Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Invisible Student

Two years after his mother died, Harold Shipman was finally admitted to Leeds University medical school.   Getting in had been a struggle. In spite of his self-proclaimed superiority, he'd had to re-write the exams he'd flunked first time around.   Nonetheless, his grades were adequate enough for him to collect a degree and serve his mandatory hospital internship.

It is surprising to learn that so many of his teachers and fellow students can barely remember Shipman.   Some who do remember claim that he looked down on them and seemed bemused by the way most young men behaved. "It was as if he tolerated us.   If someone told a joke he would smile patiently, but Fred never wanted to join in.   It seems funny, because I later heard he'd been a good athlete, so you'd have thought he'd be more of a team player."

Most of his contemporaries — especially from his earlier years — simply remember him as a loner. They also remember the one place where his personality changed — the football field.   Here, his aggression was unleashed, his dedication to win intense.

Even so, he was more sociable in medical school than his mother had allowed him to be while living at home.

A former teacher said, "I don't think he ever had a girlfriend; in fact he took his older sister to school dances.   They made a strange couple.   But then, he was a bit strange — a pretentious lad."

But Shipman finally found companionship in a girl and married before most of his contemporaries did.   At nineteen, he met Primrose — 3 years his junior.

Her background was similar to Fred's.   Her mother restricted her friendships, and controlled her activities.

No poster girl, Primrose was delighted to have finally found a boyfriend.   Shipman married her when she was 17 — and 5 months pregnant.

By 1974 he was a father of two and had joined a medical practice in the Yorkshire town of Todmorden.   In this North England setting, Fred seemed to undergo a metamorphosis; he became an outgoing, respected member of the community — in the eyes of his fellow medics and patients.

But the staff in the medical offices where he worked saw a different side of the young practitioner.   He was often unnecessarily rude and made some of them feel "stupid" — a word he frequently used to describe anyone he didn't like. He was confrontational and combative with many people, to the point where he belittled and embarrassed them.   He also had a way of getting things done his way — even with the more experienced doctors in the practice.

Not yet thirty, Shipman had become a control freak.

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