The Case of Dr Harold Shipman: Dr Jekyll of Hyde: Pt. 1 (of 5); FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVES..THE LIFE OF MASS MURDERER HAROLD SHIPMAN

By Corless, Frank; Disley, Jan | The Mirror (London, England), February 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Case of Dr Harold Shipman: Dr Jekyll of Hyde: Pt. 1 (of 5); FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVES..THE LIFE OF MASS MURDERER HAROLD SHIPMAN


Corless, Frank, Disley, Jan, The Mirror (London, England)


Chapter One: The growing-up years

With Dr Death finally behind bars, his amazing life story can now be told. From humble beginnings grew great evil...EVEN in daylight, the huge rusting cast-iron gates of Hyde cemetery look cold and forbidding.

To step inside is to travel back to the time when this was a thriving textile town and cotton made fortunes for its merchants.

Now their heavy black granite tombstones lie broken and neglected, weathered by icy blasts from the bleak Pennine moors. And newer graves down the hill have long supplanted the ivy-choked mausoleums of forgotten city fathers.

Until the summer of 1998, they lay undisturbed. Then this quiet burial ground began to yield its terrible secrets of cruel betrayal and mass murder.

Night by night, under the glare of arc lights and concealed by white tents, the victims of Harold Frederick Shipman were exhumed by mechanical diggers and taken away for examination. Piece by piece, the case against him was assembled.

In the Victorian heyday of the market town, Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde told the classic tale of dark forces raging within one man. Now, by the strangest of twists, a real-life Dr Jekyll had come to work his evil at Hyde.

Once before, more than 35 years ago, the world recoiled from horror here.

Hyde was home to the moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley and is still haunted by memories of tortured children and lonely moorland graves.

Today it has gained a new and unwanted notoriety through the healer turned assassin - a trusted doctor who flitted from house to house with his poison syringe, dispensing death as casually as he might write a prescription.

How was it that this most ordinary of GPs - scholarly in appearance, a lover of Beethoven and chess - became one of history's most extraordinary killers?

Nothing in his early years betrays his warped core.

He is a model pupil - bookish and sporting at the same time - who becomes head boy at his grammar school, marries at 20 and is a father soon afterwards.

None of his old school pals can remember him in detention or even stepping out of line. He was never caned or black marked. He had no girlfriends.

But there was a steely determination which showed on the sporting field.

Young Shipman, nicknamed Gypsy or Gippo for his swarthy appearance, was a powerful swimmer, 800-metre runner and rugby fly-half.

And when his beloved mother Vera died from lung cancer aged 43, the grieving 17-year-old ran his heart out, pounding 15 miles through the rain-soaked streets of Nottingham to bury his grief.

It was then that Shipman vowed to become a doctor to ease the suffering of patients like his mum.

Old school friend John Soar recalls: "He just went out to try and run it out of his system.

"He loved his mum very much and was deeply affected by her death."

Shipman wore a black tie and black armband to class, but rarely spoke about his mother's death.

Bob Studholme, now head of German at a Nottingham school, remembers how the teenager used to walk to school with pal Mick Heath.

Bob said: "Mick's parents told him that Mrs Shipman had died.

"Meeting Shipman the following day Mick asked him how he felt. He gave a terse response but said one of his answers was to run. He couldn't sleep so he got up and ran and ran."

Shipman was christened Harold Frederick, but his truck-driver father was also Harold so the son was always known as Fred. Fred, his older sister Pauline and younger brother Clive lived at 163 Longmead Drive, a three-bedroom semi on a sprawling council estate in suburban Daybrook, Nottingham. Former neighbour Gordon Ward says: "I often used to see them going out together.

"They were a very nice and a very close-knit family.

"It was tragic when Mrs Shipman got cancer at such a young age and then died because it affected them so badly. …

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