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Background of Harold Shipman

Question:

Discuss about the Serial Killer for Abnormal Psychological Gratification.

Serial killer is a term which refers to such individual who murders three or a higher number of people and this could be due to a number of reasons including abnormal psychological gratification, and in which the murders take place over a period of months, where a cooling off period in terms of a major break is included between the murders. There are different criteria which are applied by the authorities when it comes to designating of the serial killers; though, the major set the limit of three murders, some lessen it to two and some extend it to four (Waller, 2011). In terms of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, i.e., FBI, serial killing is a series of two or a higher number of murders which are undertaken as different events, which usually is undertaken by an offender who acts alone, but the same is not necessary each time. As per FBI, the motives of serial killers vary from anger, financial gain, attention seeking, and thrill seeking to psychological gratification (Newton, 2008). Harold Shipman is one of such serial killers who was a doctor turned serial killer and who used the characteristic of manipulator to murder. The following parts cover a case study of Harold Shipman and would attempt to explain the manner in which his characteristic of manipulation played a role in the murders.

Harold Frederick Shipman was a British general practitioner, who lived from January 14th, 1946 to 13th January 2004 and is considered as amongst the most prolific serial kills in the recorded history. In the backdrop of mayhem created by Shipman, the legal structure of the nation relating to the health care and medicines was reviewed and was altered. He continues to be the only British physicians who have been found guilty of murdering their patients even when a number of doctors have been acquitted for crimes of similar nature, or convicted with lesser charges. Shipman died on his own hands by hanging himself one day before his 58th birthday, at his prison cell in Wakefield Prison (Whittle and Ritchie, 2009).

On January 31st, 2000, he was found guilty of fifteen murders by the jury, for killing the patients that were in his care. As a result of this, he was given a life term imprisonment, where a recommendation was given along with this that he should never be released (Marshall, 2016). The Shipman Inquiry was carried on for a period of two years, into the deaths which were certified by Shipman and this was chaired by Dame Janet Smith who investigated into the crimes committed by Shipman. 218 victims were identified in the inquiry but the estimated number of his victims was over 250, where 80% were elderly women. A 41 year old male was his youngest confirmed victim even when the suspicion was that he had killed patients as young as the age of four (Plehov, 2014).

Shipman's Conviction and Victims

The crimes of Shipman came to light when a local undertaker noticed that the patients of Shipman seemed to be dying at a rate which was unusually high and also showed similar poses in death where the body was always fully clothed and they were usually reclining or sitting up on a settee. He started becoming suspicious and approached Shipman regarding this issue in a direct manner (Green, 2015). However, he was reassured by Shipman that the local undertaker had nothing to worry. Dr. Susan Booth, another medical colleague, after some time also found the similarity as a disturbing thing and this led to the local coroner’s office being alerted about this and he raised the alarm bells with the police. Initially a covert investigation was undertaken in which Shipman was not found guilty and his records appeared to be in proper order. However, this inquiry never included checking the criminal records or a contact with the General Medical Council, which would have been proof enough of the earlier record of Shipman. After a more thorough investigation was undertaken, it was revealed that the medical records of the patients had been changed by Shipman in order to substantiate their causes of death (Biography, 2017).

Shipman gained the advantage of his status and hid behind the shield of being a caring family doctor, which made it nearly impossible to ascertain when exactly he had started killing his patients or that how many individuals had died at his hands. The authorities further faced difficulty as he denied all the charges. The determination of the daughter of one of his victims, i.e., of Angela Woodruff, led to his killing spree being brought to an end, as she rejected the explanations given regarding the cause of death of her mother. Angela’s mother was Kathleen Grundy who was a wealthy widow of 81 years age and he was found dead on June 24th, 1998, at her home, after Shipman had visited her. Angela was given the advice that there was no need of an autopsy and so Kathleen was buried as per the wishes of her daughter (Batty, 2005).

Angela was a lawyer by profession who had always looked after the affairs of her mother and this resulted in her being surprised when she saw another will to be present, where her mother had left the majority of her estate to Shipman. This led to her being sure that the document had been forged and that Shipman had murdered her mother for getting her estate. She then told all this to the local police, which led to the Detective Superintendent, Bernard Postles drawing the very same conclusion after he examined all the evidence. This led to Kathleen’s body being exhumed and the undertaken post-mortem showed that she died as a result of the overdose of morphine, which had been given to her within 3 hours of her death and this was within the timeframe of the visit of Shipman to her (Clarkson, 2005).

Shipman's Manipulative Tactics

When the home of Shipman was raided where an odd collection of jewellery, medical records and an old typewriter was yielded which proved to be the reason due to which it was shown that the document produced had been forged regarding the will of Kathleen. This made it clear to the police that Shipman had forged the document and this led to his medical records being seized, which led to the case extending beyond a single death and the property shifted to the deaths which could prove to be the most productive for the investigation, particularly for the victims who had been cremated and who had died after Shipman visited them at their home. In majority cases, Shipman had requested the families that there was no need of further investigation into the death of their loved ones and this was done even in such cases where the relatives had died owing to unknown reasons to the families. The computerized medical notes of Shipman further corroborated this (Casey, 2011). 

The key characteristic attributed to Harold Shipman was that he was an expert manipulator. Serials killers have often used the apparent vulnerability and the need of pleasing in an effective manner, time and again for hiding their sinister personality. In the world, some of the leading and known serial kills have this terrifying skill of manipulating the ones who are around them, where they are able to press the correct button for presenting themselves in the false light. Often, the serial killers are able to manipulate the situations around them for passing the blame of their acts by using the medical psychological research or the hot button issues of the day for making an attempt to explain their acts. Shipman was able to use his position as being a medical expert and used it to manipulate his patients in their treatments and this ultimately killed them, while Shipman continued to portray himself as a caring member of the society (Woollaston, 2015).

The manipulators have the ability of pleasing others in their dominant characteristic, and they try to appear to be vulnerable. They wear a veil of weakness and humility in order to lure their victims in the false sense of security. The serial killers hide their deep disturbed personality in a false pretence and portray themselves as the nice guy. Such serial killers have the eerie skill of reading the people and of manipulating the emotions of other, for getting their way. Harold Shipman is a leading example of luring the individuals, which included his patients and the members of the society, into believing that he was a caring and an altruistic member of the society. This ultimately led to his victims being lured in his sinister plot of inflicting death on them, in the so called terms of medical treatment (Chase, 2017).

Psychopathy and Motives of Shipman

Manipulation is a key trait in majority of psychopaths, in addition to impulsiveness and aggression and these are the features which further lead them towards the path of criminal activities. Psychopaths are not only manipulative and also calculating and they do not suffer from delusions or hallucinations, as is the case with certain set of serial killers. Psychopaths differ from psychotics as they do not hear voices in their heads or make up false stories regarding the world (Herve and Yuille, 2017). Apart from the manipulation undertaken by Shipman, some people believed that he was avenging the death of his mother, who passed away when he was merely 17 years of age. Some believed that he killed the old ladies by injecting them with morphine as a manner of easing the burdens. A more disturbing theory is that he considered himself as a God and could not resist playing the role of one. This is the reason he skilled the patients to show that he could both save a life and take it as well (Batty, 2005).

Another key characteristic about him was that he was a poisoner, who used lethal injections of diamorphone on his victims. In this regard he used his tactics and his medical profession as a manner of gaining access to the clients. His manipulative techniques were all the more important after he had committed the murder of a victim and he told their loved ones to ignore going forward with any more examination into the death of the victim, thereby avoiding any chances of being made liable for their deaths through discovery. He was also filled with greed which led to him being caught. The forgery of the will of Kathleen was the prime example of this, where he forged a will of Kathleen and awarded himself the majority of her will. There was an absence of violence, sexual overtone, and clear motives save for one instance (Lavina, 2013). Where some believed he was clinging on to his mother’s death, others believed that he was recreating the death scene of his murder. Some also state that the fact that he left so many clues was proof enough that he desperately wanted to be caught and to be stopped and that was fighting a compulsion which he could not control. However, the exact reason for Shipman being indulged in such murders is still unknown (Whittle and Ritchie, 2009).

Conclusion

Thus, from the discussion carried on above, it becomes clear that Harold Shipman was a serial killer who was a medical practitioner and who misused his profession to manipulate his patients and killed them. Shipman manipulated the families of his victims to avoid any sort of further follow up in the death of the victims which led to him continuing his evil plans. Even though his colleagues did raise the alarm bells, his persona and his image as being a proper health practitioner helped him in avoiding getting caught. However, his acts were brought to the light when his greed was caught by the daughter of one of his victims, who caught the forged documents created by Shipman regarding the will of his victim. He had a number of characteristics as being an expert manipulator, where different reasons were given for him being indulged in such gruesome acts.

References

Batty, D. (2005) Q&A: Harold Shipman. [Online] The Guardian. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2005/aug/25/health.shipman [Accessed on: 26/11/17]

Biography. (2017) Harold Shipman. [Online] Biography. Available from: https://www.biography.com/people/harold-shipman-17169712 [Accessed on: 26/11/17]

Casey, E. (2011) Digital Evidence and Computer Crime: Forensic Science, Computers and the Internet. London: Academic Press.

Chase, J. (2017) Evil Among Us: 5 Traits of Serial Killers. [Online] Author Jennifer Chase. Available from: https://authorjenniferchase.com/2017/01/13/evil-among-us-5-traits-of-serial-killers/ [Accessed on: 26/11/17]

Clarkson, W. (2005) Evil Beyond Belief - How and Why Dr Harold Shipman Murdered 357 People. London: John Blake Publishing.

Green, R. (2015) Harold Shipman: The True Story of Britain's Most Notorious Serial Killer. Luxembourg: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Herve, H., and Yuille, J.C. (2017) The Psychopath: Theory, Research, and Practice. Oxon: Routledge.

Lavina. (2013) Top 15 Worst Serial Killers World has Ever Seen. [Online] Listovative. Available from: https://listovative.com/top-15-worst-serial-killers-world-ever-seen/ [Accessed on: 26/11/17]

Marshall, N. (2016) Doctor Death: The True Story of Harold Shipman. Luxembourg: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Newton, M. (2008) Serial Killers. New York: Infobase Publishing.

Peters, C. (2006) Harold Shipman: Mind Set on Murder: why Shipman Killed and Killed Again: the True Story. London: André Deutsch.

Plehov, M. (2014) Harold Shipman: The Doctor of Death. Northamptonshire, United Kingdom: Igloo Books.

Waller, S. (2011) Serial Killers - Philosophy for Everyone: Being and Killing. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.

Whittle, ‎B., and Ritchie, J. (2009) Harold Shipman - Prescription For Murder: The true story of Dr Harold Frederick Shipman. London: Hachette UK.

Woollaston, V. (2015) How to spot a serial killer: Criminologists reveal five key traits the most notorious murderers have in common. [Online] Daily Mail. Available from: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3169359/How-spot-serial-killer-Criminologists-reveal-five-key-traits-common-notorious-murderers.html [Accessed on: 26/11/17]

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