John Bodkin Adams
|Dr John Bodkin Adams|
John Bodkin Adams in the 1940s
21 January 1899|
Randalstown, County Antrim, Ireland
|Died||4 July 1983
Eastbourne, East Sussex, England
|Known for||Suspected serial killer|
|Criminal penalty||Removed from Medical Register in 1957, reinstated in 1961|
John Bodkin Adams (21 January 1899 – 4 July 1983) was an Irish general practitioner, convicted fraudster and suspected serial killer. Between 1946 and 1956, more than 160 of his patients died in suspicious circumstances. Of these, 132 left him money or items in their wills. He was tried and acquitted for the murder of one patient in 1957. Another count of murder was withdrawn by the prosecution in what was later described as "an abuse of process" by the presiding judge Patrick Devlin, causing questions to be asked in Parliament about the prosecution's handling of events. The trial was 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". It was also described at the time as "unique" because, in the words of the judge, "the act of murder" had "to be proved by expert evidence."
The trial had several important legal ramifications. It established the doctrine of double effect, whereby a doctor giving treatment with the aim of relieving pain may, as an unintentional result, shorten life. Secondly, because of the publicity surrounding Adams's committal hearing, the law was changed to allow defendants to ask for such hearings to be held in private. Finally, though a defendant had never been required to give evidence in his own defence, the judge underlined in his summing-up that no prejudice should be attached by the jury to Adams not doing so.
The case, and the inability to convict Adams of murder, is also known for widely suspected political interference from Sir Roland Gwynne, ex-Attorney-General Hartley Shawcross, and various members of the Harold Macmillan government.
Adams was found guilty in a subsequent trial of 13 offences of prescription fraud, lying on cremation forms, obstructing a police search and failing to keep a dangerous drugs register. He was removed from the Medical Register in 1957 and reinstated in 1961 after two failed applications.
Scotland Yard's files on the case were initially closed to the public for 75 years, which would have been until 2033. However, following a request by historian Pamela Cullen, special permission was granted in 2003 to reopen the files.
- 1 Early years
- 2 Eastbourne
- 3 Police investigation
- 4 Patients
- 5 Trial
- 6 Concerns of prejudice and political interference in the trial
- 7 Suspicious cases
- 8 After the acquittal
- 9 Death
- 10 Historical views on Adams
- 11 Legal legacy
- 12 See also
- 13 Notes and references
- 14 Sources
- 15 Further reading
- 16 External links
Adams was born into a deeply religious family of Plymouth Brethren, an austere Protestant sect of which he remained a member for his entire life. His father, Samuel, was a preacher in the local congregation and by profession was a watchmaker. He also had a passionate interest in cars, which he would pass on to John. In 1896 Samuel was 39 years old when he married Ellen Bodkin, aged 30, in Randalstown, (now Northern) Ireland. John was their first son, followed by a brother William Samuel in 1903. In 1914 Adams's father died of a stroke. Four years later William died in the 1918 influenza pandemic.
After attending Coleraine Academical Institution for several years 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, partly because of an illness (probably tuberculosis), he missed a year of studies. He graduated in 1921 having failed to qualify for honours.
In 1921 surgeon 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, Sussex, in 1922, where he lived with his mother and also his cousin, Sarah Florence Henry. In 1929, he borrowed £2,000 (equivalent to £104,247 at 2011 prices) from a patient, William Mawhood, and bought Kent Lodge, an 18-room house in Trinity Trees (then known as Seaside Road), 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 died in 1949, Adams visited his widow 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, Adams inherited £7,385 from a patient, Matilda Whitton; her whole estate amounted to £11,465, equivalent to £430,931 and £669,007 respectively at 2011 values. The will was contested by her relatives but upheld in court, though a codicil giving Adams's mother £100 was overturned. Adams then began receiving "anonymous postcards" about him "bumping off" patients, as he admitted in a newspaper interview in 1957. These were received at a rate of three or four a year until the war, and then commenced again in 1945.
Adams stayed in Eastbourne throughout the war, and was "furious" at not being 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 worked in a local hospital one day a week, where he acquired a reputation as a bungler. He would fall asleep during operations, eat cakes, count money, and even mix up the anaesthetic gas tubes, leading to patients waking up or turning blue. In 1943, his mother died, and in 1952 his cousin Sarah developed cancer. Adams gave her an injection half an hour before she died and according to historian Pamela Cullen, this is the only "case where it can be considered that the doctor was 'easing the passing'".
Adams's career was very successful, and by 1956 "he was probably the wealthiest GP in England". He attended some of the most famous and influential people in the region, including MP and Olympic medal winner Lord Burghley, society painter Oswald Birley, Admiral Robert Prendergast, industrialist Sir Alexander Maguire, the 10th Duke of Devonshire, Eastbourne's Chief Constable Richard Walker and a host of businessmen. After years of rumours, and Adams's 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 on 17 August by two officers from the Metropolitan Police's Murder Squad. The senior officer, Detective Superintendent Herbert Hannam of Scotland Yard was known for having solved the infamous Teddington Towpath Murders in 1953. He was assisted by Detective Sergeant Charles Hewett. The investigation decided to focus on cases from 1946 to 1956 only. Of the 310 death certificates examined by Home Office pathologist Francis Camps, 163 were deemed to be suspicious. Many had been given "special injections" of substances Adams refused to describe to the nurses caring for his patients. It emerged that his habit was to ask the nurses to leave the room before injections were given. He would also isolate patients from their relatives, hindering contact between them.
On 24 August, in an "extraordinary move" the British Medical Association (BMA) sent a letter to all doctors in Eastbourne reminding them of "Professional Secrecy" (i.e., patient confidentiality) if interviewed by the police. Hannam was not impressed, especially since any information gleaned would relate to dead patients. He, 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 until on 8 November Manningham-Buller met with Dr Macrae to convince him of the importance of the case. During this meeting, in a highly unusual move, he passed Hannam's confidential 187-page report on Adams to Macrae. 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. Convinced of the seriousness of the accusations, Macrae dropped his opposition to doctors talking to the police. In the end two Eastbourne doctors gave evidence to the police.
On 28 November 1956, opposition Labour Party MPs Stephen Swingler and Hugh Delargy gave notice of two questions to be asked in the House of Commons regarding the affair, one asking what "reports [the Attorney-General] has sent" to the General Medical Council (GMC) in the "past six months". Manningham-Buller replied that he had "had no communications" with the GMC, but only with an officer of it. He did not mention the report. Instead, he instigated an investigation into a leak, later concluding that Hannam himself had passed information regarding the meeting with Dr Macrae to a journalist, probably Rodney Hallworth of the Daily Mail.
Meeting with Hannam
On 1 October 1956 Hannam bumped into Adams 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? I paid £1100 super tax last year" Hannam later mentioned, "Mr Hullett left you £500". Adams replied, "Now, now, he was a life-long friend [...] I even thought it would be more than it was." Finally, when asked why he had stated untruthfully on cremation forms that he was not to inherit from the deceased, Adams said:
Oh, that wasn't done wickedly, God knows it wasn't. We always want cremations to go off smoothly for the dear relatives. If I said I knew I was getting money under the Will they might get suspicious and I like cremations and burials to go smoothly. There was nothing suspicious really. It was not deceitful.
On 24 November, Hannam, Hewett and the head of Eastbourne CID, Detective Inspector Pugh, searched Adams' house with a warrant issued (in Pugh's name) under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1951. When told they were looking for "Morphine, Heroin, Pethidine and the like" Adams was surprised, "Oh, that group. You will find none here. I haven't any. I very seldom ever use them" he said. When Hannam asked for Adams' Dangerous Drugs Register – the record of those ordered and used – Adams responded: "I don't know what you mean. I keep no register." He had not kept one since 1949. When shown a list of dangerous drugs he had prescribed Morrell, and asked who administered them, Adams said, "I did nearly all. Perhaps the nurses gave some but mostly me" – contradicting what the nurses' notebooks would show during his trial. Hannam then observed, "Doctor, you prescribed for her 75 – 1/6 grains heroin tablets the day before she died." Adams replied, "Poor soul, she was in terrible agony. It was all used. I used them myself [...] Do you think it is too much?"
Adams opened a cupboard for the police: amongst medicine bottles were "chocolates – slabs stuck – butter, margarine, sugar". While the officers inspected it Adams walked to another cupboard and slipped two objects into his jacket pocket. Hannam and Pugh challenged him and Adams showed them two bottles of morphine; one he said was for Annie Sharpe, a patient and major witness who had died nine days earlier under his care; the other said "Mr Soden". He had died on 17 September 1956 but 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 Dangerous Drugs register. Later at the police station, Adams told Hannam:
In the basement of Adams's house, the police found, "a lot of unused china and silverware. In one room there were 20 new motor car tyres still in their wrappings and several new motor car leaf springs. Wines and spirits were stored in quantity." Hallworth reports that Adams was stockpiling in case of another World War. On the second floor, "one room was given over to an armoury [:] six guns in a glass-fronted display case, several automatic pistols". He had permits for these. Another room was used "wholly for photographic equipment. A dozen very expensive cameras in leather cases" lay around.
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 last directly implied Adams. This information had come, according to the reporter, directly from Hannam. The 'magistrate' was Sir Roland Gwynne, Mayor of Eastbourne (1929–31) and brother of Rupert Gwynne, MP for Eastbourne (1910–24). Gwynne was Adams's patient and known to visit every day at 9am. They went on frequent holidays together and had spent three weeks in Scotland that September. The 'police officer' was the Deputy Chief Constable of Eastbourne, Alexander Seekings. Hannam ignored this line of inquiry (despite homosexual acts being an offence in 1956), and the police instead gave the journalist a dressing down. The memo is testament to Adams's close connections to those of power in Eastbourne at the time.
There were rumours of Adams having three "mistresses", but these were probably just "covers" to avoid suspicion. Adams became engaged in around 1933 to Norah O'Hara but called it off in 1935 after her father had bought them a house and furnished it. Various explanations have been suggested: Surtees suggests that it was because Adams's mother did not want him to marry "trade" though he also quotes a rumour that Adams wanted O'Hara's father to change his will to favour his daughters. Cullen suggests that, apart from being homosexual, Adams also didn't want his being married to interfere with his relationship with his elderly female patients. Adams remained friends with O'Hara his whole life and remembered her in his will.
Adams was arrested on 19 December 1956. When told of the charges he said:
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 one count: the murder of Morrell, but with the death of Hullett (and also that of her husband) being used to prove 'system'.
The committal hearing took place in Lewes on 14 January 1957. The Chairman of the magistrates was Sir Roland Gwynne, but he stepped down because of his close friendship with Adams. The hearing concluded on 24 January and after a five-minute deliberation, Adams was committed for trial. A vital piece of evidence, a cheque written out for £1000, went missing after the hearing, instigating a further police investigation. While the culprit was not found, Scotland Yard suspected the local Deputy Chief Constable of Eastbourne, Seekings, of having misplaced it to help Adams. Seekings was known to have taken holidays with Adams and Gwynne, and looked after Gwynne's finances while he was in hospital in January 1957.
By the time the trial started on 18 March 1957 at the Old Bailey the charge had been reduced to just Morrell, with Gertrude Hullett held back for a possible second separate trial. Three days later, a new Homicide Act came into effect; murder by poison became a non-capital offence. Adams, having been committed before this date, would still face the death penalty if convicted. If the Home Secretary decided to grant clemency, a conviction on a second count of murder, the Hullett charge, would make it far more difficult politically to sentence Adams to life imprisonment.
Adams and Eves
On 22 February 1957 the police were notified of a libellous and potentially prejudicial poem about the case titled Adams and Eves. It had been read at the Cavendish Hotel on the 13th by the manager in front of 150 guests. An officer spent ten days investigating and discovered a chain of hands through which the poem had passed and been recopied to be redistributed. The original author was not discovered, however, although an unnamed Fleet Street journalist was suspected. The poem finished:
Edith Alice Morrell
Morrell was a wealthy widow who suffered a brain thrombosis (a stroke) on 24 June 1948 while visiting her son in Cheshire. She was partially paralysed and was admitted to a hospital. Adams, her usual doctor, arrived on the 26th and on the following day she was prescribed morphine (¼ grains) for pain. Adams took her back to Eastbourne and continued the morphine, gradually increasing the dose and adding heroin, until she was addicted.
Morrell made several wills. In some, Adams received large sums of money, Morrell's Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost (valued at £1,500) and furniture – while in others, he was not mentioned at all. Finally, on 13 September 1950 a codicil was written cutting Adams out of her will completely. After a year and three months of treatment, she died on 13 November 1950 aged 81. Adams certified the cause of death as "stroke" and on inspecting the body, slit her wrist to ensure she was dead. Despite the last codicil, Adams inherited the Rolls-Royce, a Jacobean court cupboard and an antique chest containing silver cutlery worth £276. After Morrell's death, he also took away an infrared lamp she had bought herself, worth £60. Adams billed Morrell's estate for 1,100 visits, costing £1,674 in total. The police estimated that Adams had visited Morrell a total of 321 times during her treatment. On her cremation form, Adams stated that "as far as I am aware" he had no pecuniary interest in the death, thereby avoiding the necessity of a post-mortem.
On 23 July 1956 Gertrude Hullett, another of Adams' 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 commit suicide.
On 17 July 1956 Hullett wrote out a cheque for Adams for £1,000 – to pay for an MG car 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 – to 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 her depression or her barbiturate medication. They decided a cerebral haemorrhage was most likely. On the 21st Dr Shera, a pathologist, was called in to take a spinal fluid sample and immediately asked if her stomach contents should be examined in case of narcotic poisoning. Adams and Harris both opposed this. After Shera left, Adams visited a colleague 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 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.
The next morning, at 8.30, 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 had left, Adams gave 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.
An inquest was held into Hullett's death on 21 August. The coroner questioned Adams' treatment and in his summing up 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 committed suicide. After the inquest, the cheque for £1,000 disappeared.
Adams was first tried for the murder of Morrell, with the Hullett charge to be prosecuted afterwards. The trial lasted 17 days, the longest murder trial in Britain up to that point. It was presided over by Mr Justice Patrick Devlin. Devlin summed up the tricky nature of the case thus: "It is a most curious situation, perhaps unique in these courts, that the act of murder has to be proved by expert evidence." 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 Morrell – and that none of the witnesses' evidence matched the others'. Then, on the second day of the trial, he produced notebooks written by the nurses, detailing Adams' treatment of Morrell. The prosecution claimed never to have seen these notebooks (even though they are recorded in pretrial lists of evidence). These differed from the nurses' recollection of events, and showed that smaller quantities of drugs were given to the patient than the prosecution had thought, based on Adams' prescriptions. Furthermore, the prosecution's two expert medical witnesses gave differing opinions. Dr Arthur Douthwaite was prepared to say that murder had definitely been committed (though he changed his mind in the middle of his testimony regarding the exact date), but Dr Michael Ashby was more reticent. Defence witness Dr John Harman was adamant that Adams's treatment, though unusual, was not reckless. Finally, the prosecution was wrong-footed by the defence not calling the loquacious Adams to give evidence, and thereby avoiding him "chatting himself to the gallows". This was unexpected, shocking the prosecution and the press, and even surprising the judge.
When the jury retired to discuss the verdict, Lord Chief Justice Rayner Goddard phoned Devlin to urge him, if Adams were found not guilty, to grant Adams bail before he was to be tried on a second count of murdering Gertrude Hullett. Devlin was taken aback at this since a person accused of murder had never been given bail before in English legal history. During the committal hearing prior to the trial, Goddard had been seen dining with Sir Roland Gwynne at the White Hart hotel in Lewes. Goddard, as Lord Chief Justice, had by then already appointed Devlin to try Adams' case.
On 9 April 1957, the jury returned after 44 minutes to find Adams not guilty.
Concerns of prejudice and political interference in the trial
There is considerable evidence to suggest that the trial was "interfered with" by those "at the highest level". Notably, during the committal hearing for Adams in January 1957, Goddard was seen dining with the defendant's suspected lover, Sir Roland Gwynne (Mayor of Eastbourne from 1929 to 1931), and ex-Attorney-General Hartley Shawcross at an hotel in Lewes.
Loss of the nurses' notebooks
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 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". He also failed to ask for an adjournment to acquaint himself with the new evidence – despite the fact that the judge would have been sure to grant it.
Adams gave three conflicting explanations for how the defence came to have the note books: they were given to him by 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, meanwhile, claimed later that they were found by the defence team in Adams's surgery shortly before trial. All versions however differ from the police records: in the list of exhibits for the Committal Hearing given to the DPP's office, the notes are clearly mentioned. The Attorney General therefore must have known they existed. According to Cullen, this shows "that there was a will at the highest of levels to undermine the case against Dr Adams".
Disclosure of evidence to the 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".
Use of the nolle prosequi
After the not guilty verdict on the count of murdering Morrell, the Attorney-General had the power to prosecute Adams for the death of Hullett. 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. Devlin in his post-trial book even went as far as terming this "an abuse of process".
Charles Hewett, Hannam's assistant, described how both officers were astounded at Manningham-Buller's decision to charge Adams with the murder of Morrell, since her body had been cremated and therefore there was no evidence to present before a jury. He believed that there were other cases against the doctor, where traces of drugs had been found in exhumed remains, which were more compelling as proof. Cullen also describes Morrell as "the weakest" case of the four the police deemed most suspicious.
Possible reasons for interference
- NHS situation: The case was "very important for the medical profession". The NHS had been founded in 1948 but by 1956 was stretched financially to breaking point and doctors were disaffected. Indeed, a Royal Commission was set up in February 1957 to consider doctors' pay. A doctor sentenced to death would have led to "mass defections" from the service for fear of being hanged for prescribing medication. Moreover, it would have shaken public confidence in the service and in the government of the time as well.
- The 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. Political and financial pressure from the US and NATO led to a withdrawal by 24 December. In January 1957 Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigned and was succeeded by Harold Macmillan. The situation was such that when Harold Macmillan became Prime Minister on 10 January 1957, he told the Queen he could not guarantee his government would last "six weeks". Adams's fate was therefore entwined with that of the reeling government.
- Harold Macmillan link: 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 Morrell. The coroner should have been notified, since the Duke had not seen a doctor in the 14 days before his death. Because of a loophole in the law, Adams, though present at death, could sign the death certificate to state that the Duke died naturally. The Duke's sister was married to Harold Macmillan, and some have argued that Macmillan, who became Prime Minister during preparations for the trial, might not have wanted this case to be investigated further: The Attorney-General, Manningham-Buller, attended Cabinet meetings regularly.
Scotland Yard's files on the case and also those of the DPP, were to be closed until 2033. This was an unusual decision, considering the advanced age of the suspect, witnesses and others involved in the case. The files were opened to the public after special permission was granted in 2003.
- 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's presence but could find no disease present. 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 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's medication and after eight weeks of his care, Pike was able to do her own shopping and had regained her full faculties.
- 24 December 1946 – Emily Louise Mortimer died aged 75. Afterwards, Adams took a bottle of brandy and a clock from her room. He claimed to the police that the clock had been loaned by him and that it was not "right to leave spirits in a nursing home". Adams received the residue from Mortimer's will and by 1957 had earned £1,950 in dividends from the shares he inherited.
- 23 February 1950 – Amy Ware died aged 76. Adams had banned her from seeing relatives prior to her death. She left Adams £1,000 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". 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 had not 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 haemorrhage. Francis Camps however examined her brain and excluded this possibility. The rest of the body was not in a state to deduce the real cause of death. It was noticed that 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 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 am 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 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 one of the two bodies exhumed during the police investigation on 21 December 1956. Francis Camps concluded that she had had bronchopneumonia possibly brought about by high drug doses – not a heart problem as Adams had said on the death certificate. According to prescription records, Adams had not prescribed anything to treat the bronchopneumonia.
- 30 May 1955 – James Downs, brother-in-law of Amy Ware (see above), 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's 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 10 cc 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 a major witness – died suddenly of "carcinomatosis of the peritoneal cavity" while Hannam and Hewett were in London meeting with the DPP. Adams had diagnosed cancer five days earlier and made a prescription for Sharpe for hyperduric morphine and 36 pethidine tablets. The police were very disappointed: they had had two chances to interview her, and Hannam and Hewett felt she had been about to "crack". She was cremated hastily, precluding an investigation into her death.
Hannam also discovered that 4 members of Adams' household staff had been prescribed either morphine, heroin or pethidine by Adams. Adams obtained these on the NHS, leading Hannam to conclude that he was merely using their names and keeping the drugs for his own supplies – an act of fraud.
After the acquittal
In the aftermath of the trial, Adams resigned from the National Health Service and was convicted in Lewes Crown Court on 26 July 1957, on eight 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 of £457. His licence to prescribe dangerous drugs was revoked on 4 September and on 27 November he was struck off the Medical Register by the GMC. Adams continued to see some of his more loyal patients, and prescribed over-the-counter medicine to them.
Right after the trial, Percy Hoskins, chief crime reporter for the Daily Express, whisked Adams off to a safehouse in Westgate-on-Sea, where he spent the next 2 weeks recounting his life story. Hoskins had befriended Adams during the trial and was the only major journalist to doubt his guilt. Adams was paid £10,000 for the interview, though he never spent the proceeds – the notes were found in a bank vault after his death, untouched. Adams then successfully sued several newspapers for libel. He returned to Eastbourne, where he continued to practise privately despite the common belief in the town that he had murdered people. This belief was not shared by his friends and patients in general. One exception was Roland Gwynne, who distanced himself from Adams after the trial.
Adams was reinstated as a general practitioner on 22 November 1961 after two failed applications, and his authority to prescribe dangerous drugs was restored the following July. He continued to practise as a sole practitioner, not resuming his partnership with the town's "Red House" practice. In August 1962 Adams applied for a visa to America but was refused because of his dangerous drug convictions.
Roland Gwynne died on 15 November 1971. Adams signed his death certificate.
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 and bequeathed £1000 to Percy Hoskins. Hoskins gave the money to charity. Adams had been receiving legacies until the end. In 1986, The Good Doctor Bodkin Adams, a TV docudrama based on his trial, was produced starring Timothy West.
Historical views on Adams
Opinion regarding Adams has been divided, though in recent years has tended to the view that he was a killer. Sybille Bedford, present at Adams's trial, was adamant that he was not guilty. Many publications, however, were sued for libel during Adams's lifetime, showing the prevalence of the rumours that surrounded him. The 1961 film Victim, meanwhile, alludes to Adams when it is mentioned that the main character, barrister Melville Farr, defended a "Dr Porchester". "He should have hung, you know," Farr is told by Calloway, an actor who was present in court; he replies "There was a moment when we thought he would. We were all very relieved."
After Adams's death, writers were more free to speculate. In 1983 Rodney Hallworth and Mark Williams concluded Adams was a serial killer and probably schizophrenic: "In the opinion of many experts Adams died an unconvicted mass-murderer". Percy Hoskins, writing in 1984, was of the opposite opinion, adamant that Adams was not guilty but merely "naive" and "avaricious". In 1985 Sir Patrick Devlin, the judge, stated that Adams may have been a "mercenary mercy killer" but, though compassionate, he was at the same time greedy and "prepared to sell death": 'He did not think of himself as a murderer but a dispenser of death [...] According to his lights, he had done nothing wrong. There was nothing wrong in a doctor getting a legacy, nor in his bestowing in return [...] a death as happy as heroin could make it.' He also "could be convinced that Dr Adams had helped to end Mrs Hullett's life". In 2000, Surtees, a former colleague of Adams, wrote a more sympathetic account of him as being the victim of a police vendetta.
These writers based their opinions almost entirely on the evidence given in court regarding Morrell. The police archives were opened in 2003 at the request of historian Pamela Cullen, who writes that Adams "may have had more victims than Shipman". In her view, Adams was acquitted more due to the way the case "was presented than [to] Doctor Adams' lack of guilt". She also highlights the fact that Hannam's investigation was "blinkered" from the perspective of motive: Hannam assumed monetary gain was the driving force because during the 1950s, little was known of what really motivated serial killers, i.e. "physical needs, emotions and often bizarre interpretations of reality".
John Emsley, writing in 2008, concurs with Cullen saying "It now seems almost certain that over a 30-year period he killed 160 of his patients". Katherine Ramsland records that despite the outcome of the trial, Adams "is nevertheless believed to have repeatedly committed what the law regards as murder". Herbert G Kinnell, writing in the British Medical Journal, speculates that Adams "possibly provided the role model for Shipman".
In popular culture, the single "Ali in the Jungle" (2006), by a band The Hours, included a reference to the trial as one who against all odds has a comeback. With the trial so publicized there could be some speculation as to a fair trial. "...With odds like that, they were bound to fail... Like Keller in the darkness, like Adams in the dock...."
Adams's trial had many effects on the English legal system.
- The first was establishing the principle of double effect that if a doctor "gave treatment to a seriously ill patient with the aim of relieving pain or distress, as a result of which that person's life was inadvertently shortened, the doctor was not guilty of murder."
- Owing to the potentially prejudicial evidence that was mentioned in the committal hearing (regarding Hullett – evidence that would then not be used in Adams's first trial for murdering Morrell) the Tucker Committee was held, which led to the law being changed in the subsequent Criminal Justice Act 1967 to restrict what might be published about committal hearings to avoid pretrial publicity.
- Though a defendant had never been required to give evidence in his own defence, Judge Devlin underlined in his summing-up that no prejudice should be attached by the jury to Adams not doing so.
- The case also led to changes in Dangerous Drugs Regulations, meaning that Schedule IV poisons required a signed and dated record of patient details and the total dose used.
It was 25 years before another doctor in Britain, Leonard Arthur, stood trial for murder arising from treatment. Arthur was tried in November 1981 at Leicester Crown Court for the attempted murder of John Pearson, a newborn child with Down's syndrome. Like Adams, on the advice of his legal team he did not give evidence in his defence, relying instead on expert witnesses. He was acquitted.
In 2000, Harold Shipman became the only British doctor to be successfully prosecuted for the murder of his patients. He was found guilty on 15 counts and the Shipman Inquiry concluded in 2002 that he had murdered a further 200.
- Beverley Allitt
- Arnfinn Nesset
- Dorothea Waddingham
- John George Haigh – the 'Acid Bath Murderer' and also Plymouth Brethren member
- Most prolific murderers by number of victims
Notes and references
- "The Case of Dr John Bodkin Adams". strangerinblood.co.uk. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- Cullen, p. 636
- Cullen, p. 537
- Not Guilty, Time, 22 April 1957.
- Law and Literature, ed. Brook Thomas, p. 149 – quoting Rupert Furneaux
- The Times, 11 June 1985, p. 10
- Devlin, 1985
- Surtees, p. 132
- Cullen, p. 7
- He left £500 in his will to Marine Hall, his local Brethren congregation. (Cullen, p. 554)
- Cullen, pp. 19–23
- Cullen, p. 23, p. 608
- Cullen, p. 24
- Bank of England inflation calculator, http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/Pages/inflation/calculator/flash/default.aspx
- Cullen, p. 55
- Guilty on 14 Charges – TIME
- "Kelly's Directory of Eastbourne (1929)". Kelly's Directories Ltd.
- Cullen, p. 56
- (Cullen, p. 59)
- Surtees, p. 24
- Hoskins, 1984
- Cullen, p. 536
- Cullen, p. 32
- Surtees, p. 32, pp. 37–38
- Cullen, p. 203
- Surtees, p. 33
- Cullen, p. 42
- Cullen, pp. 15–17
- Cullen, p. 40
- Cullen, p. 593
- Cullen, p.588
- "...almost designed to frustrate the investigation". (Cullen, p.587)
- Cullen, p. 224
- The Home Secretary, Gwilym Lloyd-George wrote to Manningham-Buller that: "The disclosure of this document is likely to cause me considerable embarrassment. As you know, police reports have always been treated as highly confidential documents and it has been the invariable practice to refuse to disclose their contents to Parliament or to individual Members. Indeed I should have no hesitation in claiming privilege if their production were required in a court of law." He ended: "I can only hope that no harm will result." (Quoted in Cullen, p. 230)
- "It cannot be imagined that the Attorney General, a lawyer just one place below the rank of the Lord Chancellor of the realm could 'loan' a police report of such importance for Macrae to take it to his President and expect that only one particular paragraph would be read by them or that they would make no copy of the report." (Cullen, p. 232)
- Cullen, p. 587
- Cullen, p. 227
- Cullen, p. 232
- Cullen, p. 228
- In court, the defence would accuse Hannam of intentionally "waylaying" Adams in order to informally question him. Hannam denied this. (Cullen, p. 369)
- Cullen, p. 189
- Cullen, p. 190
- Cullen, p. 235
- Cullen, p. 236
- Cullen, p. 238
- Cullen, p. 237
- Cullen, p. 551
- Cullen, p. 594
- Hallworth, 1983
- Probably Rodney Hallworth (Cullen, p. 610)
- Cullen, pp. 243–244
- Cullen, pp. 622–635
- Cullen, p. 188
- Cullen, p. 47
- Cullen, p. 610
- Cullen, p. 591 and p. 641
- Cullen, p. 611
- She was the sister-in-law of one of Adams's Brethren friends (Norman Gray), and her father owned six butchers in the town. (Surtees, p. 23)
- Surtees, p. 23
- He left her: "in gratitude and memories of our long standing friendship any one item of furniture or personal or household or domestic use ornament or consumption belonging to me at the time of my death". (Cullen, p. 553)
- Cullen, p. 240
- Cullen, p. 250
- Cullen, p. 249
- Cullen, p. 560
- Cullen, p. 94
- Cullen, pp. 88–93
- Cullen, p. 93
- Cullen, p.564
- Cullen, p. 96
- Cullen, p. 563
- Cullen, p. 565
- Cullen, pp. 156–159
- Over 80 days 1512 grains of the former and 6¼ grains of the latter were prescribed. (Cullen, pp. 158)
- Cullen, p. 569
- Cullen, p. 568
- Cullen, p. 585
- Cullen, p. 571
- Cullen, p. 153
- Cullen, p. 161
- Cullen, p. 185
- The inquest 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)
- Cullen, p. 577
- Cullen, p.281.
- Cullen, pp. 597–598.
- Cullen, pp. 423–424.
- When asked by Lawrence whether it was possible "to rule out the hypothesis that when the end came in that way at that time on that date, it was the result of natural causes?", Ashby replied "It cannot be ruled out". (Cullen, p. 448.)
- Surtees, p. 122.
- Cullen, p.633.
- Cullen, p. 526.
- Cullen, p. 596
- Cullen, p. 599
- Cullen, Pamela V., A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams, London, Elliott & Thompson, 2006. ISBN 1-904027-19-9
- Devlin, p72.
- His reticence is especially perplexing since he was known for his doggedness. 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."
- Cullen, pp. 598–599
- Cullen, p. 230
- Devlin, p. 35.
- Macmillan, Harold. The Macmillan Diaries, The Cabinet Years, 1950–1957, ed. Peter Catterall (London, Macmillan, 2003).
- Cullen, pp. 97–101.
- Cullen, p. 648.
- Cullen, p. 589
- Cullen, pp. 61–65
- Cullen, pp. 72–73
- Cullen, pp. 124–126
- Cullen, pp. 109–111
- Documentation was found recording the purchase, though Adams denied it had taken place. (Cullen, p. 273)
- Cullen, pp. 102–108
- Cullen, pp. 80–81
- Cullen, pp. 132–144
- Cullen, pp. 143–144
- Cullen, p. 144
- Cullen, p. 142
- Cullen, p. 141
- Cullen, p. 140
- Cullen, p. 143
- Cullen, pp. 126–131
- Cullen, pp. 145–147
- Cullen, p. 547
- Cullen, p. 548
- Eric Ambler's 1963 book The Ability to Kill originally contained a chapter on Adams. 50 promotional copies were produced before the publishers got cold feet and removed the chapter for fear of being sued. The book was finally published with an alternative chapter included (jimbooks.com)
- Cullen, p. 634
- Cullen, p. 549
- Cullen, pp. 550–552
- Profile of Adams at shycyberchamber.com
- Cullen, p. 635
- Cullen, pp. 553–554
- "Whenever the name of Dr John Bodkin Adams comes up, I am asked, 'Did he do it?' 'Was he guilty?' And I always answer, 'No'". (Bedford, p. vii)
- Victim, 1961
- Hallworth, p. 217
- Hallworth, p. 243
- Devlin, p. 199
- Quoted in Surtees, p. 165
- Though Hoskins and Hallworth did visit Eastbourne in 1956 and talked to local residents and the police. Surtees interviewed many local residents and Adams himself, though decades after the events.
- He "may have had more victims than Shipman – and he had a far more successful career as a serial killer" from strangerinblood.co.uk
- Cullen, p. 556
- Cullen, p. 637
- John Emsley, Molecules of Murder, 2008, pages 75–76
- Katherine M. Ramsland, Inside the minds of healthcare serial killers, 2007, page 38
- Kinnell HG (2000). "Serial homicide by doctors: Shipman in perspective". BMJ 321 (7276): 1594–7. doi:10.1136/bmj.321.7276.1594. PMC 1119267. PMID 11124192.
- Treat Me Right: Essays in Medical Law and Ethics
- The summing up affirmed "that a doctor will be immune from criminal liability if his or her primary intention in these circumstances can be characterised as an intention to relieve pain, rather than an intention to hasten death." (Australian Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996)
- Killing the Willing ... And Others! Legal Aspects of Euthanasia and Related Topics
- Bedford, Sybille (1989). The Best We Can Do. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-011557-9.
- Cullen, Pamela V. (2006). A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams. London: Elliott & Thompson. ISBN 1-904027-19-9.
- Devlin, Patrick (1985). Easing the passing: The trial of Doctor John Bodkin Adams. London: The Bodley Head. ISBN 0-571-13993-0.
- Hoskins, Percy (1984). Two men were acquitted: The trial and acquittal of Doctor John Bodkin Adams. London: Secker & Warburg. ISBN 0-436-20161-5.
- Hallworth, Rodney; Williams, Mark (1983). Where there's a will... The sensational life of Dr John Bodkin Adams. Jersey: Capstan Press. ISBN 0-946797-00-5.
- Surtees, John (2000). The Strange Case of Dr. Bodkin Adams: The Life and Murder Trial of Eastbourne's Infamous Doctor and the Views of Those Who Knew Him. Seaford. ISBN 1-85770-108-9.
- Ambler, Eric, The Ability to Kill, 1963 (promotional edition with chapter on Adams only – subsequent editions had it removed due to libel fears)
- Bedford, Sybille, The Trial of Dr. Adams, 1958. Simon and Schuster, Inc. Mrs. Bedford "contributes the reporter's arts of observation, selection and emphasis."—From the 1962 editor's preface.
- Cavendish, Marshall. Murder Casebook 40 Eastbourne's Doctor Death, 1990.
- Chapman, D. 'Jill's Letter' in The Postmodern Malady, Concept, 2010. ISBN 978-1477645062.
- Gaute, J.H.H. and Robin Odell, The New Murderer's Who's Who, Harrap Books, London, 1996.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: John Bodkin Adams|
- "An Intruder at Eastbourne", Time, New York, 28 January 1957 (Account of the initial trial, which because of libel and contempt laws could not have been published in Britain at the time).