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Dr. John Bodkin ADAMS

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "Doctor Death"
 
Classification: Serial killer ?
Characteristics: Poisoner ? - General practitioner beneficiary of 132 patients' wills
Number of victims: 0 - 163 +
Date of murders: 1935 - 1956
Date of arrest: December 19, 1956
Date of birth: January 21, 1899
Victims profile: Elderly women (patients)
Method of murder: Poisoning
Location: Eastbourne, East Sussex, England, United Kingdom
Status: Acquitted of murder on April 15, 1957. Died on July 4, 1983
 
 

 
 
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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.

Biography

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.

The Crimes

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 Rolls Royce.

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 authorities.

The Arrest

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 drugs.

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.

The Trial

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 do.

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 court.

Could it have been the case that these nurses had allowed themselves to be influenced by malicious gossip circulating in the town?

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 killed her?'

On April 15th, 1957, it took the jury only 45 minutes to find Adams not guilty.

The Aftermath

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.

Richard Bevan
The Crime & Investigation Network


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.

Early years

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 pandemic.

University

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 honours.

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.

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

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.

Obstruction

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.

The meeting

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?"

Search

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."

Sexuality

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.

The arrest

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 for trial.

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.

Gertrude Hullett

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 negligence.

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.

The trial

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 prejudiced?

There 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 finished."

  • 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 considerable embarrassment".

  • 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 of power".

Why interfere?

  • 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 2003.

Innocent?

Suspicious cases

It is 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 operandi:

  • 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 faculties.

    • Another puzzling 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.

  • 3 January 1952 - Adams purchased 5,000 phenobarbitone tablets. By the time his house was searched four years later, none were left.

  • 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 was cremated.

After the acquittal

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 register.

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 Shooting Association.

Death

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 the end.

Popular culture

In 1986 The Good Doctor Bodkin Adams, a TV docudrama based on his trial, was produced starring Timothy West.

References

  • 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, London

  • Percy Hoskins, Two men were acquitted: The trial and acquittal of Doctor John Bodkin Adams

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