January 13, 2004
Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England
Harold Shipman hangs himself in prison
Shipman graduated medical school in 1970. In 1975, Shipman was fired from his practice after he forged pain medication prescriptions for his patients. Though he was fired, Shipman did not lose his license and was instead given a fine.
By the late 1990s undertakers and Shipman’s colleagues noticed the mortality rate of his patients was much higher than average — around ten times higher. Police were notified and a superficial investigation was launched. The medical examiner was asked if there had been any discrepancies between Shipman’s patients’ deaths and the illnesses listed in their medical records. Neither the police nor the medical examiner knew of Shipman’s past crime of forging prescriptions and assumed the information he added was not fraudulent. Shipman was cleared.
On June 24, 1998, 81-year-old Kathleen Grundy died suddenly. Her death confused her family as she appeared vibrant in her final days. Her family was further alarmed by the facts that Grundy had changed the beneficiary of her £400,000 estate to Shipman and Shipman had insisted no autopsy was needed. While Shipman has marked “cremation” on Grundy’s paperwork, her family had buried her instead, and her body was exhumed on August 1.
Grundy’s body contained traces of diamorphine (pharmaceutical heroin), a medication to help terminal patients manage their pain. An examination of Shipman’s computerized documents on Grundy revealed he had added information regarding diamorphine, though the entries were added after Grundy’s death. Shipman was arrested on September 7, 1998 and eleven more patients who had died in his care were exhumed. They were also found to have traces of diamorphine.
Shipman is suspected to have killed between 215 and 260 victims, and is often described as “Britain’s most prolific serial killer.” While most were elderly women, approximately 60 of his suspected victims were men. Additionally, some victims were not well advanced in age, the youngest being 41.
In 2000, Shipman was convicted of 15 murders and given 15 life sentences. He hanged himself in his jail cell on January 13, 2004.
The motive behind the killings is unknown, though it is speculated he was either euthanizing patients he decided were a financial burden on society, or he enjoyed “playing God” with his patients lives. It seems the latter, more malicious reason may have been more accurate as Shipman often stole items from the homes of his victims, often seen as trophies. As he the recipient of only one patient’s will, financial gain seems an unlikely motive.
Jenkins, John Philip. “Harold Shipman.” Britannica. Updated: January 10, 2020. Accessed: January 13, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Harold-Shipman
Queiro, Alicia. “Shipman effect: How a serial killer changed medical practice forever.” BBC. December 1, 2014. Accessed: January 13, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-30192721 (image source)
Batty, David. “Q&A: Harold Shipman.” The Guardian. August 25, 2005. Accessed: January 13, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2005/aug/25/health.shipman
Bunyan, Nigel. “Why did Harold Shipman kill more than 250 of his patients?” The Telegraph. June 16, 2001. Updated: April 26, 2018. Accessed: January 13, 2020. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/26/did-harold-shipman-kill-250-patients/