True Crime Vol. XXXII: “Dr.Death” Harold Shipman

By: Kendall Zuniga

A doctor’s job is to help people in times of need and vulnerability, but that wasn’t the case with Harold Shipman also known as “Dr. Death ”. Between the years 1975 and 1998 Shipman is alleged to have killed over 250 people but was only convicted of 15 murders. 

Harold Shipman was born in Nottingham, England in 1946 and was known to be a promising young student and excelled in sports, rugby in particular. This all changed when at the age of 17 Shipman’s mother, Vera, was diagnosed with lung cancer. As Vera lay in her hospital bed, Shipman would closely observe how the doctor soothed his mothers pain by the use of administering morphine to her. It was later speculated that this would be the moment that inspires the sick and twisted mind of “Dr. Death ” to start his spree of killing. 

Shipman went on to study medicine at the Leeds University Medical School and graduated in the year 1970 as a junior doctor but quickly became a general practitioner at a medical center in West Yorkshire, England. Six years later he was found guilty of forging prescriptions for Demerol, an opioid used to treat severe pain, he was fined, fired from his job and was required to attend a rehabilitation clinic in York, England.

March of 1975 would be the year Harold Shipman took the life of his patient, 70-year old Eva Lyons the day before her 71st birthday, injecting a lethal dosage of Diamorphine into her bloodstream and killing her. Though Shipman was fired from his previous job that same year, he was not removed from the General Medical Council but yet instead received a warning letter. It is rumored that Shipman had killed 71 patients at his former practice and the remainder while operating his one man practice. Of his victims, 171 were female and only 44 were male.

In 1998, Harold Shipman’s killing spree would come to an end, at least that’s what you’re thinking now. When undertakers in his community became suspicious of the number of his patients who were dying, finding that his death rates were about 10x higher than the death rates of their own patients, a police investigation was ordered to be carried out but failed due to the the most basic of checks. Police hadn’t looked at shipman’s criminal records, resulting in “Dr. Death” to continue his spree of murders until later that year in 1998.

In August of 1998, Shipman’s crimes had been discovered after he made the mistake of trying to forge the will of one of his victims. His last victim happened to be Kathleen Grundy, Former mayor of Shipman’s town, Hyde. Grundy’s body was exhumed from its grave and was found with diamorphine in her muscle tissues. Shipman was arrested on September 7 of that same year.

Police verified 14 other cases where shipman had given lethal doses of diamorphine, falsely registered the patients deaths, and tampered with their medical history. Police could only charge him with 15 murders but it has been estimated that his kill count is anywhere between 250 and 450 victims.

In the year 2000, Harold Shipman was given life imprisonment with the recommendation of never being released. Harold was incarcerated in a Manchester prison before being moved to Wakefield prison where he eventually took his own life. The day before his 58th birthday, Shipman was found hanging in his cell. To this day no one really knows the true reason as to why he committed these murders, some speculate that it was a way to avenge his mother.

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