Harold Frederick Shipman was born in 1946 in England as the second of four children to working class parents. Despite his athletic bent however, Shipman didn’t take after his father. Instead, he clung to his sickly mother, Vera. Vera encouraged him in everything – to the point that most people considered Harold to be a spoiled and pretentious boy who assumed he was better than everyone. He was a “loner” and had few friends. In fact, there are even some reports that Shipman never had a girlfriend, preferring to take his sister to school dances instead!
It should not be surprising then that the life event that seem to color Shipman the most was the demise of his beloved mother. Vera had suffered from lung cancer for several years, and Shipman had watched her use morphine to take away her pain until she gradually slipped away into death when he was 17-years-old. He decided very soon after to become a doctor, to help alleviate the suffering of the sick and dying.
Before he headed off to school at age 20, he made the acquaintance of a girl named Primrose (age 17). Within 5 months, she was pregnant and they were married. They went on to have three more children together.
Graduating from the Leeds School of Medicine in 1970, Shipman took a job as a General Practitioner in West Yorkshire. While he was competent at his job, his social interactions at work were a different story. Oftentimes, he treated colleagues terribly, calling them “stupid,” or worse. Then, in 1975 Shipman was he was caught forging prescriptions for his own use (Pethidine – a synthetic opioid, similar to morphine). For this he was fined and made to attend a mandatory drug rehabilitation clinic – but his privileges as a doctor remained…as did his haughty behavior of his colleagues.
Thus, Shipman eventually struck out on his own and became a General Practitioner in Hyde, Greater Manchester by 1977. He worked there for the next several decades, becoming a prominent member of the community.
In 1998, the Deborah Massey of the Massey funeral home contacted the local coroner. In particular, she was concerned about the large number of cremation forms for elderly women that had needed a countersigner coming out of Shipman’s office. The matter was brought up with police, but they didn’t find enough evidence to move forward with any charges.
However, suspicions were raised again when a woman under Shipman’s care (Kathleen Grundy) passed away. Grundy’s daughter (lawyer Angela Woodruff) became concerned when she was informed that a will had bee made, but it excluded her and her children – leaving around 386,000 pounds to Shipman instead! Grundy subsequently had her mother’s body exhumed and it was found to contain traces of diamorphine…the same drug used for pain control in terminal cancer patients.
A formal panel, “The Shipman Inquiry” was put together to study the bulk of Shipman’s cases over the years. In all, there were 218 murders ascribed to him – over 80% of them female.
On 31 January 2000, after six days of deliberation, a jury found Shipman guilty of 15 counts of murder and one count of forgery. The trial judge sentenced him to 15 concurrent life sentences and recommended that he never be released. Though he could have been tried for many more potential deaths, the state was confident that it made it’s case, and further sentences from future trials were deemed unnecessary.
Harold Shipman was indeed a deadly doctor; and a perniciously narcissistic one, at that. He had no compunction about tearing down his colleagues, and (at likely a very early age) deemed himself to be above the law. It’s hypothesized that many of Shipman’s lethal actions were done for the motive of money. After all, he forged wills and left fortunes to himself.
However, it’s also probable that Shipman merely enjoyed the act of playing God. He was, in his mind, above mere mortals. Thus, taking a life in a way that he might deem merciful (poisoning with morphine, the way his mother slipped away), may seem to him to be an act of decency or grace.
But there was no decency in what Shipman did. And, as soon as the public found out, they rebuked him thoroughly. By the time Shipman made it to prison, it was clear to him just how reviled he truly was. So in 2004, on the eve of his 58th birthday, Shipman hung himself in his prison cell. Rumor has it that it was because his wife, Primrose, was finally beginning to question his innocence, but perhaps it was that Shipman chose to exert one last modicum of control over the one life he had left to take: his own.