Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

The Trial

Richard Henriques
Richard Henriques (CAVENDISH PRESS/UK)

The trial began in earnest as Counsel for the prosecution Richard Henriques delivered his opening address. One of the top barristers in Britain, he had handled many sensitive and difficult trials, including the sensational Jamie Bulger trial, where two ten-year old boys kidnapped, tortured, then murdered two-year-old Jamie.

Addressing the case at hand, Mr. Henriques stated "None of those buried - nor indeed cremated — were prescribed morphine or diamorphine.  All of them died most unexpectedly. All of them had seen Dr. Shipman on the day of their death.'

As he briefly outlined the case, Henriques dismissed euthanasia or mercy killing on the basis that none of the dead had had a terminal illness.

He claimed Shipman killed the fifteen patients because he enjoyed doing so: "He was exercising the ultimate power of controlling life and death, and repeated the act so often he must have found the drama of taking life to his taste."

His first witness was Angela Woodruff.  An accomplished solicitor, she was as striking as her mother had been in life.  Fashionably dressed in an expensive gray suit, she found it difficult to retain her usual strong demeanor.  Understandably, she appeared on the verge of breaking down throughout her long and arduous time in the witness box.

First, she explained in detail the police photographs of the house where her "mum" had lived so happily.  She then told of the harrowing phone call from the Hyde Police to inform her that her mother had died.

Seeking clarification, she later had a conversation with Dr. Shipman: "Exactly what he said was difficult to remember... It's very hazy because I was very, very upset. Dr. Shipman said he had seen (my mother) on the morning of her death.  He said he had seen her at home." She couldn't remember why the doctor claimed to have been there.

Speaking of the clumsy attempt made to fake the will leaving everything to Shipman, she told of her mother's meticulous attention to detail, how doing everything neatly was her mother's way.

This would later be apparent to anyone reading her mother's diary, where every detail of importance was meticulously recorded in perfect penmanship.  In contrast, Ms. Woodruff said how her mother viewed " writing; mine's appalling."

She went on to show how healthy her 81-year-old mother had been. "She was just amazing.  We would walk five miles and come in and she would say, 'Where's the ironing?'  We used to joke she was fitter than we were."

This portrait of an elderly but extremely fit woman was to be repeated frequently as other victims' families took the witness box.

In the ensuing cross-examination, Ms. Davies seemed intent on emphasizing Ms. Woodruff's wealth. She had analyzed and described the family's finances, and asked, "You are not a family in need, are you?"

Ms. Woodruff concurred — it was common knowledge that she and her husband David had inherited one million pounds from her father in law. She confirmed the couple earned sizeable incomes.

A subsequent attempt by Ms. Davis to show Ms. Woodruff's relationship with her mother had been unharmonious was totally dispelled when the victim's writings — and a host of witnesses — were examined.

Several days later, Dr. John Rutherford — a leading government pathologist — appeared.  He was tactful and dignified as he led the court through the gruesome details of the post mortems carried out. 

In great detail, he explained how the procedure was performed, focusing on the importance of collecting body tissue for analysis.

The outcome of the tests was consistent.  In case after case, Dr. Rutherford said the victims had not died from old age or natural disease. Typically, morphine toxicity was the cause of death.

To analyze any fingerprints found on the will, fingerprint expert Dr. Rutherford — who had worked on the Waco cult disaster — was called. He explained how he had taken fingerprints from the hands of the deceased Ms. Grundy.

The defense fingerprint expert claimed the methodology was inconclusive, but Dr. Rutherford's expertise helped destroy the counter-claim. Then, Rutherford's associate told how prints on the fake will only identified three people — two witnesses to the document's signing, and Dr. Shipman.

Det. Sergeant John Ashley
Det. Sergeant John Ashley (CAVENDISH PRESS/UK)

Because there were no prints matching Kathleen Grundy's, it was obvious she had never handled the "will". This observation was reinforced when calligraphy analyst Michael Allen described the signatures as "crude forgeries."

Computer Analyst Detective Sergeant John Ashley then testified how Shipman had doctored his computer records to create symptoms his dead patients never had.

Recorded interviews were beyond contest.

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