Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Selecting the Dead

Just which deaths to investigate became the priority.  To decide, a scale was devised, based on patterns. 

Those who had not been cremated and had died following a Shipman "house call" took precedence. Other issues were factored in, but obviously only uncremated bodies could yield tissue samples for examination.

Slightly different criteria were applied to the next group for police investigation. All cremated, they were investigated, mainly, on the basis of known pre-existing conditions, recorded causes of death, and Shipman's presence before they died.

Whenever he could, the doctor had urged families to cremate their dead and had also stressed no further investigation was necessary. It may seem strange now that no relatives found this peculiar, but people typically trust their doctors, especially in times of great stress. 

After all, the causes of deaths Shipman presented were rational, even though bereaved families were often surprised to learn of conditions their loved ones had never mentioned.

Gravestone of Shipman victim Irene Turner
Gravestone of Shipman victim Irene Turner (CAVENDISH PRESS/UK)

Even if they had questioned the doctor, he had the computerized medical notes to prove patients had seen him for the very symptoms he cited as leading to causes of death. Police would later know he'd altered computer records to make everything match. Callously, Shipman made most of these changes within hours of his patients' deaths.  Often, immediately after killing, he would hurry to his office and adjust his records.


In the case of 82-year-old Kathleen Grundy, he reinforced his later statement that she was a morphine junkie by inventing and backdating several entries.

His sheer audacity in suggesting this highly respected woman had been scoring hits from drug dealers was overwhelmingly stupid.  The moment he made the statement, his credibility crumbled.

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