Harold Shipman, born January 14th 1946, was an English doctor and perhaps on of the most prolific serial killers in history.
On January 31st, 2000, he was found guilty of 15 patients who were under his care, with an estimated victim count of more than 215. He was sentenced to life in prison, with a recommendation to never be released.
The Shipman Inquiry, a 2-year investigation into all of the deaths certified by Shipman, examined all of his crimes. They identified 215 potential victims and estimate the number to be closer to 250. Most of his victims were elderly women in good health. The youngest person he killed was a 45-year old man, though many think he was responsible for killing a 4 year old child as well.
Shipman committed suicide on January 13th, 2004, the day before his 58th birthday by hanging himself in his prison cell.
EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Shipman was the 2nd of 3 children to devout methodist parents. He was a skilled rugby player and a long-distance runner. His childhood and adolescence were relatively normal.
His mom, who he was very close with, died of lung cancer when he was 17 years old. She had morphine administered to her at home, alleviating her pain, until she died. This is thought to be the root cause of his MO with his victims.
He married a woman named Primrose May Oxtoby whom he had 4 children with.
He studied and graduated from medical school in 1970 and began working, and took his first general practice job in 1974. He was caught forging prescriptions for himself and was fined and forced into drug rehabilitation, but became a general practitioner again in 1977. He continued working at that hospital throughout the 1980s, and it is where most of his murders took place.
DETECTION, TRIAL, AND IMPRISONMENT
In 1998, suspicion was brought upon Shipman for the high death rate of his patients, especially the large number of cremation forms for elderly women that he needed to be countersigned.
The matter was brought to police who didn't have enough evidence to bring charges. Later, it was determined that the officers were inexperienced and should not have been put on such a case.
The police abandoned the investigation, and he continued to kill his patients. Months later, a taxi driver informed the police that he suspected Shipman of murdering 21 of his patients.
His last victim, Kathleen Gundy, was found dead in her home. Shipman was the last person to see her alive and the sole signee on her death certificate. Her daughter was a lawyer and became concerned when she found her mother's will gave no money to her family, but a significant chunk to Shipman.
This was enough to open an investigation and exhume her body. They found heroin in her, which was often used for pain in terminal cancer patients. Shipman tried to say she was an addict, showing comments about it in his medical journal, but it was found that he had written the notes after her death. The typewriter the fake will was written on was found in his home. He was arrested.
The police created a list of 15 cases to investigate. His trial began on October 5th, 1999. He was charged with 15 murders all by lethal injections to otherwise healthy patients. His lawyer unsuccessfully tried to remove the Gundy case from the trial, because he had a monetary motive for that one but no motive for any of the others, but they refused to try the cases separately.
After 6 days of jury deliberation, the jury found him guilty of 15 counts of murder and one count of forgery. He was sentenced to life in prison. He denied his guilt, and his wife stood by him.
DEATH AND AFTERMATH
Shipman committed suicide in his cell on January 13th, 2004. Reactions to the news were mixed. Some victim's families felt cheated because they'd never hear a confession or know why he committed the crimes, but some felt tempted to celebrate. Some media outlets called him a coward, others had headlines titled "Ship ship, hooray!" and some felt that his suicide required a closer look at the welfare of inmates in prisons.
Others felt like life sentences were cruel and unfair and should be transitioned to "indefinite" life sentences because it would at least make them feel like they had a chance to get out one day.
Shipman had told his probation officer that he had considered suicide to assure his wife's financial security after his pension would be stripped if he lived past the age of 60. Some think he killed himself because his wife was starting to believe he was guilty.
Following the Shipman Inquiry, it was concluded that he killed at least 215 of his patients between 1975 and 1998. Investigators also think he may have killed between 3 and 7 people at his previous hospital before his drug charge, one being a 4-year-old girl. In total, 459 people died under his care, but it is unknown how many were murder victims.
Medical procedures across the country changed after this. Dispensing practices were shifted to avoid over prescribing pain medication. Death certification practices were changed. Single-doctor general practices changed to multiple doctor general practices, and the questions on cremation forms were altered to allow families to indicate if they felt foul play was involved.
All in all, Dr. Harold Shipman was a ruthless serial killer who preyed on the most vulnerable, getting away with murder for nearly 20 years until he was finally caught. He is a horrible person, and it is a good thing that he was found guilty and imprisoned for life 20 years ago today.