Hyde, Great Britain, a town with 35.000 inhabitants in the shadow of Manchester. This is the center of evil, the place where Dr. Harold Shipman killed at least 300 people of old age - mostly women, a single man - with a lethal injection of diamorphine. That makes him probably the greatest serial killer of modern times.
The horrible extent of the facts came to light on January 5th 2001. Professor Richard Baker of the university of Leicester, announced the results of the investigation of Shipman. Dr. Death had been convicted in February 2000 for the murder of 15 patients. There already were suppositions that the list of victims would be much longer. Baker came to shocking figures. In the past 24 years, 297 more people died in Shipman’s practice than in other, comparable practices in the environment. Striking was that most patients died at home, between one and five pm, and that they hadn’t been sick for a long time before they died.
Kathleen Grundy can probably be considered as Shipman’s last victim. Briefly after her death, in June 1998, the investigation started. It was not her sudden death that lead to it, but more was it Grundy’s will, which said she left all her possessions to Shipman, which was suspicious. Some say that Shipman was willing to get caught at that time. He wasn’t driven by money; he had never messed with wills before. That time, he suddenly did, and with Grundy, who was an advocate’s daughter. An intelligent and vicious man like Shipman would never make such a mistake, so maybe he finally wanted recognition for his deeds. He wanted the world to find out. When he was arrested, he also didn’t try to hide his face; he wanted to get famous.
The people of Hyde thought it was all a bit strange, but still they didn’t suspect Shipman. Why should they? He was a doctor, someone people could trust. They believed he wasn’t a man of small talk and jokes, but that he was reliable and quickly made the right diagnosis. When the investigation started and the rumors spread out, there was no one in Hyde who believed it. They didn’t get how anyone could suspect Shipman of murder. He was a good, reliable doctor, someone who saved lives instead of killing women. The wall of his practice was draped with hundreds of expressions of support.
But slowly, the doubts started to rise in Hyde. More and more people had lost their wife or daughter while being treated by Shipman. They started to talk about a different Shipman. When he confirmed decease, he was often cool and short. Sometimes, he even seemed to play games with the relatives. There ‘s the story of the women who got a phone call from Shipman, with the bad news that her mother suddenly died. She drove head over heels to her mother’ s house. Her mom was peacefully drinking a cup of tea. Angry she called Shipman, but he coolly said that he was mistaken; it was her mother-in-law who had died. Harold Shipman, a reliable family doctor, a sadist, a psychopath. Who’s that man who will be considered as one of the greatest serial killers of modern times? Who’s that man who decided over the life and death of his patients as a god?
He was born on January 14th 1946 in Nottingham and he studied medicine at the university of Leeds. In 1974, he becomes a doctor in Todmorden, a small town thirty kilometers away from Hyde, in the hills of Yorkshire. Probably this is where he starts his murderous practice. It’s certain that he gets addicted to morphine here.
In 1976, he’s convicted for illegally getting morphine and he’s suspended as a doctor. He becomes a medical liaison officer and he can’t see any patients anymore, but one year later, he can perform his activities as a doctor again, and he joins the Donnybrook medical practice in Hyde. He stays there until 1992. After that, he opens his one-man practice in Market Street, the main street in Hyde, probably with the intention to go his own way even more undisturbed. And he succeeds doing that, until he’s arrested in the summer of 1998. In January 2000, he’s convicted to 15 life sentences for murdering 15 of his patients.
He’s been in solitary confinement in the Frankland prison, near Durham, since. His wife, Primrose, and his four children often visit him. According to some fellow-prisoners, Primrose adores her husband and neither of them show any regret. Primrose has been working in the medical practice for a while, and probably knows more about other victims. She refuses any cooperation with the police. Shipman also refused to cooperate with the investigation. He treated questioners with contempt, and a videotape on which he could inform about other victims, remained empty. During the examinations, he only collapsed once. When he was confronted with the irrefutable proof that he had been messing with computer files, he fell down on his knees and broke to tears. It was no sign of regret, but of frustration: he had lost control.
The question why Shipman turned into a monstrous serial killer remains. Psychiatrists who examined him, point out his narcism; the fact that he enjoyed having control over his patient’s lives. That gave him a sort of sexual delight. But why did he kill only older women? One explanation can be found in his youth. When Shipman was 17, his mother died of cancer, when she was only 40 years old. The women he killed, were all of old age, but still very dynamic. It seems that they reminded him of his mother, and he couldn’t bear the fact that they were still alive and healthy.
Even more significant is the question how it has been possible that Shipman could go on with his actions. He had the reputation of being a fine, reliable doctor, but still, maybe he could’ve been caught earlier, because more than a year before Kathleen Grundy’s will started the investigation, the undertaker’s daughter began to ask questions about the big amount of death certificates Shipman delivered. After every death, he made the authorities believe some acceptable death cause. Shipman wrote in the medical file of Kathleen Grundy that she was addicted to tranquillizers. Maureen Ward, 57, died in February ‘98 of a ‘brain tumor’. Pamela Hillier was another one of his victims, who was 68 years old. In her case, Shipman even changed the cause of death ten times in two hours. If he didn’t have a lot of inspiration at the time, he let the files disappear. In reality, all of his victims died of an overdose of morphine or heroin.
If there’s ever going to be another trial to adjudicate Shipman, is highly uncertain. The police call off a further trial because they worry about the fact that Shipman can’t count on a fair procedure after his earlier conviction. Hyde has been traumatized, however, the town has experience with evil. In the sixties, Hyde was the hometown of the Moors Murderers, still the most hated murderers of England. Ian and Myra Hindley moved from Manchester to Hyde, but they turned out to be child murderers. They took children for a pick nick in the hills; they killed them and buried their bodies in the moors. Since then, Hyde has been synonymous for the most horrible crimes one can commit.