Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Harold Shipman, the World's Most Prolific Serial Killer

Watching Vera Die

Much has been made of the way young Harold Shipman dealt with his mother's final months — justifiably so.   Because his behavior then closely paralleled that of Shipman the serial killer. Every day after classes, he would hurry home, make Vera a cup of tea and chat with her — probably about his day at school.   She counted the minutes as she waited, and found great solace in his company.

For his part, this is likely where Shipman learned the endearing bedside manner he would adopt later in his practice as a family physician.   Toward the end, Vera experienced severe pain.   But, because pumps to self-administer painkillers did not exist at that time, Vera's sole relief from the agony of cancer came with the family physician.

No doubt young Harold watched in fascination as his mother's distress miraculously subsided whenever the family doctor injected her with morphine. As the disease progressed, the already trim Ms. Shipman grew thinner and frailer until, on June 21st 1963, the cancer claimed her life.

Vera's death left her son with a tremendous sense of loss.   After all, his mother was the one who made him feel special, above the rest.   Significantly, her passing left him with an indelible image — the patient with a cup of tea nearby, finding sweet relief in morphine.

Etched upon the 17-year-old's mind, it was a scene he would re-create hundreds of times in the future.

And when it happened, he would be a doctor — one with no regard for human life or feeling.

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