Raising the Dead
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.
Interred 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 history's 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 Colombia.
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.
A Killer's ChildhoodBorn 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 mother's 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 school.
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.
Watching Vera DieMuch has been made of the way young Harold Shipman dealt with his mother's 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 his company.
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, Vera's sole relief from the agony of cancer came with the family physician.
No doubt young Harold watched in fascination as his mother's 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.
Vera's 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-old's 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.
Invisible StudentTwo 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, he'd had to re-write the exams he'd 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 he'd been a good athlete, so you'd have thought he'd 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 don't 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 Fred's. � 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 months pregnant.
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 didn't 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.
Addiction and AttitudeHard working, and enthusiastic, Shipman fitted well into the social matrix.
His senior partners saw him as a Godsend.� One, Dr. Michael Grieve, appreciated Fred's 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 druggist's controlled narcotics ledger. The records showed how Shipman had been prescribing large and frequent amounts of pethidine in the names of several patients.
Moreover, he'd 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, pethidine's non-addictive reputation is still hotly debated.�
Following the discovery of Shipman's 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 they'd never received the pethidine, and in fact the pethidine had found its way into Fred's very own veins."
Shipman's 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, "You'll 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. Shipman's 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.
Back in BusinessToday, 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 me."
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.