Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Harold Shipman, the World's Most Prolific Serial Killer

Early Warnings

In this macabre and unfinished story, Shipman's former patients are grateful indeed he was finally stopped. The feeling "I could have been next" will always haunt them. And there is little doubt that some owe their lives to a determined and intelligent woman named Angela Woodruff.

Her dogged determination to solve a mystery helped ensure that, on Monday, January 31, 2000, the jury at Preston Crown Court found Shipman guilty of murdering 15 of his patients and forging the will of Angela's beloved mother, Katherine Grundy.

But Ms. Woodruff was not the first to realize something was dangerously wrong where Dr. Shipman was involved.

Local undertaker Alan Massey began noticing a strange pattern: not only did Shipman's patients seem to be dying at an unusually high rate; their dead bodies had a similarity when he called to collect them. "Anybody can die in a chair," he observed, "But there's no set pattern, and Dr. Shipman's always seem to be the same, or very similar.  Could be sat in a chair, could be laid on the settee, but I would say 90% was always fully clothed.  There was never anything in the house that I saw that indicated the person had been ill.  It just seems the person, where they were, had died.  There was something that didn't quite fit."

Worried enough to voice his unease, Massey decided to confront Shipman, and paid the doctor a visit.

Massey recalls, "I asked him if there was any cause for concern and he just said 'no there isn't".  He showed me his certificate book that he issues death certificates in, the cause of death in, and his remarks were 'nothing to worry about, you've nothing to worry about and anybody who wants to inspect his book can do."'

Reassured by Shipman's ease at being questioned, the undertaker took no further action.  But his daughter, Debbie Brambroffe — also a funeral director — was not so readily appeased.  She found an ally in Dr. Susan Booth.

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