JOHN BODKIN ADAMS.
Dr Adams is a notorious serial killer. His name has gone down in history as one of the most infamous physicians in the United Kingdom.
John Bodkin Adams was born in Ireland in 1899. His family was a deeply religious and serious-minded one. His family was lower middle class and his father was fascinated with cars which were a very new invention then. John Bodkin Adams was also scintillated by cars. His family’s very fervent faith did not prevent them valuing material things. He was studious and performed strongly at school. His diligence led him to read Medicine at the Queen’s University of Belfast. He qualified as a doctor in 1921. It was then possible to qualify in only five years. He was only seen as a satisfactory student. He experienced grief in his family life. Both his father and brother died by the time John was aged 19.
Dr Bodkin Adams then became an assistant to a surgeon. Junior doctors were required to be a junior house officer for a few years. This meant working long hours dealing with demanding cases – usually emergencies. This was a daft system where the most inexperienced and overworked doctors had to handle the most urgent patients.
Dr Bodkin Adams did not do well at surgery. Instead he opted to become a General Practitioner. This meant that he dealt with all manner of patients from neonatals to geriatrics. He was the first port of call for minor illnesses. If a condition was grave he would pass the patient onto a specialist such as a dermatologist or psychiatrist. Dr Bodkin Adams lived in Eastbourne. This is a prosperous town on the south coast of England. Many well to do people retired there. They were often pensioners from colonial service. It was jocularly called ”God’s waiting room.” Dr Bodkin Adams was unfailingly courteous to his patients. His tidy and conservative clothes went down well with his patients. He knew how to butter them up. His blarney, religiosity and kindly manner won him the affection of his mainly elderly patients. He was like a son to them.
Dr Bodkin Adams never married. His widowed mother lived with him. Dr Bodkin Adams was very friendly with a couple who were his patients – Mr and Mrs Mawhood. He persuaded them to lend him GBP 2 000 in 1929. That was a huge sum for the time. He would come around to the Mawhood household for dinner uninvited. He brought his mother and female cousin with him. He was able to buy a house with it. When Mr Mawhood died Dr Bodkin Adams visited the house and said he wanted to take a momento of Mr Mawhood. He helped himself to a gold pen. He never visited Mrs Mawhood again. She said he was a scrounger. He was an affluent man but was a miser and always tried to get things for free.
In 1935 an old woman who was Dr Bodkin Adams’ patient died. She left him GBP 7 000 in her will which was most of her estate. Her family challenged the will in court. It could not be right that she was leaving her doctor more money than her family. The court upheld the will as being valid.
Dr Bodkin Adams began to receive anonymous postcards saying he must be changing the wills of his senile patients and then killing them. Other doctors had seen Dr Bodkin Adams as disreputable for some time. They refused to share a clinic with him. Perhaps being alone in his practice suited Dr Bodkin Adams. He did not want another physician knowing what he was up to. Moreover, he did not wish to share his lucre with another.
Dr Bodkin Adams trained as an anaesthetist. This meant he administered anaesthetics to patients. They must be given the right amount according to weight, age, sex etc… and for how long they must be unconscious for. Too little and they will wake up during an operation. Too much and they will be brain damaged or die. Dr Bodkin Adams was inattentive and frequently messed up.
In 1957 his cousin Sarah had terminal cancer. He gave her an injection half an hour before she died. It is suspected that he deliberately gave her a fatal dose of pain killer to make the end of her life easier. In those days doctors were rarely even reprimanded for this. Lord Dawson of Penn, the Royal Physician, had ”eased the passing” of King George V with a fatal dose of morphine in 1936. Lord Dawson of Penn had even recorded this in his diary. This is why he had issued a bulletin to the press with such brazen confidence, ”The King’s life is drawing peacefully to a close.”
Dr Bodkin Adams had a highly successful practise. He treated many aristocrats and an Olympic athlete. He also had the town’s chief of police as a patient. He was rumoured to be the wealthiest GP in the country. Sir Roland Gwynne, the mayor of the town, was a dear friend of Bodkin Adams.
Bodkin Adams was also reputed to be an active homosexual. Some believe that a homosexual cabal protected him.
In 1956 the police received a tip off about an suspicious death. A patient of Dr Bodkin Adams’ died and left the physician and huge amount of money in her will. Hmmm……
The police looked into 300 death certificates issued by Dr Bodkin Adams. 163 were seen to be suspect. In many cases these patients were given injections by the GP hours before they died. He refused to tell nurses what substance he was injecting into these people. Adams usually took the precaution of being the only person with the patient when he injected them. Moreover, he made sure to cut the patient off from contact with their family. This was an era when doctor’s orders were seldom questioned. On one occasion he injected an old woman with a dose of heroin 12 times greater than the legal maximum. This was either an attempt to kill or else criminally stupid.
The British Medical Association told all doctors in the Eastbourne area that patient confidentiality was paramount. They must not tell the police anything about patients. It seemed to be that the BMA wanted to protect the reputation of a colleague and their profession generally. This was deemed to be of greater import than the lives of their patients. The medical profession closed ranks. The police spoke to the head of the BMA. Dr MacRae was persuaded that the suspicions against Dr Bodkin Adams were very well founded. He reluctantly agreed that in this case Eastbourne doctors could speak to the police about their patients. Some of them had also treated people who had been treated by Bodkin Adams. The patients concerned were all dead so patient confidentiality did not apply.
The detective in charge of investigating Dr Bodkin Adams was Mr Hannam. Mr Hannam noticed that Dr Bodkin Adams had forged some prescriptions. Dr Bodkin Adams acknowledged that he had forged prescriptions but said that God had forgiven him. Mr Hannam also noticed that many of Bodkin Adams’ patients were cremated. On the cremation authorisation form Dr Bodkin Adams had signed that he was not inheriting anything from the deceased even when he was inheriting money from the deceased. Some of Dr Bodkin Adams patients had been treated for free and then left him large sums of money in their last will and testament.
Dr Bodkin Adams was very wealthy and paid a large amount in income tax. His income was so huge that he also paid GBP 1 000 super tax on top of that. He suggested to his private patients that he would reduce their fees if they remembered him in their will. That way he would avoid tax on the money. As soon as someone altered his or her will to make the doctor a beneficiary this person would not live long.
The police searched Dr Bodkin Adams’ surgery. They found he had not kept a register of dangerous drugs which had had prescribed since 1949 even though he was required by law to do so. They discovered he had heroin in his surgery despite him telling the police he had none.
A key witness against Dr Bodkin Adams was Mrs Sharpe who died during the investigation. Dr Bodkin Adams was asked about his patient Mrs Morrell who died after he gave her a large amount of heroin. ”The poor dear she was in terrible pain. Easing her passing is not wicked at all. That can’t be murder. You cannot accuse a doctor.” He was admitting killing her but quibbling about whether it was immoral. Bodkin Adams purported to believe that because these people were of an advanced age or infirm it was no murder to end their lives.
Dr Bodkin Adams also had tyres for new cars in his house.
Dr Adams was arrested in 1956 and charged with murder. The original judge was compelled to recuse himself since his brother was a dear friend of Dr Bodkin Adams. A cheque which was a key plank of the prosecution case was mislaid by the police. Some suspect that Seekings – head of the Eastbourne police – had taken it from the evidence store and destroyed it since he was a bosom buddy of the accused. They had even been on holiday together.
A journalist wrote the following ditty about the doctor:
Send them down to sunny Eastbourne by the sea.”
John Bodkin Adams was tried with premeditated murder. If found guilty he would face the hangman.
Bodkin Adams stood trial for the murder of Mrs Morrell. She had given him her Rolls Royce and expensive furniture as well as money in her will. He had billed her estate for hundreds of consultations. When she died she was cremated with Adams authorising it. He said on the form that he had no financial interest in her death which was a huge lie.
Mrs Hullet was a patient of the doctor. She was depressed because her husband had just died. She wrote Bodkin Adams a cheque for GBP 1 000 and gave him her car. Adams persuaded the bank to clear the cjeque extra fast. Six days after the cheque was written Mrs Hullet was dead. She had been given barbiturates (to calm her). Her death was recorded as a suicide. An investigation by other doctors said that Bodkin Adams had been negligent in regard to this woman. He had failed to inform other doctors who treated her that she was despondent and had contemplated suicide.
The prosecution relied on the testimony of nurses. They also had two doctors as witnesses. They both castigated him for his negligence. Neither of the doctors would say that Bodkin Adams had definitely committed murder. Bodkin Adams was tried for the murder of Mrs Morrel first. If acquitted he would be tried for the murder of Mrs Hullet.
The prosecution wanted to establish a pattern. There were dozens of examples of him prescribing heroin for trifling ailments. There were many examples of someone changing their will to leave a pecuniary legacy to Bodkin Adams. Within months or even weeks that person would have died after unnecessary medication from the doctor. The judge ruled this to be impermissible. It would prejudice the jury. Bodkin Adams was charged with one murder only. He could be tried on evidence relating to that case and to no other case.
During the trial the Lord Chief Justice Goddard phoned the judge. The Lord Chief Justice was the highest judge in the criminal division of the courts. The Lord Chief Justice Goddard asked Judge Devlin that if Adams was acquitted for the first murder would he please grant Adams bail before the second trial commenced. Judge Devlin was astonished that the Lord Chief Justice would interfere in this manner. Lord Chief Justice Goddard was blatantly intervening in favour of the defendant. Bail had never been granted in such circumstances before. Goddard has a friend of Gwynne who was a close friend of Dr Bodkin Adams.
The jury acquitted BodkinAdams.
There were other cases that the Crown could have used to proceed against Adams. In some cases of suspicious deaths his patients had been interred and not cremated. Large amount of heroin were found in their corpses. The prosecution had made out its case against Adams on the base of a feeble case – Mrs Morrell – and had not used its strongest examples of evidence against him.
In the matter of Mrs Hullett the Attorney-General – Mr Manningham-Buller – gave a nolle prosequi order (do not prosecute). The Attorney-General is a Member of Parliament who is the government’s barrister. He is in charge of the legal system.
Some say that political meddling saved Dr Bodkin Adams. The Suez Crisis was on. The National Health Service was new. If a doctor was sentenced to death then doctors would leave the NHS in droves. They would say he was being executed for prescribing medicine. One of Bodkin Adams’ patients was the Duke of Devonshire. The duke was the brother-in-law of the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.
The case established that doctors are permitted to prescribed medicine to ease the suffering of a patient even if this foreshortens the life of the patient.
Dr Bodkin Adams was not found guilty of murder but there was much else he was proven to be guilty of. He was convicted of eight counts of forging prescriptions. He was found guilty of making false statements on cremation forms. He was guilty of breaching the Dangerous Drugs Act on three occasions. What he had done was not just maladministration. This was criminal and he ought to have been sent to prison for several years. He was struck off the medical register.
The case was followed with intense interest by a Yorkshire schoolboy. His name was Harold Shipman.
Most journalists believed that Adams was guilty. He sued some publications for libel and won. Shockingly, in 1961 he had his medical licence restored to him! He continued to practise medicine. He never had many patients. Most people believed that he was guilty of murder but had gotten off because of his establishment connections. Other doctors closely superintended his practise. The police watched his every move. He was never given a bequest again.
He died in 1984.
He is the subject of a film that came out after his death. It could only be made then because there could be no libel action.
Bodkin Adams probably committed at least several murders. His motives were probably financial. This physician was notorious for his avarice. He may also have revelled in the power he wielded over his patients.