John Bodkin Adams
Eastbourne GP and euthanasia enthusiast, John Bodkin Adams was
acquitted of murder in 1957 - despite being found to be the
beneficiary of 132 patients' wills.
The case of Dr John Bodkin Adams is a contentious one due to the
fact that the general practitioner was never actually found
guilty of murder or professional negligence. However, years
after his own death conflicting views remain about whether
Bodkin Adams was guilty of murder or euthanasia. To some he is
regarded as a forerunner of the medical mass murderer Dr Harold
Shipman, while others believe that he simply carried out mercy
killings at a time when painkillers were the only way to
alleviate terminal suffering.
Dr John Bodkin Adams was a general practitioner in the elegant
Sussex. seaside town of Eastbourne. An Irish loner, he was
seemingly unconcerned about benefiting from gifts and legacies
from his elderly, rich patients.
The middle-aged doctor was not known to be an outstanding
practitioner, but he was recognised as being compassionate and
considerate, particularly to his elderly patients who trusted
him. There were, however, other aspects about his ‘modus
operandi’ that caused concern, mainly his tendency to use
dangerous drugs and, what some critics have described, a
pathological interest in his patients’ wills.
Edith Alice Morrell was a patient of Dr Adams who had been
partially paralysed after suffering a stroke. Adams supplied her
with a cocktail of heroin and morphine to ease her discomfort,
insomnia and symptoms of ‘cerebral irritation’ that was a
condition of her illness.
However, three months before Morrell’s death on November 13th,
1949, she added a clause to her will stating that Adams was to
receive nothing. Despite this clause Dr Adams, who maintained
that Morrell had died from natural causes, still received a
small amount of money, cutlery and a Rolls Royce.
The second alleged victim of Dr Adams did not occur until seven
years after Mrs Morrell had died. Gertrude Hullett was another
patient of Dr Adams who fell ill and then into unconsciousness.
Despite not even being dead, Dr Adams called a local
pathologist, Francis Camps, to make an appointment for an
autopsy. When Camps realised that Hullett was still alive he
accused Adams of ‘extreme incompetence’.
On July 23rd, 1956, Gertrude Hullett died and Adams recorded the
cause of death as having been the result of a brain haemorrhage.
An official investigation however, arrived at the conclusion
that she had committed suicide. Camps argued that she had been
poisoned with sleeping pills. Like Mrs Morrell before her,
Hullett left several valuable items to Dr Adams including a
Gossip surrounding Adams began circulating around the close-knit
seaside community. Whether there was truth in the allegations
that Adams was an ‘angel of death’ preying on vulnerable wealthy
widows or was an ‘angel of mercy’ kindly alleviating suffering,
was up for conjecture.
It appears that the death of Hullett in 1956 precipitated a
state of affairs that was to bring Adams to the attention of the
The gossip in the town finally led the police to investigate and
they arrested Adams on suspicion of murder. The general rumours
that swept the genteel seaside resort were that Adams’ bedside
manner was to persuade a wealthy widow to write a will which
left him money before administering a lethal concoction of
Accusations and hearsay had reached such a peak that the local
police had little choice but to undertake enquiries. At the same
time the press got hold of the story and almost in a ‘trial by
media’ manner helped reinforce the view that Adams was a GP with
a sinister agenda. One headline ‘Inquiry into 400 wills’ no
doubt helped fuel the view that Adams was a potential killer.
The police investigated for several months during 1956. Then on
October 1st of that year they confronted Dr Adams with their
suspicions concerning the death of Mrs Morrell. In his defence
Adams argued that his ill patient, suffering terribly from pain,
wanted to die. He argued that it wasn’t a crime to ease the
suffering of the terminally ill. But it was the legacies left in
the patients wills that caused the police to remain suspicious
over Adams motivations.
Adams’ trial took place in March 1957. QC Sir Frederick Geoffrey
Lawrence, who acted as Adams defence, made a point that the
charge was based mainly on testimonies from the nurses who had
tended Mrs. Morrell.
It transpired that Mrs Morell had been cared for on a 24-hour
basis by a team of four nurses. The nurses testified that it had
been Dr Bodkin Adams’s practice to inject his patients with
grossly excessive doses of pain-killing drugs such as morphine
and heroin. Despite been deeply shocked and suspicious of this
behaviour they felt that as nurses there was little could they
The situation looked bleak for Dr Adams until QC Lawrence
cross-examined the first of the nurses who had given such
damning evidence. Lawrence managed to procure from her the fact
that all injections given to Mrs Morrell had been carefully
recorded in a notebook, together with details of her condition
at all stages during her illness. This procedure was standard
practice for any terminally ill patient.
When QC Lawrence produced not just one but eight notebooks,
overlooked by police investigations, they proved to contain
every detail of Mrs Morell’s treatment for several years before
her death. The nurses themselves had also written in them and
during examination of the notes it was discovered that their
memories failed to correlate with their verbal evidence in
Could it have been the case that these nurses had allowed
themselves to be influenced by malicious gossip circulating in
Also in Adams’ favour was the fact that only one of the
prosecution's two expert medical witnesses was prepared to say
that murder had been committed. QC Lawrence was also able to
demonstrate that he was not a reliable witness.
Dr. Adams defence had managed to prevent him being forced to
appear in the witness stand and as a result no evidence from
Gertrude Hullett's case, including the testimony of a nurse, was
allowed to be produced in court. This particular nurse, who had
worked with Adams while attending Hullett in July 1956, had
allegedly remarked to him 'You do realize, doctor, that you have
On April 15th, 1957, it took the jury only 45 minutes to find
Adams not guilty.
Despite the not guilty verdict, the police still thought Adams
was guilty, not just of two murders, but the deaths of many
patients. The press appeared to share this opinion. A Fleet
Street journalist at the time is known to have said that word on
the street was that Adams had killed so many, and seemed so
likely to kill so many more, that the police had been obliged to
prosecute even though their case was ‘not quite ready’.
After the trial Adams resigned from the National Health Service.
He was later convicted that same year for forging prescriptions,
and ordered to pay a fine of £2,200. As a result he was struck
off the Medical Register.
Adams spent his remaining days in Eastbourne, in spite of his
tarnished reputation with some still believing that he had
murdered at least eight people. Others, notably patients and
friends, remained convinced of his innocence.
In 1961, he was reinstated as a general practitioner. On July
4th, 1983, Adams died aged eighty-four. At the time of his
death, his fortune was £402,970. He had been receiving legacies
until his death.
The Crime &
John Bodkin Adams
(January 21, 1899 – July 4, 1983) was a British
general practitioner, more than 160 of whose
patients died under suspicious circumstances. He
was tried and controversially acquitted for the
murder of one patient in 1957. Another count of
murder was withdrawn.
Adams was born into a highly
religious family of Plymouth Brethren, an austere Protestant
sect, remaining a member his entire life. His father, Samuel,
was a preacher in the local congregation, though by profession
he was a watchmaker. He also had a passionate interest in cars,
which he would pass on to John. Samuel was 39 years old when he
married Ellen Bodkin, 30, in Ransalstown, Northern Ireland, in
1896. John was their first son, born in 1899, followed by a
brother, William Samuel, in 1903. In 1914, Adams's father died
of a stroke. Four years later, William died in the influenza
Adams matriculated at Queen's
University Belfast, at the age of 17. There he was seen as a
"plodder" and "lone wolf" by his lecturers and, due partly to an
illness (probably tuberculosis), which caused him to miss a year
of studies, he graduated in 1921 having failed to qualify for
In 1921, Arthur Rendle Short
offered him a position as assistant houseman at Bristol Royal
Infirmary. Adams spent a year there but did not prove a success.
On Short's advice, Adams applied for a job as a general
practitioner in a Christian practice in Eastbourne.
Adams arrived in Eastbourne
in 1922, where he lived with his mother and cousin, Florence
Henry. In 1929 he borrowed £2,000 from a patient, William
Mawhood, and bought a house in Trinity Trees, a select address.
Adams would frequently invite himself to the Mawhoods' residence
at meal time, even bringing his mother and cousin. He also began
charging items to their accounts at local stores, without their
permission. Mrs Mawhood would later describe Adams to the police
as "a real scrounger". When Mr Mawhood finally died in 1949,
aged 89, Adams visited his wife uninvited and took a 22-carat
gold pen from her bedroom dressing table, saying he wanted
something of her husband's. He never visited her again.
Gossip regarding Adams's
unconventional methods had started by the mid 1930s. In 1935 he
received the first of many "anonymous postcards", as he admitted
in a newspaper interview in 1957. 1935 in fact was the year
Adams inherited £7,385 from a patient, Mrs Matilda Whitton
(whose whole estate amounted to £11,465). The will was contested
by her relatives but upheld in court.
Adams stayed in Eastbourne
throughout the war, though he was not deemed desirable by other
doctors to be selected for a "pool system" where GPs would treat
the patients of colleagues who had been called up. In 1941 he
gained a diploma in anaesthetics and in 1943 his mother died.
After years of rumours and
Adams having been mentioned in at least 132 wills of his
patients, on 23 July 1956 Eastbourne police received an
anonymous call about a death. It was from Leslie Henson, the
music hall performer, whose friend Gertrude Hullett had died
unexpectedly while being treated by Adams.
The investigation was taken
over from Eastbourne police by 2 officers from the Metropolitan
Police's Murder Squad. The senior officer, Detective
Superintendent Herbert Hannam of Scotland Yard on 17 August was
known for having solved the infamous Teddington Towpath Murders
in 1953. He was assisted by a junior officer, Detective Sergeant
Charles Hewett. The investigation focused on cases from
1946-1956 only. Of the 310 death certificates examined by Home
Office pathologist Francis Camps, 163 were deemed to be
suspicious. Many were given "special injections" - of substances
Adams refused to describe to the nurses caring for his patients.
Furthermore, it emerged that his habit was to ask the nurses to
leave the room before injections were given.
On 24 August Hannam started
to encounter problems: the British Medical Association (BMA)
sent a letter to all doctors in Eastbourne reminding them of
patient confidentiality if interviewed by the police. Hannam was
not impressed and the Attorney-General, Sir Reginald
Manningham-Buller (who prosecuted all cases of poisoning), wrote
to the BMA secretary, Dr Macrae, "to try to get him to remove
the ban". The impasse continued for months until on 8 November
Manningham-Buller met with Dr Macrae and, amazingly, passed him
Hannam's 187 page report on Adams to convince him of the
importance of the case.
Dr Macrae took the report to
the President of the BMA and returned it the next day. In all
likelihood, he also copied it and passed it on to the defence.
Dr Macrae then contacted doctors in Eastbourne himself and told
the DPP that "they had no information which would justify" the
charges against Adams. Only two Eastbourne doctors ever gave
evidence to the police.
Hannam bumped into Adams on 1
October 1956 and Adams asked "You are finding all these rumours
untrue, aren't you?" Hannam mentioned a prescription Adams had
forged: "That was very wrong... I have had God's forgiveness for
it", Adams replied. Hannam brought up the deaths of Adams'
patients and his receipt of legacies from them - Adams answered:
"A lot of those were instead of fees, I don't want money. What
use is it?"
On 24 November Hannam and a
Detective Inspector Pugh searched Adams' house with a warrant
issued under the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1951. Adams was surprised:
"You will find none here" he said. Hannam then asked for Adams'
Dangerous Drugs Register - the record of those ordered and used.
Adams responded: "I don't know what you mean. I don't keep a
record." He hadn't kept one in fact since 1949.
During the search, Adams
opened a cupboard and slipped something into his pocket. Hannam
and Pugh challenged him and Adams showed them two bottles of
morphine; one he said was for Mrs Annie Sharpe, a patient and
major witness who had died nine days earlier under his care; the
other was for a Mr Soden, who died on 17 September 1956 (though
pharmacy records later showed Soden had never been prescribed
morphine). Adams was later (after his main trial in 1957)
convicted of obstructing the search, concealing the bottles and
for failing to keep a DD register. Later in the search Adams
also told Hannam:
"Easing the passing of a dying person isn't all
that wicked. She [ Morrell ] wanted to die. That can't be
murder. It is impossible to accuse a doctor."
In December the police
acquired a memorandum belonging to a Daily Mail
journalist, concerning rumours of homosexuality between "a
police officer, a magistrate, and a doctor". The latter directly
implied Adams. This information had come, according to the
reporter, directly from Hannam. The 'magistrate' was Sir Roland
Gwynne, Mayor of Eastbourne from 1929 to 1931 and brother of
Rupert Gwynne, MP for Eastbourne from 1910 to 1924. Gwynne was
Adams' patient and known to visit every morning at 9 a.m. They
went on frequent holidays together and had just spent three
weeks in Scotland that September.
The 'police officer' was none
other than the Chief Constable of Eastbourne, Richard Walker.
Due to this connection, Hannam spent little time pursuing this
line of inquiry (despite homosexuality being an offence in
1956). The memo is, however, testament to Adams' close
connections to those of power in Eastbourne at the time.
Adams was arrested on 19
December 1956, by which time, he had become the richest doctor
in England (paying £1,100 surtax in 1955 alone). When told of
the charges he said:
"Murder... murder... Can you prove it was
murder? [...] I didn't think you could prove it was murder. She
was dying in any event."
Then while he was being taken
away from Kent Lodge, he gripped his receptionist's hand and
told her: "I will see you in heaven."
Hannam collected enough
evidence in at least four of the cases for prosecution to be
warranted: regarding Clara Neil Miller, Julia Bradnum, Edith
Alice Morrell, and Gertrude Hullett. Of these, Adams was charged
on two counts: the murders of Morrell and Hullett.
The Committal Hearing took
place in Lewes on 14 January 1957. The Chairman of the
magistrates was Sir Roland Gwynne, but he stepped down due to
his close friendship with Adams. The Hearing concluded on 24
January and after a 5 minute deliberation, Adams was committed
The trial started on 18 March
1957 at the Old Bailey. Three days later, a new Homicide Act
came into effect; murder by poison became a non-capital effect.
Adams would still face the death penalty if convicted.
Edith Alice Morrell
One of Adams's patients was
Edith Alice Morrell, a wealthy widow. She had suffered from a
brain thrombosis (a stroke), was partially paralyzed and had
severe arthritis. In 1949 she had moved to Eastbourne, and came
under Adams's supervision. He supplied her with doses of heroin
and morphine to ease her symptoms of "cerebral irritation" and
to help her sleep. During the trial it was established that in
the ten months before her death, Adams had given Morrell a total
of 1,629½ grains of barbiturates; 1,928 grains of Sedormid; 16411⁄12
grains of morphia and 139½ grains of heroin. Between the 7th and
12th of November 1949 alone, she was given 40½ grains of morphia
(2624mg) and 39 grains of heroin (2527mg), according to
prescriptions. This would more than likely have been enough to
kill her in itself despite any tolerance developed (the
respective LD-50s are (in one dose) between 375-3750mg for
morphine and 75-375mg for heroin based on a person of 75kg).
Morrell had made several
wills. In some of them, Adams received large sums of money or
furniture — in others, he was not mentioned. On 24 August 1949
she added a codicil saying that Adams would receive nothing.
Three months later aged 81, on 13 November 1950 she died from a
stroke, according to Adams. Despite Morrell's clause, the doctor
received a small amount from Morrell's £78,000 estate (though
less than one of her nurses received and much less than her
chauffeur), a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost (valued at £1,500) and an
antique chest containing silver cutlery worth £276, which Adams
had often told her he admired. After Morrell's death, he took
away an infra-red lamp she had bought herself, worth £60. It was
later found at his surgery.
The day of her death, Adams
arranged for Morrell to be cremated. On the cremation form he
stated that "as far as I am aware" he had no pecuniary interest
in the death of the deceased. This falsehood therefore avoided
the necessity of a post-mortem. That same evening, Morrell's
ashes were scattered over the English Channel.
On 23 July 1956 Gertrude
Hullett, another of Adams's patients, died aged 50. She had been
depressed since the death of her husband four months earlier and
had been prescribed large amounts of sodium barbitone and also
sodium phenobarbitone. She had told Adams on frequent occasions
of her wish to kill herself.
On the 19th most likely, she
took an overdose and was found the next morning in a coma. Adams
was unavailable and a doctor Harris attended with Adams arriving
later in the day. Not once during their discussion did Adams
mention her depression or her medication. They decided a
cerebral hemorrhage was most likely, due partly to contracted
pupils. This however is also a symptom of morphine or
barbiturate poisoning. Moreover, her breathing was shallow,
typical of an overdose-induced coma. A cerebral hemorrhage is
usually accompanied by heavy breathing. Dr Shera, a pathologist,
was called to take a spinal fluid sample on the 20th. He
immediately asked if her stomach contents should be examined in
case of narcotic poisoning. Adams and Harris both opposed this.
The results of a urine sample taken showed Hullett had 115
grains of sodium barbitone in her body - twice the fatal dose.
These results were only received on the 23rd after her death.
The coroner at Hullett's
inquest definitely thought that poisoning should have been
considered earlier. In fact, on the 22nd Adams admitted the
possibility of barbiturate poisoning and gave Hullett a
newly-developed antidote, 10cc of Megimide. The recommended dose
in the instructions, as the inquest established, was 100cc to
200cc. Adams had even checked with a colleague at the Princess
Alice Hospital in Eastbourne, who told police he had told Adams
to give doses of 1cc every 5 minutes. He had then given Adams
100cc of Megimide. The coroner described Adams treatment as
"merely a gesture".
He also questioned why Adams
only gave oxygen to the patient just hours before she died. The
nurse had described Hullett as "cyanosed" (blue). Adams
responded "There didn't seem to be any necessity". The coroner
then asked why there had been no intravenous drip. Adams
answered "She wasn't perspiring. She had lost no fluids". The
nurse however described Hullett as "sweating a good deal" from
the 20th till her death.
The inquest decided Hullett
committed suicide. The jury were directed by the coroner not to
find that Hullett died as a result of Adams's criminal
After the inquest but before
the trial in 1957, the DPP’s office compiled a table of patients
treated with Megimide and Daptazole for barbiturate poisoning at
St Mary's Hospital in Eastbourne between May 1955 and February
1957. 17 patients were listed, 15 had recovered and 6 of those
had been in the first half of 1956, before Hullett's death. All
but one had been put on a drip and several had taken a higher
dose than Hullett. Most importantly however, Adams had worked at
this hospital for one day a week since 1941 when he had
qualified as an anaesthetist. It was presumed by the DPP
therefore, that he must have heard of these cases and their
successful treatment. Why did an overdose not cross his mind,
and why did he provide delayed and inaccurate treatment?
It is also worth noting that
Adams called the pathologist to make an appointment for the
post-mortem before Hullett died. The pathologist was shocked and
accused Adams of "extreme incompetence".
Hullett left her 1954
Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn (worth at least £2,900) to Adams in a
will dated 14 July. Adams changed the car's registration on 8
December and then sold it on the 13th. He was arrested on the
20th. Furthermore, Adams had also received a cheque for £1,000
from Hullett on 17 July, six days before her death. He took it
to the bank the next day and was told it would clear by the
21st. He then asked for it to be 'specially cleared', to credit
his account the next day. This was an unusual request since
'special clearance' was given in cases where a cheque might
bounce and Hullett was one of the richest residents in
Eastbourne. The cheque was lost during the investigation.
Adams was first tried for the
murder of Mrs Morrell. Defence counsel Sir Frederick Geoffrey
Lawrence QC - a "specialist in real estate and divorce cases
[and] a relative stranger in criminal court" who was defending
his first murder trial - convinced the jury that there was no
evidence that a murder had been committed, much less that a
murder had been committed by Adams. He emphasised that the
indictment was based mainly on testimonies from the nurses who
tended Mrs Morrell — and that none of the witnesses' evidence
matched the others'. Also, only one of the prosecution's two
expert medical witnesses was prepared to say that murder had
definitely been committed, and Lawrence was able to demonstrate
that he was not a reliable witness.
Adams did not appear in the
witness box. The prosecution was not allowed to produce evidence
from Gertrude Hullett's case — and therefore a nurse who had
worked with Adams in caring for Hullett could not be called upon
to repeat her words to Adams in July, 1956: "You do realise,
doctor, that you have killed her?". Adams was found not guilty
on 15 April 1957.
Was the trial
is considerable evidence to suggest that the
trial was interfered with by outside forces.
Nurses' notebooks: These vital
pieces of evidence, eight books of records made by nurses
who had worked under Adams, were recorded in pre-trial
police records but disappeared before the trial started,
depriving Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, of the chance to
familiarise himself with them. He was presented with only a
copy of them by the defence on the second day of the trial.
These books were then used by the fully prepared defence to
counter evidence given against Adams by the nurses, who had
originally written the notes. Six years after the event, the
notes could be said to be more reliable than the nurses' own
memories. The defence was not required to explain how the
books came into their hands, and the Attorney-General made
no effort to pursue this matter, despite his nickname of
"Sir Bullying Manner". As Lord Devlin later said of him: "He
could be downright rude but he did not shout or bluster. Yet
his disagreeableness was so pervasive, his persistence so
interminable, the obstructions he manned so far flung, his
objectives apparently so insignificant, that sooner or later
you would be tempted to ask yourself whether the game was
worth the candle: if you asked yourself that, you were
Adams gave three conflicting
explanations for how the defence came to have the note
books: they were given to him by Mrs Morrell's son when he
found them among her effects and filed away at his surgery;
they were delivered anonymously to his door after she died;
they were found in the air raid shelter at the back of his
garden. His solicitor later claimed they were found by the
defence team in Adams's surgery shortly before trial. All
this differs from the police records however: in the list of
exhibits for the Committal Hearing given to the DPP’s
office, they are clearly mentioned. The Attorney General
therefore must have known they existed.
BMA: On 8 November 1956, the
Attorney-General handed a copy of Hannam's 187-page report
to the President of the British Medical Association,
effectively the doctors' trade union in Britain. This
document - the prosecution's most valuable document - was in
the hands of the defence, a situation that led the Home
Secretary, Gwilym Lloyd-George, to reprimand
Manningham-Buller, stating that such documents should not
even be shown to "Parliament or to individual Members". "I
can only hope that no harm will result" since "the
disclosure of this document is likely to cause me
Nolle prosequi: after the not
guilty verdict on the count of murdering Mrs Morell, the
Attorney-General had the power to prosecute Adams for the
death of Mrs Hullett. However, he chose to offer no evidence
by entering a nolle prosequi — historically a power
only used on compassionate grounds when the accused is too
ill to be tried. This was not the case with Adams. Lord
Justice Patrick Devlin, the presiding judge, in his
post-trial book even went as far as terming this "an abuse
NHS: The NHS was founded in
1948. By 1956 it was stretched financially to breaking point
and doctors were disaffected. Indeed, a Royal Commission on
doctors' pay was set up in February 1957. A doctor sentenced
to death would be the final straw. It would turn doctors
away from working for it if they could be hanged for
prescribing medication, it would ruin public confidence in
the service, and would ruin confidence in the government of
the time as well. Indeed, when Harold Macmillan became Prime
Minister on 10 January 1957, he told Queen Elizabeth he
could not guarantee his government would last "six weeks".
Suez Crisis: On 26 July 1956,
President Nasser of Egypt announced the nationalisation of
the Suez Canal. This was opposed by Britain and France and
an ultimatum was issued on 30 October. Bombardment began the
next day. On 5 November Britain and France invaded. However,
without American backing, Britain was forced to withdraw by
24 December. In January 1957 Prime Minister Anthony Eden
resigned and was succeeded by Harold Macmillan. Adams's fate
was therefore entwined with that of the reeling government.
Harold Macmillan: On 26
November 1950, the 10th Duke of Devonshire had a heart
attack. Adams tended him and was by his side when he died,
13 days after the death of Mrs Morrell. The coroner should
have been notified since the Duke had not seen a doctor in
the 14 days before his death, however, due to a loophole in
the law, Adams, though present at death, could sign the
death certificate to state that the Duke died naturally.
Bizarrely, the Duke's sister was married to Macmillan.
Macmillan, who became Prime Minister in 1957 during
preparation for the trial, had good reason not to have
wanted this case to be investigated further: his wife had
been having an affair with Robert Boothby, Conservative MP
for East Aberdeenshire, since 1930. Though he loved his
wife, he had no wish for the press to pry into her family
affairs. An acquittal for Adams would assure that bygones
were left bygones. It should also be noted that the
Attorney-General, Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, attended
Cabinet meetings on a regular basis.
It is worth noting the
surprising fact that Scotland Yard's files on the case and
also those of the DPP, were closed until 2033. This was a
very unusual decision considering the advanced age of the
suspect, witnesses and others involved. The files were only
recently opened, after special permission was granted, in
worth quoting some of the evidence from
testimonies gathered by Hannam during the
investigation, but which was not aired in court.
Taken together, they suggest a certain modus
August 1939 - Adams was
treating Agnes Pike. Her solicitors however were
concerned at the amount of hypnotic drugs he was giving her
and asked another doctor, Dr Mathew, to take over treatment.
Dr Mathew examined her in Adams' presence but could find no
disease present. Moreover, the patient was "deeply under the
influence of drugs", incoherent and gave her age as 200
years. Later during the examination Adams stepped forward
unexpectedly and gave Mrs Pike an injection of morphia.
Asked why he did this, Adams replied "because she might be
violent". Dr Mathew discovered that Adams had banned all
relatives from seeing her. Dr Mathew withdrew Adams'
medication and after eight weeks of his care, Mrs Pike was
able to do her own shopping and had regained her full
discrepancy is that Adams told the owner of the hotel
where Pike was staying, that he would ask a Dr Shera to
do a lumbar puncture to relieve pressure on Mrs Pike's
brain. Dr Shera himself told police that while he
received the spinal fluid sample, he did not recall
taking it himself.
23 February 1950 - Amy Ware
died aged 76. Adams had banned her from seeing relatives
prior to her death. She left Adams £1000 of her total estate
of £8,993, yet Adams stated on the cremation form that he
was not a beneficiary of the will. He was charged and
convicted for this in 1957.
28 December 1950 -
Annabelle Kilgour died aged 89. She had been attended by
Adams since July when she had had a stroke. She went into a
coma on 23 December, immediately after Adams started giving
her sedatives. The nurse involved later told the police she
was 'quite certain Adams either gave the wrong injection or
of far too concentrated a type". Mrs Kilgour left Adams £200
and a clock.
11 May 1952 - Julia Bradnum
died aged 85. The previous year Adams asked her if her will
was in order and offered to accompany her to the bank to
check it. On examining it, he pointed out that she hadn't
given her beneficiaries "addresses" and that it should be
rewritten. She had wanted to leave her house to her adopted
daughter but Adams suggested it would be best to sell the
house and then give money to whomever she wanted. This she
did. Adams eventually received £661. While Adams attended
this patient, he was often seen holding her hand and
chatting to her on one knee.
The day before Bradnum
died, she had been doing housework and going for walks.
The next morning she woke up feeling unwell. Adams was
called and saw her. He gave her an injection and stated
"It will be over in three minutes". It was. Adams then
confirmed "I'm afraid she's gone" and left the room.
Bradnum was exhumed on 21
December 1956. Adams had said on the death certificate
that Bradnum died of a cerebral haemorrage. Francis
Camps however examined her brain and excluded this
possibility. The rest of the body however was not in a
state to deduce the real cause of death. Furthermore -
it was noticed - Adams, the executor, had put a plate on
Bradnum's coffin stating she died on 27 May 1952. This
was the date her body was in fact interred.
22 November 1952 - Julia
Thomas, 72, was being treated by Adams (she called him
"Bobbums") for depression after her cat died in early
November. On the 19th, Adams gave sedatives so she would
feel "better for it in the morning". The next day, after
more tablets, she went into a coma. On the 21st he told
Thomas' cook; "Mrs Thomas has promised me her typewriter,
I'll take it now". She died at 3 a.m. the next morning.
15 January 1953 - Hilda
Neil Miller, 86, died in a guest house where she lived
with her sister Clara. They had not been receiving their
post for many months previously and were cut off from their
relatives. When Hilda's long-standing friend Dolly Wallis
asked Adams about her health, he answered her with medical
terms she "did not understand". While visiting Hilda, Adams
was seen by her nurse, Phyllis Owen, to pick up articles in
the room, examine them and slip them in his pocket. Adams
arranged Hilda's funeral and burial site himself.
22 February 1954 - Clara
Neil Miller, died aged 87. Adams often locked the door
when he saw her - for up to twenty minutes at a time. When
Dolly Wallis asked about this, Clara said he was assisting
her in "personal matters": pinning on brooches, adjusting
her dress. His fat hands were "comforting" to her. She also
appeared to be under the influence of drugs.
Early that February, the
coldest for many years, Adams had sat with her in her
room for forty minutes. A nurse entered, unnoticed, and
saw Clara's "bed clothes all off... and over the foot
rail of the bed, her night gown up around her chest and
the window in the room open top and bottom", while Adams
read to her from the Bible. When later confronted by
Hannam regarding this, Adams said "The person who told
you that doesn't know why I did it".
Clara left Adams £1,275
and he charged her estate a further £700 after her
death. He was the sole executor. Her funeral was
arranged by Adams and only he and Mrs Annie Sharpe, the
guest house owner, were present. She received £200 in
Clara's will. Adams tipped the vicar a guinea after the
ceremony. Clara was also exhumed during the police
investigation on 21 December 1956.
30 May 1955 - James Downs,
brother-in-law of Amy Ware, died aged 88. He had entered a
nursing home with a broken ankle four months earlier. Adams
had treated him with a sedative containing morphia, which
made him forgetful. On 7 April Adams gave his nurse, Sister
Miller, a tablet to make him more alert. Two hours later, a
solicitor arrived for him to amend his will. Adams told the
solicitor he was to be made a legatee to inherit £1000. The
solicitor amended the will and returned two hours later with
another doctor, Dr Barkworth, who declared the patient to be
alert. Dr Barkworth was paid 3 guineas for his time. Nurse
Miller later told police she had heard Adams earlier that
April tell the "senile" Downs; "Now look Jimmy, you promised
me... you would look after me and I see you haven't even
mentioned me in your will." "I have never charged you a
fee". Downs died after a 36 hour coma, 12 hours after Adams'
last visit. Adams charged his estate £216 for his services
and signed Downs' cremation form, stating he had "no
pecuniary interest in the death of the deceased".
14 March 1956 - Alfred John
Hullett died, aged 71. He was the husband of Gertrude
Hullett. Shortly after his death, Adams went to a chemists
to get a 10cc hypodermic morphine solution in the name of Mr
Hullett containing 5 grains of morphine, and for the
prescription to be back dated to the previous day. The
police presumed this was to cover morphine Adams had given
him from his own private supplies. Mr Hullett left Adams
£500 in his will.
15 November 1956 - Annie
Sharpe, owner of the guest house where the Neil Millers
died - and therefore major witness - died of "carcinomatosis
of the peritoneal cavity" during the police investigation.
Adams had diagnosed cancer five days earlier and made a
prescription for her for hyperduric morphine and 36
pethidine tablets. Hannam had had a chance to interview her,
but would never be able to have her questioned in court. She
In the aftermath
of the trial Adams resigned from the National
Health Service and was convicted later that year
on 8 counts of forging prescriptions, four
counts of making false statements on cremation
forms, and three offences under the Dangerous
Drugs Act, 1951 and fined £2,400 plus costs. On
22 November 1957 he was struck off the medical
Adams sold his story to the
Daily Express for ₤10,000 and successfully sued several
newspapers for libel. He stayed in Eastbourne, despite the
common belief that he had murdered 21 people. It is worth noting
that this belief was not generally shared by his friends and
patients, however. One exception was Roland Gwynne, who
distanced himself considerably from Adams after the trial.
Adams was reinstated as a
general practitioner in 1961, after two failed applications.
That he was allowed to resume his medical career suggests his
professional colleagues thought him neither guilty of murder,
nor grossly negligent or incompetent in his work. When he
applied for a visa to America in August 1962, however, he was
refused because of his dangerous drug convictions.
Adams later became President
(and Honorary Medical Officer) of the British Clay Pigeon
Adams slipped and fractured
his hip on 30 June 1983 while shooting in Battle, East Sussex.
He was taken to Eastbourne hospital but developed a chest
infection and died on 4 July of left ventricular failure. He
left an estate of £402,970. He had been receiving legacies until
In 1986 The Good Doctor
Bodkin Adams, a TV docudrama based on his trial, was
produced starring Timothy West.
Cullen, Pamela V., "A Stranger
in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams", London,
Elliott & Thompson, 2006, ISBN 1-904027-19-9
Sybille Bedford, The Best
We Can Do
J.H.H. Gaute and Robin Odell,
The New Murderer's Who's Who, 1996, Harrap Books,
Percy Hoskins, Two men were
acquitted: The trial and acquittal of Doctor John Bodkin