The Tameside Doctor, Harold Shipman, Unmasked as Britain’s Worst and Most Prolific Serial Killer

Though many killers have been coined as the “most notorious serial killer” there are few who come even close to the suspected number of atrocities that this man engaged in. Most doctors become doctors because they want to help people. Though it is unclear if Harold Shipman joined for this reason initially, his eventual actions led us to see that he had anything but pure intentions in the end. How exactly does a doctor become a serial killer? It’s certainly a question for the ages, but as you’ll discover, the world of medicine is a fairly good place for a killer to hide.

harold shipman in public
Many beleive that serial killer and angel of death Harold Shipman may be responsible for the murders of 250 or more victims.

Mama’s Boy

As a young boy, Harold Shipman was loved by what some have described as an overbearing mother. His mother, it seems, played a vital role in his life. Not only did she seem to have complete control over his actions, but there are some reports that seem to imply that she might have played games with his self-esteem. Despite her overbearing nature, Shipman’s mother seemed to always play a special role in hyping her son up. Sure, she might play a highly influential role and ask a lot of him, but she did also take the time to tell him just how much better he was than everyone else. Some say that this gave Shipman some problems surrounding social interactions, which would later reveal themselves when he became a senior doctor at a hospital.

harold shipman 5 year old boy
Photo of Harold Shipman at 5 years old. Taken before his mother passed away, noone would guess this smiling boy would become Britain’s most prolific serial killer.

The Decision to Enter Medicine

Unfortunately, as Shipman grew older, his mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Being the closest to her, Shipman played an active role in his mother’s care, working with professionals to oversee her despite his young age. As her health continued to decline, he seemed to develop a fascination with the effects of morphine. He would sit, watching as the morphine caused his mother’s pain to simply slip away until she eventually died from the disease. Like many children before him, Shipman was spurred by the death of his mother and made a commitment to become a doctor to treat people in similar situations. This seemingly noble decision would ultimately lead him down a much darker path.

harold shipman graduation photo
Harold Shipman on his graduation from medical school in 1970.

The Coroner’s Watchful Eye

From what we know, Shipman was an effective doctor. His coworkers and patients seemed to like him well enough. Though he was often referred to as arrogant by younger staff, people genuinely seemed to enjoy his company. Shipman was a successful doctor, happily married, and seemed to be well and truly living the dream. This was the case for a long while until the local coroners began to notice something disturbing. The coroners who worked in the area seemed to notice just how similar the deaths were from Shipman’s patients. In almost all instances, they were older and seemingly healthy women who seemed to die completely relaxed and unsuspecting. The fact that they all died in similar instances, often in chairs in their homes and came with cremation orders, began to seem suspicious, particularly as the body count began to add up. One of the coroners actually asked Shipman who simply laughed it off.

Harold-Shipman with his wife and family
From the outside looking in, Harold Shipman was a successful doctor, husband, and father. However on the inside Shipman was feeling the sadistic desires to kill.

The Police Investigation

Police reports were filed, and ultimately no evidence was found of any wrongdoing. That is, of course, until one of Shipman’s patients died and left him a great deal of money in her will, nearly half a million pounds. The children of the old woman, who had been spontaneously cut from the will and replaced with Shipman, were very suspicious of this development. The police began to investigate and ultimately found that the will seemed to be a forgery. Upon further investigation, they found the device that had been used to remake the will in Shipman’s home. Suddenly, the suspicious claims surrounding Shipman’s practices seemed a great deal more interesting.

doctor harold shipman's surgery 21 market street

The Conviction

In the end, Shipman was convicted for his crimes and imprisoned until he died from suicide. The family’s were generally dismayed, having hoped that they would eventually hear him confess. Unfortunately, Shipman maintained his innocence until his eventual death, leaving many families to wonder what would drive a man to commit such terrible crimes. Currently, there is evidence to suggest that Shipman was responsible for the deaths of over 250 patients, a staggering number that is simply unimaginable, even in the true crime world.

Even though Shipman only stole money from one victim, it is believed that he stole a great deal of jewelry. His garage was filled with stolen pieces of jewelry, but police were only able to reunite a few pieces with the families of the deceased. Whether it was a deep seed of violence or the trauma of losing his mother, in the end, Shipman ended up leading many unsuspecting women to her same fate.


BreeAnn is the team blogger and a die-hard fan of true crime. She grew up with a love for all things spooky while obsessing over Investigation Discovery shows and eventually switched over to podcasts while working a boring office job in Corporate America. She has since left her corporate job behind to spend her days and nights as a freelance writer, but still takes time to listen to podcasts while she works. Talk Murder To Me has given her a chance to leverage her B.S. in Psychology and her love of writing in the best possible way. You can find her writing stories, reading books, playing DnD, or doing yoga when she’s not researching cases filled with unimaginable horrors.

Further reading