Serial Killer: Harold Shipman

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Body
  3. Conclusion
  4. Works Cited


Harold Frederick Shipman, known by his friends as Fred or Freddy was the son of Vera and Harold Shipman and was born on January the 14th 1946 in the city of Nottingham, England in a middle class working family. Just an average man, a pillar for the community, such a nice man, those were some of the phrases that people would use to describe the friendly family doctor; however, this so-called friendly will later on in life get the nickname “Doctor Death”. Not knowing the reason why he became an angel of death it is a problem for the experts who try to analyze his behavior but this family doctor is thought to be the worst serial killer the world had so far.

Shipman had a strong bond with her mother since the beginning, he was obviously the favorite, this influence from her mother will prove to determine most of Shipman’s actions as I will discuss later. If his mom was the beginning of the problem, what activated, what cause the sweet Shipman to commit such a terrible act as taking someone’s life.


What went wrong with young Shipman’s life for him to become a serial killer, well we have to look at possible traumas to determine this. As he grew up his mother pushed him hard in school, she worked hard to get him into a special school in which a few poor boys attended, Shipman also worked hard to please his mother and he passed the entrance exams. His mother instilled in him a sense of superiority over all the other kids and even over his brothers, this caused him to have a few if any friends at all. He was isolated during most of his childhood.

Usually, for most serial killers we can found trauma in their early days and if we look at Shipman’s life this would be the death of his mother when he was only seventeen years old. She fought lung cancer for years, Fred was a devoted son and wanted to take care of her but she refused, he ended up watching different doctors come constantly to relieve his mother pain using morphine, this will later become his modus operandi also known as the way he killed. He was delighted by the efficiency of the drug in decreasing her suffering, this was a critical point in his life since his interest in medicine started at this moment. After his mother’s death, he decided to become a doctor to help other people with their pain just as the doctors helped his mother.

He decided to attend Leeds School of Medicine and after getting out he served as an intern in many hospitals before starting to officially work as a physician in 1970, and even though he was a loner for most of his life he met and married his wife Primrose Oxtoby when he was 19 and she was 17 and pregnant. In 1974 he had two children and entered medical practice in Todmorden, Yorkshire where he would become addicted to the opioid known as Pethidine, he would forge prescriptions for large amounts of the painkiller but he ended up being caught and he had to leave the facility. After the event, he joined a rehabilitation program and had to pay a fine for forgery.

After the incident, Shipman decided it was time to get a new job so he started working at Donnybrook Medical Centre located in Hyde in where he decided to work hard to gain the trust of his co-workers. He would stay at the institution for almost 20 years, patients love him for his good way of treating them, and by now he was one of the most recognized doctors in the place, it seemed as if Shipmans was living the perfect life.

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It is hard to determine when the sweet “Doctor Death” started killing his patients since he was always hiding behind his job, but the truth is that Shipman went for a long time killing his patients without anyone noticing, It was not until a local undertaker started noticing that Dr. Shimans patients were dying at a higher rate, in fact, Dr.Shipman's rate was ten times higher than the other doctors, also all the bodies had the same circumstances, for example, the posture of the body was the same for most of the cases, the victims were fully clothed in a sitting/ reclining position. He approached Shipman about the problem but he reassured his colleague that there was nothing to worry about and that everything was fine. Later on, another of Shipman’s co-worker would also find the similarities in all the deaths, the police were finally alerted about a possible serial killer in the town. An investigation finally started but there was only one problem, Shipman was all clear, all his records were in order, they fail in checking criminal records, these mistakes would give free to Shipman for a while since without evidence of wrongdoing the doctor seemed innocent.

Shipman went for 2 straight decades killing without leaving any evidence that could relate him to the crime scene but he made a crucial mistake at one point, he let his ambition take over his actions. He decided to kill a wealthy patient named Kathleen Grundy and forge her will so he got all the money. On June 24, 1998, Kathleen was found dead at her residence after a few hours of Shipman's visit, he told the daughter that an autopsy was not necessary and Kathleen was buried. Kathleen's daughter was a lawyer who managed all of her mother's documents and she knew all the heritance was going to her; however, she was really surprised when she found out there was a second will in which her mother left all her money to Mr. Shipman himself, this convenience her that the second will was a forgery made by the doctor and that he killed her mother to get the money. She alerted the authorities and the body was exhumed in order to realize an autopsy which finally revealed that she had died from a morphine overdose administrated within the last 3 hours which match the time Dr. Shipman visited her.

After finding the truth about the death of Katheleen Grundy the police charged at Shipman by looking at his house for medical records, they found the typewriter in which the fake will was forged. The police knew that this would extend to more than one death, they look at other cases in which the victim received medical attention from Shipman himself. After the exhumation of several bodies, Shipman was charged with 15 murderers on September 7, 1998. When his trial started he faced three different types of crimes, the one with physical evidence, the ones without and the forgery case which got him caught.

At the end of the trial, Shipman was sentenced with fifteen life sentences and another four-year sentence for forgery, he would spend the rest of his life in prison. The investigations kept going while he was in jail, they were trying to determine how many the nice doctor killed. They ended up finding Shipman hanged in his jail cell on January 13, 2004, at about 6 am, he used his bedsheets tied to the window to take his own life and end the suffering, one of the worlds most sinister killer was finally dead.


Shipman took advantage of his status as a friendly family doctor to commit murder, his final number of victims is still being disputed to this day but the approximate number is around the 200’s which would make him one of the most destructive serial killers the world has ever seen. Today we really don’t know the exact reason why Shipman started to kill, what started his desire to kill; however, some experts said he enjoyed the feeling of being god, having power over someone’s life gave him the motivation to keep his killing streak, it was obvious that the sense of superiority that her mother put in his mind stayed with him as he grew up.

Shipman went through two decades without getting caught killing hundreds of people, in an occasion, he killed six people in the same neighborhood and in another he killed eight of his female victims in the space of one month. He could have easily gone away with all those murderers and maybe even commit more but his ambition ended up getting caught, he saw an opportunity to get a considerable amount of money from the wealthy patient; however, this desire for money was the cause he was brought to justice.

Works Cited

  1. “Harold Shipman.”, A&E Networks Television, 28 June 2019,
  2. “If You Can't Trust Your Own Doctor, Who Can You Trust?” Bizarrepedia RSS,
  3. Jenkins, John Philip. “Harold Shipman.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 21 Mar. 2019,
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Serial Killer: Harold Shipman. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 19, 2024, from
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