Dr. Harold Shipman: The Story of the Real Dr. Death

Doctor Harold Shipman was a British general practitioner and one of the most prolific serial killers in recorded history. Known as “Dr. Death”, he was convicted of murdering 15 of his own patients but it is suspected that he is responsible for over 200 other deaths. 

Unlike most serial killers, Dr. Shipman didn’t kill his victims in gruesome ways. His method of slaying involved administering lethal doses of diamorphine, a powerful opioid painkiller, to his victims.

The drug induced respiratory failure, leading to the death of the patient. He often targeted elderly patients and those with pre-existing health conditions.

Because his victims were already in poor health, it was easy for him to continue his killing spree. Shipman’s position in the community as a trusted medical professional allowed him to carry out these killings without anyone suspecting a thing.

The true extent of Shipman’s crimes only came to light when the local funeral home started to become concerned about the high number of customers coming from his office. 

Harold Shipman’s mug shot, circa 2000

Early Life: The Making of a Killer

Harold Shipman, born on January 14, 1946, in Nottingham, England, experienced a somewhat unremarkable childhood. His parents, Harold Frederick Shipman and Vera Brittan, were working-class individuals, and Shipman grew up in the town of Hyde in Cheshire.

As a student, Shipman demonstrated academic competence, excelling in his studies during his early years. He pursued a career in medicine and attended Leeds School of Medicine, graduating in 1970.

However, his life took a tragic turn during his teenage years when he faced a traumatic event that had a lasting impact on his psyche.

When Shipman was just 17 years old, he witnessed his mother, Vera, succumb to lung cancer. Her rapid deterioration and the pain she endured are something that left a mark on the young Shipman.

He watched in fascination as the doctor would administer morphine to ease her pain. To Shipman, it seemed like a superpower that only a few wielded. 

Following his mother’s death, Shipman pursued a career in medicine by enrolling at Leeds University Medical School. While studying medicine there he met and married Primrose May Oxtoby. He graduated from Leeds in 1970 and started his new career as a junior doctor. 

On the outside everything looked perfect for Dr. Shipman. He had a wife, four kids, and was advancing up the ladder at work.

But underneath it all, the doctor was hiding a dark secret. He had become addicted to opioid painkillers.

He had been using his position as a general practitioner to write prescriptions for himself. The hospital eventually found out about it and reported him. He was promptly fired and required to enroll in a rehab program in New York in 1975. 

From Films Media Group

Return To Medicine 

Following his rehabilitation, Shipman managed to re-enter the medical profession. Even though he had been fired for forging prescriptions, he was not removed from the General Medical Council.

He resumed his career as a general practitioner. He continued practicing medicine at Donneybrook Medical Centre in Hyde.

During that time he built a reputation as a caring and devoted doctor who was loved and trusted by the community. Little did they know that Dr. Shipman was hiding a dark secret.

It isn’t exactly known when Dr. Shipman started killing his patients. However, it is believed that he killed 71 patients over the course of his 15 years at Donneybrook.

Shipman’s victims were often elderly and sick individuals with pre-existing health conditions. He would administer lethal doses of opioids under the guise of providing pain relief or medical treatment. The drugs induced respiratory failure, leading to the death of the patient. 

In 1993 Dr. Shipman left Donneybrook Medical Centre and started his own private practice. That’s when the killing spree really shifted into high gear. Authorities don’t know exactly how many people he killed but they estimate that the number is between 250 and 450 people. 

Dr. Harold Shipman. Photo: The Sun

Initial Suspicions

Shipman operated under the radar for years until local undertaker, Deborah Massey, began to notice that a lot of dead bodies were coming from Shipman’s office. Massey worked at a funeral parlor in Hyde, the town where Shipman practiced as a general practitioner.

The frequency at which his patients seemed to die raised concerns. This prompted her to bring her observations to the attention of local authorities.

She noted that many of Shipman’s patients seemed to die at home, often without any family members present. Shipman would also often provide the cause of death without an official medical examination.

This raised red flags, as it was unusual for a general practitioner to certify the cause of death without confirmation from a coroner. In response to Massey’s concerns, a local doctor, Dr. Linda Reynolds, initiated an investigation into the deaths associated with Shipman’s practice.

Unfortunately, the police were unable to find enough evidence to charge him with anything.

Capture and Arrest

In June 1998, Shipman made a house call to Kathleen Grundy, the former mayor of his town. While he was giving her something for her pain he administered a lethal injection of diamorphine (heroin).

While he waited for her to die, Shipman forged her will, leaving everything to him. Then he signed her death certificate, attributing the cause to old age, and checked the “cremation” box.

Kathleen Grundy’s death raised immediate suspicions among her family members, particularly her daughter, lawyer Angela Woodruff. Woodruff was shocked to learn that her mother had supposedly left her entire estate to Dr. Shipman.

This prompted Angela to contact the local authorities. Her mother’s body was exhumed and a post-mortem examination was performed.

The examination revealed that Kathleen Grundy had not died of natural causes but had, in fact, been administered a fatal dose of diamorphine. This discovery triggered alarm bells, and an investigation was launched into Shipman’s activities.

The subsequent inquiry uncovered a pattern of forged wills, manipulated medical records, and a significant number of deaths occurring under suspicious circumstances. Authorities exhumed 11 more victims and found that all had traces of lethal doses of opioids in their muscles, such as morphine and diamorphine. 

In addition to the physical evidence, further examination of Shipman’s medical records and computer unveiled discrepancies and false entries. It was discovered that Shipman had manipulated records to create a façade of legitimate medical treatment.

He had been covering up his criminal activities and writing false causes of death on the victims’ death certificates.

Although it is believed that he killed hundreds of people, they could only charge him with 15 murders. But that was enough to put him behind bars for the rest of his life. We will never know the true number of victims because Dr. Harold Shipman took his own life on January 13, 2004, while serving out his sentence. 


The Grisly Story Of Harold Shipman, The British Doctor Who Killed His Patients For Pleasure


Harold Shipman British physician and serial killer


Harold Shipman


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top