As it turns out, that trust was grievously misplaced. On Jan. 31, after a four-month trial at the crown court in nearby Preston, Shipman was convicted of murdering 15 of his female patients, most of them elderly widows, by injecting them with lethal doses of morphine or heroin between 1995 and 1998. (In sentencing Ship-man to life without parole, Judge Thayne Forbes declared, "I have little doubt each of your victims smiled and thanked you as she submitted to your deadly ministrations.") The 15 murders are believed to exceed that of any other British serial killer in the past century—and there are indications that the actual body count may be more than 100.
As prosecutors described it, the doctor murdered most of his victims, none of whom had a terminal illness, for the sheer pleasure of it. "There is no question in this case of what is sometimes called mercy killing," said prosecutor Richard Henriques in his opening statement last October. "The defendant killed those 15 patients because he enjoyed doing so."
The case that led to Shipman's arrest involved Kathleen Grundy, an 81-year-old widow. A former mayoress of the town who still did all her own shopping and worked at a center for other senior citizens, Grundy was one of the most prominent and beloved figures in Hyde. "She would think nothing of going out for a four-or five-mile walk and on her return finding some ironing to do," said prosecutor Henriques. But on the morning of June 24, 1998, Grundy was found dead in her living room. Summoned to the scene, Shipman, who had paid a house call on her that morning, simply ascribed Grundy's death to "old age." If that didn't arouse suspicion, what happened next certainly did. Thirteen days after Grundy's burial, her daughter Angela Woodruff was told her mother had changed her will, leaving her entire estate, roughly $640,000, to Shipman. Woodruff, a lawyer, looked into the matter and found that the two people who had supposedly witnessed the will's revision denied doing so. In early August 1998, Grundy's body was exhumed and a pathologist concluded she had died from an overdose of morphine.
Police began reviewing the records of other patients who had died suddenly under Shipman's care. The investigation, going back to 1995, focused on Grundy and 14 other women, six of whom had been cremated. When the others were exhumed, significant amounts of morphine were found in each. All of the women had died while or shortly after seeing Ship-man, who treated most of them on house calls.
Apart from a fine he incurred in 1976 for the unauthorized use of a morphine-type drug on himself, Shipman had never before been in trouble with the law. At the trial he denied everything. He also tried to portray Grundy, improbably, as a heroin user and described her as well as some of the other victims as sicker than their families had thought. "She just didn't look well," he said of Grundy, describing his last visit to her. "I thought she looked old."
The jury didn't buy it, and the only remaining issue is whether Shipman might have been responsible for many more victims. During the investigation, police looked into some 160 other cases of elderly people who died in Shipman's care. No charges have come yet from any of those deaths, but that hasn't silenced speculation. When it comes to the fate of their loved ones, says Joe Kitchen, 42, whose mother, Alice, died five years ago at age 70 shortly after a Shipman house call, "there's a hell of a lot of people in Hyde that will never know."
Ellen Tumposky in Preston and Esther Leach in Hyde
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