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Dr Death: The Most Prolific Serial Killer In Modern History

When the idea of a serial killer enters one's mind, your brain may conjure up images of famous murderers such as the infamous Ted Bundy or the disturbing Ed Gein.

But do you know the story of modern history's most prolific serial killer, the man believed to have been responsible for hundreds of deaths? Meet Harold Shipman: father, well-liked general practitioner, and as the world would come to know him, 'Dr Death'.

Before 'The Angel Of Death'

While Shipman's name would become forever enshrined in true crime history, the reality of the man's early life was fairly normal. He was born in a Nottinghamshire council estate on 14 January 1946. 

Shipman did well in his early education, passing the examination requirements to enter British grammar school High Pavement. During his time there he was known to have excelled in running and was even vice-captain of the school's athletics team during his final year of study.

During his childhood, Shipman was also very close to his mother, Vera. Harold's mother had developed lung cancer and eventually passed from the disease when he was 17-years-old. 

The details surrounding the death of Shipman's mother would eerily mirror the methods he would later use to murder his victims. Specifically, Shipman witnessed his mother be administered morphine for her pain; her suffering slowly disappeared as she passed away in June 1963.

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The Crooked Doctor

Shipman continued to do well academically, and he graduated from Leeds School of Medicine in 1970. At this time he moved to the North of England, as he took his first job in medicine, eventually settling as a General Practitioner at the Abraham Ormerod Medical Centre in Todmorden in 1974.

It was only a year later that Shipman was caught in his first act of illegality. Shipman had been creating himself forged prescriptions for the drug pethidine, also known as Demerol, which is an opioid similar to morphine.

At this time, Shipman was reportedly suffering from addiction to Demerol and was experiencing frequent 'blackouts'. In 1976 he was eventually convicted of over 80 cases of forgery and possession of controlled drugs.

But had the police inquired further, they would have discovered that he was not only using the drugs for himself—but to kill his unsuspecting patients.

How 'The Angel Of Death' Got His Wings

The true start of Harold Shipman's prolific and extensive list of victims has never been identified. Up until his death, he vehemently denied involvement in his patients' deaths, leaving investigators to piece together his path of destruction over decades of killings.

Shipman's first victim is believed to be a woman named Eva Lyons. Eva was killed in March of 1975, a year before he was remanded caught for drug offenses. 

Shipman had consistently murdered his victims via lethal injection of diamorphine, a type of pharmaceutical heroin. At one position he managed to kill at least 71 of his patients. Once he moved further in his career to his own practice, he killed at least another further 144 patients.

His oldest victim was Anne Cooper, a 93-year-old female. His youngest was a man named Peter Lewis, who was just 41.

Despite the rampage, it was only in March of 1998 that Shipman's murders were being noticed in earnest. Another local doctor named Linda Reynolds sent her concerns to South Manchester's coroner after noticing that Shipman's patients were dying at an unusually high rate. To add to this, many of them died in suspiciously similar circumstances, with some dying in the exact same position.

Dr. Reynolds highlighted the high mortality rate in Shipman's patients and was specifically concerned about the number of cremations for elderly females that Shipman had needed to be countersigned.

Despite this, Greater Manchester police could not find any evidence, and the investigation ended shortly after on April 17. Investigators now know that Shipman killed at least three more victims after the police ceased investigating him.

In August of the same year, local taxi driver John Shaw noticed that many of his elderly customers being taken to Shipman's practice would eventually end up dead. He wished to go to the police but feared he would not be believed at the time.

Catching The Killer Doctor

Ultimately, Shipman's serial killings would come to an end. Shipman's last victim was a woman named Kathleen Grundy, who was found deceased on June 24, 1998, in her home.  As usual, Shipman had been the last person to see her alive. He was also the person to sign off on her death certificate, to which he recorded her death as being caused by old age.

Unfortunately for Shipman, Grundy's daughter, Angela, was less than trusting of the circumstances around her mother's death. As a lawyer, Angela was shocked to hear from a solicitor that her mother had written a suspicious-looking will. 

In the will, Grundy's family was completely missing, while Shipman had been left a total of £386,000. Some have even posited that Shipman did this on purpose as a way to finally be caught, or was a bold move to gather enough funds to retire and leave the United Kingdom for good.

Angela quickly got in contact with the police, who opened another investigation into the GP. Kathleen's body was exhumed and reports showed that she had traces of diamorphine in her system. Shipman was quick to refute any claims of malpractice and claimed that Grundy's medical records showed she was an addict.

But evidence got in the way of Shipman's lies. Police saw the records in Kathleen's medical history had been written after her death, and that the same typewriter used to create the phony will was of the same type that Shipman owned.

Of course, as police began to pour through evidence, they soon realized the shocking scope of Shipman's sadistic bloodlust. A pattern of serial lethal injections emerged, and Shipman was found to have falsified medical records of otherwise healthy patients.

Incarceration & Death

Shipman was ultimately found guilty of only a slither of his total list of victims on January 31, 2000. A jury found him guilty of murdering 15 of his patients, as well as one count of forgery, enough to send him to life in prison with a recommendation to never be released. 

Just under three years later, Shipman was found dead in his cell at HM Prison Wakefield, one day before his 58th birthday. The death was ruled as a suicide, and that he had hanged himself using bedsheets tied to the bars of his windows.

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