Who was Harold Shipman?

Harold Shipman (full name Harold Fredrick Shipman) was born on 14 January 1946 in Nottingham, England. Raised in a working class family, he grew up being strongly attached to his mother; which seems to have been a domineering woman influencing his early years as a developing teenage. His mother controlled who he can talk to or interact with, became an isolated teenager with very few friends.

He witnessed his mother’s illness, who was suffering of lung cancer. He became so interested in the effect that the administration of morphine had on his mother’s pain, that he oversaw her care until she passed away on June 21,1963. It was a crucial moment in his life, later being discovered that the way his mother died became his modus operandi.

Some years later, in 1966, Shipman he met his future wife Primrose. He was 19 years old; they got married when she was 17 years old and five months pregnant with their first child.

Harold Shipman and Wife

Harold Shipman and Wife

His medical career

Receiving a scholarship, he followed medical training and in 1970 he received a medical degree from Leeds University; a few years later, in 1974, he became a general practitioner in Todmorden in Lancashire. Shipman was forced out from his practice in 1975 after it was discovered that he was writing fraudulent prescriptions for opiate pethedine. He also followed drug rehabilitation program and received a conviction for forgery, paying a small fine.


Harold Shipman as a young student

Harold Shipman – Student

A few years later, in 1977 Shipman was accepted onto the staff at Donneybrook Medical Centre in Hyde. There he ingratiated himself as a hardworking doctor, who enjoyed the trust of patients and colleagues alike; He remained on staff there for almost two decades, throughout the 1980s and began his own surgery practice at 21 Market Street in 1993, becoming a productive and respected member of the community.. In 1983, he was interviewed on the Granada Television documentary World in Action on how the mentally ill should be treated in the community.

How his murders started

There is no clear information about how his murders started, Shipman denying them until the end. At one point in time, a local undertaker noticed that Shipman’s patients are dying at a high rate so naturally he contacted him. But Shipman reassured him that everything is fine and there is nothing to be concerned about. Right after, a colleague of Shipman’s, Dr Susan Booth, noticed as well the high rate of deaths in Shipman’s patients; so the coroner;s office was alerted which contacted the police.

An investigation followed, but it appeared that Shipman’s records are in order so his name was cleared. If only the General Medical Council would have been contacted, they would have discovered Shipman’s previous charges for prescription forgery. He continued his practice unhinged.


His Killing Spree

Cleared from the investigation, Shipman continued his murder spree, killing over 200 patients following the same pattern. All his records were clean, his patients were elderly so there was no reason to doubt this high standing community member. His murder spree was put an end by one woman by the name Angela Woodruff.

She was the daughter of one of his victims: Kathleen Grundy. Kathleen was an 81 year old, active and in good health conditions widow. She was also wealthy. Kathleen was discovered dead on June 24, 1998, following an earlier visit by Shipman. While talking to the deceased’s daughter, Shipman advised that no autopsy is required so she got buried according to Angela’s wishes.

But Angela Woodruff got suspicious when solicitor Brian Burgess, notified her of the existence of another will, which surprisingly excluded her family from inheritance and left everything to, you guessed it, Harold Shipman. At that moment she had no doubts that the will is a forgery so she contacted the police which came to the same conclusion. Kathleen’s body was exhumed and evidence of morphine overdose was discovered. The post mortem showed that the morphine was administrated somewhere around three hours before her death. This time frame coincided with the victim’s visit at her doctor Harold Shipman.

The end of his killings

After the autopsy results, police raided Shipman’s house and seized a type writer which was proved to be used in the will’s forgery. He denied the accusations implying that Kathleen Grundy was addicted and she took the morphine as a result of her addiction. He even showed records on his computer trying to prove his statement; but a software showed that those comments and records were added after her death. Police arrested him on 7 September 1998.

Victim List:

Date of deathYear of deathVictim nameVictim Age
March 171975 Eva Lyons 70
August 71978 Sarah Hannah Marsland 86
August 301978 Mary Ellen Jordan 73
December 71978 Harold Bramwell 73
December 201978 Annie Campbell 88
August 101979 Alice Maude Gorton 76
November 281979 Jack Leslie Shelmerdine 77
April 181981 May Slater 84
August 261981 Elizabeth Ashworth 81
January 41983 Percy Ward 90
June 281983 Moira Ashton Fox 77
January 71984 Dorothy Tucker 51
February 81984 Gladys Roberts 78
April 151984 Joseph Bardsley 83
April 241984 Winifred Arrowsmith 70
September 211984 Mary Winterbottom 76
November 271984 Ada Ashworth 87
December 171984 Joseph Vincent Everall 80
December 181984 Edith Wibberley 76
December 241984 Eileen Theresa Cox 72
January 21985 Peter Lewis 41
February 11985 May Brookes 74
February 41985 Ellen Higson 84
February 151985 Margaret Ann Conway 69
February 221985 Kathleen McDonald 73
June 261985 Thomas Moult 70
June 261985 Mildred Robinson 84
August 231985 Frances Elizabeth Turner 85
December 171985 Selina Mackenzie 77
December 201985 Vera Bramwell 79
December 31, 20181985 Fred Kellett 79
January 7, 20181986 Deborah Middleton 81
April 23, 20181986 Dorothy Fletcher74
June 6, 20181986 Thomas Fowden 81
September 15, 20181986 Mona Ashton White 63
October 7, 20181986 Mary Tomlin 73
November 17, 20181986 Beatrice Toft59
December 16, 20181986 Lily Broadbent 75
December 23, 20181986 James Wood 82
March 30, 20181987 Frank Halliday 76
April 1, 20181987 Albert Cheetham 85
April 16, 20181987 Alice Thomas 83
May 8, 20181987 Jane Frances Rostron 78
September 141987 Nancy Anne Brassington 71
December 111987 Margaret Townsend 80
December 291987 Nellie Bardsley 69
December 301987 Elizabeth Ann Rogers 74
January 51988 Elizabeth Fletcher 90
January 151988 Alice Mary Jones 83
February 91988 Dorothea Hill Renwick 90
February 151988 Ann Cooper 93
February 151988 Jane Jones 83
February 161988 Lavinia Robinson 84
September 181988 Rose Ann Adshead 80
October 201988 Alice Prestwich 69
November 61988 Walter Tingle 85
December 171988 Harry Stafford 87
December 191988 Ethel Bennett 80
January 311989 Wilfred Chappell 80
March 81989 Mary Emma Hamer81
May 121989 Beatrice Helen Clee 78
June 51989 Josephine Hall 69
July 61989 Hilda Fitton 75
August 141989 Marion Carradice 80
September 221989 Elsie Harrop 82
September 261989 Elizabeth Mary Burke 82
October 151989 Sarah Jane Williamson 82
October 161989 John Charlton 81
October 181989 George Edgar Vizor 67
November 61989 Joseph Frank Wilcockson 85
September 181990 Dorothy Rowarth 56
December 301990 Mary Rose Dudley 69
October 71992 Monica Rene Sparkes 72
February 241993 Hilda Mary Couzens 92
February 241993 Olive Heginbotham 86
March 221993 Amy Whitehead 82
April 81993 Mary Emma Andrew 86
April 171993 Sarah Ashworth 74
April 271993 Marjorie Parker 74
May 21993 Nellie Mullen 77
May 41993 Edna May Llewellyn 68
May 12,1993 Emily Morgan 84
May 131993 Violet May Bird 60
July 22,1993 Jose Kathleen Diana Richards 74
August 161993 Edith Calverley 77
December 161993 Joseph Leigh 78
December 221993 Eileen Robinson 54
December 311993 Charles Edward Brocklehurst 90
January 41994 Joan Milray Harding 82
January 131994 Christine Hancock 53
February 91994 Elsie Platt 73
May 171994 Mary Alice Smith 84
May 251994 Ronnie Devenport 57
June 151994 Cicely Sharples 87
June 171994 Alice Christine Kitchen 70
July 271994 Maria Thornton 78
November 251994 Henrietta Walker 87
November 301994 Elizabeth Ellen Mellor 75
December 291994 John Bennett Molesdale 81
January 91995 Alice Kennedy 88
March 11995 Lucy Virgin 70
March 71995 Netta Ashcroft 71
March 71995 Lily Bardsley 88
March 131995 Marie Antoinette Fernley 53
March 211995 John Crompton 82
March 261995 Frank Crompton 86
March 311995 Vera Brocklehurst 70
April 101995 Angela Philomena Tierney 71
April 131995 Edith Scott 85
April 141995 Clara Hackney 84
April 211995 Renate Eldtraude Overton 47
May 41995 Kate Maud Sellors 75
June 21995 Clifford Barnes Heapey 85
June 131995 Bertha Moss 68
June 171995 Brenda Ashworth 63
June 291995 Ernest Rudol 82
July 121995 Ada Matley Hilton 88
July 311995 Irene Aitken 65
August 291995 Arthur Henderson Stopford 82
September 141995 Geoffrey Bogle 72
September 261995 Dora Elizabeth Ashton 87
October 241995 Muriel Margaret Ward 87
November 81995 Edith Brock 74
November 221995 Charles Henry Barlow 88
November 251995 Konrad Peter Ovcar-Robinson 43
December 141995 Elizabeth Teresa Sigley 67
December 141995 Kenneth Wharmby Woodhead 75
January 21996 Hilda Mary Hibbert 81
January 111996 Erla Copeland79
February 211996 Jane Elizabeth Shelmerdine 80
February 271996 John Sheard Greenhalgh 88
March 121996 Minnie Doris Irene Galpin 71
April 181996 Marjorie Hope Waller 79
April 241996 John Stone 77
May 71996 Elsie Godfrey 85
May 131996 Edith Brady  72. Ruled unlawful killing at inquiry.
May 291996 Valerie Cuthbert 54
May 301996 Lilian Cullen 77
June 61996 Renee Lacey 63
June 101996 Leah Fogg 82
June 171996 Gladys Saunders 82
June 251996 Nellie Bennett 86
June 251996 Margaret Mary Vickers 81
July 21996 Tom Balfour Russell 77
July 111996 Irene Turner 67
July 161996 Carrie Leigh 81
July 191996 Marion Elizabeth Higham 84
July 241996 Elsie Hannible 85
July 291996 Elsie Barker 84
August 301996 Sidney Arthur Smith 76
September 121996 Dorothy Mary Andrew 85
September 201996 Anne Lilian Ralphs 75
October 231996 Millicent Garside 76
November 201996 Irene Heathcote 76
November 231996 Samuel Mills 89
December 41996 Thomas Cheetham78
December 171996 Kenneth Ernest Smith 73
January 21997 Eileen Daphne Crompton 75
January 31997 David Alan Harrison 47
January 81997 Elsie Lorna Dean 69
January 20,1997 Irene Brooder 76
January 271997 Charlotte Bennison 89
February 31997 Charles Henry Killan 90
February 41997 Betty Royston 70
February 231997 Joyce Woodhead 74
February 281997 Lizzie Adams 77
March 221997 Rose Garlick 76
March 271997 May Lowe 84
April 211997 Mary Coutts 80
April 251997 Elsie Cheetham 76
April 251997 Jean Lilley 58
May 21997 Lena Norah Slater 68
May 121997 Ethel May Kellet 74
May 211997 Doris Earls 79
May 291997 Ivy Lomas 63
June 241997 Vera Whittingslow 69
July 71997 Maureen Lamonnier Jackson 51
July 141997 Muriel Grimshaw 76
July 251997 John Louden Livesey 69
July 281997 Lily Newby Taylor 86
August 10,1997 Dorothy Doretta Hopkins 72
September 11997 Nancy Jackson 81
September 221997 Mavis Mary Pickup 79
September 261997 Bessie Swann 79
September 291997 Enid Otter 77
November 101997 Florence Lewis 79
November 141997 Mary Walls 78
November 211997 Elizabeth Mary Baddeley 83
November 241997 Marie Quinn 67
December 81997 Elizabeth Battersby 70
December 91997 Laura Kathleen Wagstaff 81
December 101997 Bianka Pomfret 49
December 181997 Alice Black 73
December 241997 James Joseph King 83
January 221998 Mabel Shawcross 79
January 261998 Norah Nuttall 64
February 21998 Cissie Davies 73
February 91998 Pamela Marguerite Hillier 68
February 131998 Laura Frances Linn 83
February 151998 Irene Berry 74
February 181998 Maureen Alice Ward 57
February 271998 Joan Edwina Dean 75
March 41998 Harold Eddleston 77
March 61998 Margaret Anne Waldron 65
March 71998 Irene Chapman 74
March 131998 Dorothy Long 84
March 171998 Lily Higgins 83
March 201998 Ada Warburton 77
March 241998 Martha Marley 88
May 111998 Winifred Mellor 73
June 121998 Joan May Melia 73
June 241998 Kathleen Grundy 81


Further Investigations

Law enforcement investigated further and it was soon realized that this murder might not be the only one. A pattern emerged regarding Shipman’s murders. He overdosed victims with morphine, signed their death certificates then he falsified records to show that those patients were in poor health. In many cases he even urged relatives to incinerate the remains highlighting that no further investigation is needed to determine the death cause, providing medical records that corroborated his cause of death pronouncements..  A list of 15 victims was drafted and the police charged Shipman with 15 individual counts of murder on September 7, 1998, as well as one count of forgery.

Harold Shipman Victims


The Trial

Shipman’s trial began at Preston Crown Court on 5 October 1999. It was presided over by Mr Justice Forbes.

Justice Forbes

Mr Justice Forbes

Shipman was charged with the murders of Marie West, Irene Turner, Lizzie Adams, Jean Lilley, Ivy Lomas, Muriel Grimshaw, Marie Quinn, Kathleen Wagstaff, Bianka Pomfret, Norah Nuttall, Pamela Hillier, Maureen Ward, Winifred Mellor, Joan Melia and Kathleen Grundy by lethal injections of diamorphine, all between 1995 and 1998.

His legal defense representatives tried to have Shipman trialed on three different trials. One with clear evidence, one with no aparent reason and the Grundy trial where the forgery set this case apart from the rest. But the request was denied so the trial continued.

The prosecution asserted that Shipman intentionally overdosed his victims, eliminating the claims that he had been acting compassionately, as none of his victims were suffering a terminal illness. Angela Woodruff took the stand as a first witness and impressed the jury with her testimony on pursuing to discover the real cause of her mother’s death. The government pathologist, exposed the gruesome details in the post mortem findings about the high level of morphine injected in patients.

Richard Henriquez - Shipman Prosecutor

Richard Henriquez – Shipman Prosecutor

Evidence against Shipman

Fingerprint evidence was introduced showing that there was no way that Kathleen Grundy handled the forged will; computer analysis proved that Shipman altered the medical records of the patients after their death. Apparently Shipman was not aware that every change in his database holds a time stamp. Evidence was also introduced proving that Shipman was pretending to call emergencies in the presence of relatives. But cut off the call when the patients were declared death. Other evidence introduced by prosecution showed a clear pattern of how Shipman was over prescribing morphine to patients; and prescribing morphine to patients that didn’t actually needed it.

Harold Shipman Diamorphine

Harold Shipman Diamorphine

His Conviction and Sentence

On 31 January 2000, after six days of deliberation, the jury found Harold Shipman guilty of 15 counts of murder and one count of forgery. The judge sentenced Shipman to life imprisonment on all 15 counts of murder; with a recommendation that he never be released, to be served concurrently with a sentence of four years for forging Grundy’s will.

The Aftermath

Following the trial, an investigation was ordered by High Court Judge, Dame Janet Smith, into his patient list. More than 500 patient files were investigated and it was found that Harold Shipman killed at least 215 victims between the age of 45 and 93, starting with 1975 until 1998. Deaths before 1975 were impossible to prove and no records were kept. Shipman never admitted to any of the murders and a retrial was excluded from the start. Many victim relatives pleaded to him for help, to find out how their loved ones died. But he never said anything. For those people, his gruesome murders and his trial never ended.

His motives

There were many speculations as to why Shipman comitted his crimes. Some said that he had a God complex, enjoying the decision power he had over the life or death of his victims. Others implied that he was trying to avenge his mother’s dead. But the truth is that his motives were never discovered.

His Death

Harold Shipman died by hanging in his prison cell at Wakefield, on January 13, 2004, having used bed sheets tied to the window bars of his cell.

wakefield prison

He died becoming one of the most prolific serial killers in UK, with a victim count of over 215.

Harold Shipman

Harold Shipman


Shipman’s Clinical Practice


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