Doctor Shipman was tried and found guilty of fifteen murders in 1999, but latest research suggests he may well have killed 250 people, and possibly even more than that. That makes him Britain's worst ever known mass murderer and puts him right up there in the first division of evil. Most of his victims were elderly women. Trusting women. Vulnerable women. Many were sad and lonely ladies and only too keen to accept a "vitamin" injection from the friendly GP with a wonderful bedside manner, or an essential "flu jab". It will do you good dear, can't you just hear him saying? Give you a tonic. A pick-me-up.... Only it didn't.
The man had a fascination with morphine. He watched his own mother dying of cancer, helped by morphine. He developed a serious morphine habit of his own, and killed his victims using morphine, a particularly stupid method, seeing as morphine is so easily traceable. "Stupid", was a favourite word of his. He considered himself above mere mortals and loved to belittle mere "stupid" underlings.
That says a lot about the man. He avoided detection for so long whenever possible by having the bodies cremated, and preferably as soon as possible. For years no one thought to challenge him. He was a trusted GP, after all. You just don't think badly of the hard working family doctor, do you? At least people didn't, not back then. Maybe they might have second thoughts today.
This book was published in 2000 and refers to him as being on suicide watch in Manchester's Strangeways prison. What the writers didn't know at the time of course was that he would indeed commit suicide on the eve of his 58th birthday on 13th January 2004.
I particularly liked, if that is the correct word, the coverage in the book of the early years, the sixties, as he was growing up and courting and marrying. Surely the roots of his crimes and later behaviour were growing up there too. And where exactly the writers obtained such detailed accounts I have no idea, but the resulting work is a monumental achievement. Excellent and poignant photographs too.
For anyone studying crime, or the psychology of murderers, this book is an essential requirement. It isn't pretty and it isn't cheerful and it isn't uplifting, but it is a compelling account of the tragic events that unfolded in the small Cheshire town of Hyde.
Hyde will recover, is the last sentence in the book, and I am sure it will, but it will never forget the dreadful deeds of Doctor Harold Frederick Shipman.
*** As a footnote I believe the newer versions of this book have been thoroughly updated to include full details of the suicide.
By Brian Whittle & Jean Ritchie
If you want to know more about this long drawn out case here follows a 45 minute documentary on the terrible but true events that unfolded in Hyde, Cheshire.