John Bodkin Adams (January 21, 1899 – July 4, 1983) was an Irish-born British general practitioner, convicted fraudster and suspected serial killer.. More than 160 of his patients died under suspicious circumstances. 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 Another count of murder was withdrawn by the prosecution in what was later described as "an abuse of process" by the presiding judge Patrick Devlin, causing questions to be asked in Parliament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 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".
The trial had several important legal ramifications. It established the principle of double effect, whereby a doctor giving treatment with the aim of relieving pain may, as an unintentional result, shorten life. Secondly, due to the publicity surrounding Adams' 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, judge Devlin underlined in his summing-up that no prejudice should be attached by the jury to Adams not doing so.
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, until 2033. Special permission was granted in 2003 to reopen the files.
Adams was born into a highly 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, 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 Randalstown
, Northern Ireland
, in 1896. John was their first son, followed by a brother, William Samuel, in 1903. In 1914, Adams' father died of a stroke. Four years later, William died in the 1918 influenza pandemic
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, 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 in 1922, where he lived with his mother and cousin, Sarah Florence Henry. In 1929 he borrowed £2,000 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 finally 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' unconventional methods had started by the mid 1930s. In 1935 Adams inherited £7,385 from a patient, Matilda Whitton. 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 3 or 4 a year until the War and then commenced again in 1945.
Adams stayed in Eastbourne throughout the war, though he 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.
Adams' 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, the 10th Duke of Devonshire, Eastbourne's Chief Constable Richard Walker and a host of businessmen. But after years of rumours, and Adams having been mentioned in at least 132 wills of his patients, on July 23, 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 police investigation
The investigation was taken over from Eastbourne police on August 17
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 a junior officer, Detective Sergeant
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. Furthermore, 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 August 24
, 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 Dr Macrae. 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. Convinced of the seriousness of the accusations, Dr Macrae dropped his opposition to doctors talking to the police. In the end though, only two Eastbourne doctors ever gave evidence to the police.
On November 28 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) of the BMA in the "past six months". Manningham-Buller replied that he had "had no communications" with the GMC, but only with on 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.
On October 1
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 November 24
, 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 hadn't kept one in fact since 1949. When shown a list of dangerous drugs he had prescribed Morrell, and asked who administerd 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: amonst 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 September 17, 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:
- "Easing the passing of a dying person isn't all that wicked. She [Morrell] wanted to die. That can't be murder. It is impossible to accuse a doctor."
In the basement of Adams' 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 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 am. They went on frequent holidays together and had just spent three weeks in Scotland that September. The 'police officer' was the Deputy Constable of Eastbourne, Alexander Seekings. Hannam however ignored this line of inquiry (despite homosexuality being an offence in 1956) and the police instead gave the journalist a dressing-down. The memo is, however, testament to Adams' 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' mother didn't 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 gay, 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 December 19
,. 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 one count: the murder of Morrell, but with the murder of Hullett (and also of her husband) being used to prove 'system'.
The committal hearing took place in Lewes on January 14, 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 January 24 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 Inspector of Eastbourne, Seekings, of having misplaced it to help Adams. Seekings was known to have taken holidays with Adams and Gwynne, and even looked after Gwynne's finances while he was in hospital in January 1957.
By the time the trial started on March 18, 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, however, 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 in order to be redistributed. The original author was not discovered however, though an unnamed Fleet Street
journalist was suspected. The poem finished:
It’s the mortuary chapel
If they touch an Adam’s apple
After parting with a Bentley as a fee
So to liquidate your odd kin
By the needle of the bodkin
Send them down to sunny Eastbourne by the sea.
Edith Alice Morrell
For more information see Edith Alice Morrell
Morrell was a wealthy widow who suffered a brain thrombosis (a stroke) on June 24 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 the following day she was prescribed morphine (¼ grains) for pain. Adams took her back to Eastbourne and continued the morphia, 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 September 13 1950 a codicil was written cutting Adams out of her will completely. After a year and three months of treatment, she died on November 13, 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 however 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 of the deceased, thereby avoiding the necessity of a post-mortem.
For more information see Gertrude Hullett
On July 23, 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 July 17 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 July 19 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 hemorrhage 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 a.m. on the 22nd, 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 August 21. 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.
Hullett left Adams her Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn (worth at least £2,900) in a will written five days before her overdose. Adams sold it six days before he was arrested.
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 Lord 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 to never 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 less 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 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, however, was adamant that Adams' 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 totally 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, in the case of Adams being 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 British legal history. Importantly, during the committal hearing prior to the trial, Goddard had been seen dining with 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 April 9, 1957, the jury returned after just 44 minutes to find Adams not guilty.
Concerns of prejudice in the trial
There is considerable evidence to suggest that the trial was "interfered with by those "at the highest level".
- The 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 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". 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 himself 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. 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. Devlin in his post-trial book even went as far as terming this "an abuse of process".
- Wrong case chosen: 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.
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 simply prescribing medication. Moreover, it would have ruined public confidence in the service and in the government of the time as well. The situation was such that when Harold Macmillan became Prime Minister on 10 January 1957, he told Queen Elizabeth he could not guarantee his government would last "six weeks".
- The Suez Crisis: On July 26, 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 October 30. Bombardment began the next day. On November 5, Britain and France invaded. However, without American backing, Britain was forced to withdraw by December 24. In January 1957 Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigned and was succeeded by Harold Macmillan. Adams' Fate was therefore entwined with that of the reeling government.
- Harold Macmillan link: On November 26, 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, 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. The Duke's sister was married to Harold Macmillan and Macmillan, who became Prime Minister during preparation for the trial, would not 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. It should also be noted that the Attorney-General, Manningham-Buller, attended Cabinet meetings on a regular basis.
Scotland Yard's files on the case and also those of the DPP
, were closed until 2033. This was an unusual decision considering the advanced age of the suspect
and others involved in the case. The files were only opened to the public after special permission was granted in 2003.
It is worth quoting some of the evidence from testimonies gathered by Hannam during the investigation, but which was never 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's 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 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 wasn't '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 £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". 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 haemorrhage. 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 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 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 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 July 26, 1957, 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 of £457. His license to prescribe dangerous drugs was revoked on September 4 and on November 27 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 practice 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, however. One exception was Roland Gwynne, who distanced himself considerably from Adams after the trial.
Adams was reinstated as a general practitioner on November 22, 1961 after two failed applications and his authority to prescribe dangerous drugs was restored the following July. He continued to practice 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.
Adams later became President (and Honorary Medical Officer) of the British Clay Pigeon Shooting Association.
Roland Gwynne died on November 15, 1971. Adams signed his death certificate.
Adams slipped and fractured his hip on June 30
while shooting in Battle
, East Sussex
. He was taken to Eastbourne hospital but developed a chest infection and died on July 4
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
Adams has divided opinions as to whether he was guilty. Sybille Bedford
, present at Adams trial, was adamant that Adams was not guilty. Many publications however were sued for libel during Adams' lifetime, showing the prevalence of the rumours that surrounded him.
After his death, writers were more free to speculate. In 1983 Rodney Hallworth and Mark Williams were certain he was a serial killer. Percy Hoskins, writing in 1984, was of the opposite opinion, sure Adams was not guilty but merely "naive" and "avaricious". In 1985 Sir Patrick Devlin, the judge, concluded 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 "could be convinced that Dr Adams had helped to end Mrs Hullett's life". Then, in 2000, Surtees prefers to sit on the fence, though perhaps is more sympathetic to Adams, seeing him as the victim of a police vendetta.
These writers, however, had to base their opinions almost entirely on the evidence given in court regarding Morrell. Cullen, however, is the first historian to have access to the police archives, and writes that Adams "may have had more victims than Shipman". In her view, the trial failed due more 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 little was known regarding what really drove serial killers, i.e. "physical needs, emotions and often bizarre interpretations of reality".
The Association of Muslim Health Professionals, meanwhile, grouped Adams in the small list of "psychopaths with medical degrees who have harmed countless numbers of people in defiance of their professional oaths". Herbert G Kinnell, writing in the British Medical Journal, speculates that Adams "possibly provided the role model for Shipman".
Adams' trial had many effects on the British 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.
- Due to the potentially prejudicial evidence that was mentioned in the committal hearing (regarding Hullett – evidence that would then not be used in Adams' 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 give a defendant the right to ask for a committal hearing to be heard in private 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, Dr 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 Downs 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 killed a further 200.
Notes and references
- Bedford, Sybille. The Best We Can Do.
- 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, Patrick. Easing the passing: The trial of Doctor John Bodkin Adams, London, The Bodley Head, 1985.
- Hoskins, Percy. Two men were acquitted: The trial and acquittal of Doctor John Bodkin Adams, 1984
- Hallworth, Rodney and Mark Williams, Where there's a will... The sensational life of Dr John Bodkin Adams, Capstan Press, Jersey, 1983. ISBN 0946797005
- Surtees, John. 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, 2000.
- Cavendish, Marshall. Murder Casebook 40 Eastbourne's Doctor Death, 1990.
- Gaute, J.H.H. and Robin Odell, The New Murderer's Who's Who, Harrap Books, London, 1996.
- Ambler, Eric, The Ability to Kill, 1963 (promotional edition with chapter on Adams only - subsequent editions had it removed due to libel fears)