Britain's 'Dr. Death'

Article excerpt

Harold Shipman, a bearded and bespectacled small-town doctor with a charming bedside manner, made at least two mistakes when he committed his last murder. First, he tried to steal Kathleen Grundy's fortune by typing his own crude version of her will. The forgery left Grundy's entire [pound]386,000 estate to the trusted family doctor, and nothing to her relatives. Then he killed his 81-year-old patient with a lethal dose of diamorphine, the medical term for heroin, traces of which were found in Grundy's exhumed body. "My mother thought he was wonderful," says Grundy's daughter, Angela Woodruff. In the unsuspecting English town of Hyde, many other patients made the same fatal misjudgment.

After a 59-day trial that ended last week, Shipman has emerged as one of Britain's most prolific serial killers. The charge sheet against him listed 15 middle-aged or elderly victims--all women, few seriously ill. But police have opened investigations on more than 120 other deaths that may be connected to the 54-year-old doctor. In most of the cases, motive remains a mystery: the Grundy killing seems to be the first in which Shipman changed a patient's will to enrich himself. Yet the absence of even twisted logic to explain the murder spree only makes it seem more bizarre. Jailing Shipman for life, Justice John Forbes told him: "I have little doubt each of your victims smiled and thanked you as she submitted to your deadly ministrations."

According to statements made at the trial, the doctor typically would call at a patient's home when she was alone. …