Saturday, September 12, 2015

The psychopathic narcissist as serial killer: Harold Shipman

A small number of narcissists are so amorally-egocentric that they literally feel they can get away with murder. As said elsewhere, there a degree of overlap between those with narcissism (NPD) and psychopathy: in essence, all psychopaths are to a greater or lesser degree narcissistic. A very small number of psychopaths are also killers.
The difference here is one of motive: a narcissist primarily lives for the purpose of obtaining "narcissistic supply"; a psychopath lives according to amoral whim and convenience. Therefore, a narcissistic serial killer would kill for the purpose of "narcissistic supply" (e.g.. "to feel like God"); a purely psychopathic killer would do so simply for the enjoyment of the act itself, or for the amoral purpose of achieving a goal (e.g. imagine a crime boss eliminating a rival or witness to a crime). In this (and the following) article, we will look at examples of serial killers who who are either proven narcissists (through testing) or whose narcissism seems strongly indicated by their actions and behaviour. These are narcissists who go to the ultimate amoral length to obtain their "narcissistic supply".

Harold "Fred" Shipman

This man is perhaps the world's (and certainly Britain's) most prolific serial killer, suspected to have killed more than two hundred people over a twenty-year period. He has been informally called "Dr Death", for very good reason.

Harold Shipman was born in the late 1940's to a father who was a long-distance truck driver, and a mother who endured a long-term battle with cancer throughout Harold's formative years. Thus, he was raised in a home environment that may have engendered some aspects of a narcissistic personality from childhood: a father who was absent from home for long periods, and a mother who, due to her terminal illness, would probably have been a weak figure at home. In such an environment, the malignant germ of narcissism can find root. Indeed, when his mother did finally pass away when he was finishing high school, a former school friend at the time remembers talking to Harold at the start of a school week and asking him what he did that previous weekend. Harold mentioned that his mother had died. Shocked and saddened, the school friend asked Harold what he did and how he felt; a keen sportsman at school, Harold replied casually that he "went for a run". Harold did not seem emotionally affected by his mother's death at all.

After finishing college, Shipman, who was from Nottingham, went to study medicine at Leeds. After qualifying to become a GP, he first went to practise in the West Pennine town of Todmorden in the mid 1970s. It was here where his criminal activity began, and also another marker of possible malignant narcissism: he began fraudulently obtaining medicinal drugs to feed a growing drug habit. This was eventually discovered, and he was fined by a local court, but not dismissed from the profession. Then he moved elsewhere, to the town of Hyde on the eastern outskirts of Manchester.

After working in a local Hyde surgery with other doctors for more than ten years, in 1991, he decided to go out on his own, and set up his own independent GP surgery, barely a stone's throw from the place he had left. He also took all of his patients with him, creating a bitter acrimony with his former colleagues at the Hyde practice he had left.
Shipman engendered a strong loyalty and interpersonal relationship with his patients. Although some people found him at times cold, off-hand and arrogant, many others respected his aura of professionalism and attention to detail. Compared to other doctors, Shipman went out of his way to make house calls to elderly patients, typically elderly women who lived alone. It would only be later when the significance of this would become clearer.

By early 1998, some other doctors who worked at a nearby surgery began to ask questions about the seemingly high number of deaths of his patients that Dr Shipman had signed-off on. Many of these deaths were also cremations. The police were discreetly asked to investigate in April, but being unfamiliar with some of the practices and regulations involved in the medical field, they failed to ask the right questions or look in the right places. After a short investigation, the case was closed.
Later on that summer, the death of former mayoress of Hyde, Kathleen Grundy, was signed off by Shipman as "old age", even though she was a very active women in the community. Suspicious of the suddenness of the death, it was investigated by her daughter; this was also due to discovering her mother's will had been changed shortly before her death, and due to the suspicious nature of the will: it gave everything to Dr Shipman. Only now, with a full police investigation did the nightmarish truth eventually come out.

Harold Shipman, over a twenty-year period, had been killing his patients alone in their homes using a lethal injection of drugs. The majority of his victims were elderly women, although some were middle aged (and some men). The sudden deaths of the victims often shocked their families, as many of them were the apparent picture of health. But due to Shipman's respected status within the local community, the alarm was never raised. While we can't know his motive for certain, the narcissism suggestive in his personality points to Shipman "feeling like God", with his status as a doctor having the ultimate power of life and death. It was also later revealed that items of jewelry were often missing from the victims' houses after they had died; again, this may be another manifestation of his narcissism, seeking a "memento" of his exploits, and also a further display of what he was able to get away with. The fact that his innumerable crimes remained undetected for all those years can only have boosted his inflated ego even further, and raised his contempt of the intelligence of those around him. By the time of the death of Kathleen Grundy, it is not hard to imagine that Shipman felt he was able to get away with almost anything, leading to his (in fact amateurish) attempt to falsify her will. It was his narcissism that ultimately led to his capture.

After being sentenced in 2000, Shipman was sent to prison for the rest of his life. Ultimately, his inflated ego probably unable to tolerate living in prison until the end of his days, Harold Shipman hung himself in 2004. The victims' families said they felt "cheated" - a typical feeling expressed by any victim of a narcissist.

The next article will look at the serial killer, "Jack The Writer" who ultimately was positively tested for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. His narcissism displayed itself in an altogether more public light, however...

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