later established that shipman would in most cases, alter medical notes directly after killing the patient, to ensure that his account matched the historical records; what Shipman failed to grasp was that when he altered the records on the computer, it left a stamp so the police could ascertain exactly what has been altered.
Following extensive investigations, which included numerous exhumations and autopsies, the police charged Shipman with 15 individual counts of murder on September 7, 1998, as well as one count of forgery.
Shipman’s trail commenced in Preston Crown Court on October 5th, 1999. The prosecution asserted that Shipman had killed the 15 patients because he enjoyed exercising control over life and death, and dismissed any claims that he had been acting compassionately, as none of his victims were suffering from terminal illness. Angela Woodruff, a Government Pathologist, finger print analysis of the forged will and a police computer analyst all testified against Shipman. Evidence of his drug hoarding was also introduced, with false prescribing to patients who didn’t require morphine and over-prescribing to others who did. The jury unanimously found Shipman guilty of all charges; 15 counts of murder and one of forgery, which the judge commuted to a “whole life” sentence, removing the possibility of parole.
Although Shipman was only convicted of 15 murders, a commission examined the records of 500 patients who died whilst in Shipman’s care, and they found it was likely he killed at least 218 of his patients. The commission further speculated that he might have been “addicted to killing” and was critical of police investigation procedures, claiming that the lack of experience of the investigating officers resulted in missed opportunities to bring Shipman to justice earlier. It has been speculated that his first victim was in months of obtained his license to practice medicine who died in March 1971 whilst recovering from a stroke.
Whatever the exact number, the sheer scale of his murderous activities meant that Shipman was catapulted from British patient killer to the most prolific serial killer known in the world. He remained at Durham Prison throughout these investigations, maintaining his innocence. He was moved to Wakefield Prison in June 2003. On June 13, 2004, Shipman was discovered at 6am hanging in his prison cell at Wakefield, having used bed sheets tied to the window bars of his cell.
The whereabouts of his remains remain a mystery to this day.
There was very little left of the building, and the inside was completely gutted. That being said, there was a creepy air about the surgery; certainly not an explore I’d like to go on during the night. Apologies for the picture quality, my camera battery died so I was stuck using my iPhone!
I believe the site was due to be demolished around 2 weeks after we attended, but I’m unsure if it was as I’m not from the area. Maybe someone can shed some light?