As mentioned in passing last time, it’s only through living in America that you come to realise just how insignificant an item Britain is, and how little most people care about what goes on there. The dearth of information appearing in the local newspaper here is striking, be it politics, sport (and I don’t just mean cricket) or any other area of affairs. It’s not just the newspapers, but all the other media too, and this approach may be generally common to Americans, perhaps resulting from a large chunk of the population being thousands of miles from any other country. Unless it happens to Americans, it really doesn’t happen, or so it seems – thank heavens for BBC America (though I’m not sure what Father Ted, a C4 programme is doing on there) and the Internet, which helps me to remain a citizen of the global community – as well as acquire dodgy bootlegs on Ebay and access a vast range of interesting…er, material.
I digress. The point is, that one British news item did make it into The Arizona Republic this past week: the report into serial-killer Harold Shipman, which discovered that he might have been responsible for the deaths of over 300 people. That’s quite some feat, and there was a grudging sense of pique in the reports, given that this figure would surpass anything any American serial-killer has ever done. Even Henry Lee Lucas only claimed three hundred or so, and he was a compulsive and habitual liar, who confessed to murders in Spain and Japan, despite never having left the good ol’ US of A. Sure, there may have been bigger murderers in the third world – the Colombian, Pedro Alonso Lopez, comes to mind here – but they don’t really count, since their victims don’t wear Nikes, and would quite probably have starved to death anyway.
On that score, in serial-killer chart terms, Shipman probably ranks a bit lower than his tally would indicate, since his victims were unlikely to have survived for all that much longer. Some would say, all that separates him from the other “Dr. Death”, Jack Kevorkian, is the relatively trivial matter of how much pain their patient-victims were in. And nor can Shipman claim to be the originator of this technique: in Boston just before the turn of the 20th century, Jane Toppan offed some 30 or more elderly patients with morphine, to become America’s biggest female murderess. And now, in similarly style, at the turn of the 21st century Harold Shipman did the same, only on a much bigger and millennial scale.
It does make me wonder how many other serial killers are lurking, unseen, out there in the medical profession. It’s an excellent cover, for in what other job are you expected to have people die when you take care of them. It is a salutory lesson for any wannabes, that it was only when Shipman changed his modus operandi and tried to profit from a victim’s death through being a beneficiary in her will, that he was caught. God alone knows how many more he might have killed if he hadn’t got greedy. He seemed to be going at about 12-13 a year, and probably had at least another decade or so before retirement. You do the maths.
Thinking back to my time at university, I do have to say that quite a high percentage of the “characters” to be found on campus, seemed to come out of the medical faculty. At the time, I tended to put this down to high spirits, or over-indulgence in alcohol – but the case of Harold Shipman should make anyone with the slightest sniffle look nervously over their shoulder before informing their GP. Hell, there are already enough statistics to suggest that hospital is a desperately unhealthy place to be if you are ill – I just never thought the reason was all the local sociopaths queuing up to mis-administer lethal injections…