Death of Gertrude Hullett
Gertrude "Bobby" Hullett (1906 – 23 July 1956), a resident of Eastbourne, East Sussex, England, was a patient of the suspected serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams, who was charged with her murder but never tried for it. Adams was tried in 1957 for the murder of Edith Alice Morrell and the Hullett charge was meant to follow the Morrell case. The Morrell trial featured in headlines around the world and was described at the time as "one of the greatest murder trials of all time" and "murder trial of the century". However, the Hullett charge was dropped by the Attorney General after Adams was acquitted of murdering Morrell - a move that was later described by the presiding judge as "an abuse of process".
On 14 March 1956, her husband Alfred John (Jack) Hullett died at age 71. He had been treated by John Bodkin Adams, and shortly after his death, Adams went to a chemist's shop to get a 10-cc hypodermic morphine solution in the name of Mr Hullett (containing 5 grains of morphine), and asked for the prescription to be back-dated to the previous day. When the police investigated the case, they presumed the purpose of the ruse was to cover up morphine that Adams had given Hullett from his own private supplies. Mr Hullett left Adams £500 in his will.
Gertrude Hullett, 50, became depressed after Jack's death. Adams prescribed for her large amounts of sodium barbitone and sodium phenobarbitone. She had told Adams on frequent occasions of her wish to commit suicide.
On 17 July 1956, Hullett wrote out a cheque for Adams in the amount of £1,000; to pay for an MG car which her husband had promised to buy him. Adams paid the cheque into his account the next day, and on being told that it would clear by the 21st, asked for it to be specially cleared, so that it would arrive in his account the next day.
On 19 July, Hullett is thought to have taken an overdose, and was found the next morning in a coma. Adams was unavailable and a colleague, Dr Harris, attended her until Adams arrived later in the day. Not once during their discussion did Adams mention to Dr Harris that Mrs Hullett had had depression or her barbiturate medication. The two doctors 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. On 21 July, a pathologist by the name of Dr Shera was called in to take a spinal fluid sample, and immediately asked if her stomach contents should be examined in case of narcotic poisoning, but Adams and Harris both opposed this. After Shera left, Adams visited another colleague, Dr Cook, at the Princess Alice Hospital in Eastbourne and asked about the treatment for barbiturate poisoning. He was told to give doses of 10 cc of a relatively new antidote Megimide every five minutes, and was given 100 cc to use. The recommended dose in the instructions was 100 cc to 200 cc. Dr Cook also told him to put Hullett on an intravenous drip. Adams did not follow these suggestions.
The next morning, at 8:30 a.m., Adams called the coroner to make an appointment for a private post-mortem. The coroner asked when the patient had died and Adams said she had not yet. Dr Harris visited again that day and Adams still made no mention of potential barbiturate poisoning. When Harris left, Adams administered a single injection of 10 cc of the Megimide. Hullett developed broncho-pneumonia and on the 23rd at 6:00 a.m., Adams gave Hullett oxygen. She died at 7:23 a.m. on the 23rd. The results of a urine sample taken on the 21st were received after Hullett's death, on the 24th. It showed she had 115 grains of sodium barbitone in her body, twice the fatal dose.
Later, before Adams' trial in 1957, the Director of Public Prosecutions's office compiled a table of patients who had been treated with Megimide and Daptazole for barbiturate poisoning between May 1955 and July 1956 at Saint Mary's Hospital in Eastbourne, where Adams had worked one day a week as an anaesthetist. Six of those patients had been treated 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. It was presumed by the DPP, therefore, that Adams must have heard of these cases and the use of Megimide.
In a will dated 14 July, Hullett had left Adams her 1954 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn, (worth at least £2,900). Adams changed the car's distinctive vanity registration (AJH532) on 8 December and then sold it on the 13th. He was arrested six days later on 19 December.
An inquest was held into Hullett's death on 21 August. The coroner asked Adams why there had been no intravenous drip, to which Adams answered, "She wasn't perspiring. She had lost no fluids." A nurse, however, described Hullett as "sweating a good deal" from the 20th till her death. When asked if he read the instructions for the Megimide, Adams answered, "No, I didn't." The coroner also described the use of oxygen as "a mere gesture". In his summing up, he then said that it was "extraordinary that the doctor, knowing the past history of the patient" did not "at once suspect barbiturate poisoning". He described Adams's 10 cc dose of Megimide as another "mere gesture".
The inquest concluded that Hullett had 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, the cheque for £1,000 disappeared.
Adams was indicted for Hullett's murder, but tried on a different count—that of murdering Edith Alice Morrell. He was found not guilty in 1957.
Controversially, the Attorney General Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller entered a plea of nolle prosequi regarding the Hullett case, an act later described by the presiding judge Patrick Devlin as "an abuse of process". Adams was never tried for her death. A witness, Francis Camps, however suspected him of killing 163 patients.
- Not Guilty, Time, 22 April 1957.
- Law and Literature, ed. Brook Thomas, p. 149 – quoting Rupert Furneaux
- Times, 11 June 1985, p. 10
- Cullen, Pamela V., "A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams", London, Elliott & Thompson, 2006, ISBN 1-904027-19-9
- Over a period of 80 days, 1512 grains of the former and 6¼ grains of the latter were prescribed. (Cullen, pp. 158)
- Cullen, pp. 156-159
- Cullen, p. 569
- His bank account at the time was not low on funds, it contained £12,069. (Cullen, p. 569) Furthermore, special clearance was usually given in cases where a cheque might bounce, yet Hullett was one of the richest residents in Eastbourne. If she had died before the cheque cleared though, it would have been stopped by her estate. (Cullen, p. 568)
- A cerebral haemorrhage is usually accompanied by heavy breathing.
- Cullen, p. 585
- Cullen, p. 571
- Cullen, p. 153
- Cullen, p. 161
- Cullen, p. 577
- "AJH" stood for Alfred John Hullett, the victim's deceased husband. (Cullen, p. 577)
- Cullen, p. 179
- Cullen, p. 180. The nurse had described Hullett as "cyanosed" (blue), indicating that oxygen should have been given earlier. (Cullen, p. 159)
- Cullen, p. 185
- The inquest itself has been described as a "travesty". In the opinion of Cullen, with an ongoing police investigation, the inquest should have been adjourned until the investigation had concluded. (Cullen, p. 184)
- Edward Cavendish, 10th Duke of Devonshire, another suspected victim of Adams.