Northern Ireland

The case of suspected Irish serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams

Dr John Bodkin Adams Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The murder trial of Dr John Bodkin Adams was front page news in the 1950s

It seems that true crime is all the rage at the moment with programmes like Making a Murderer and Serial.

On Sunday on BBC Radio Ulster, listeners can hear the story of a how a County Antrim-born doctor was rumoured to have killed hundreds of his patients.

Many people may not have heard of Dr John Bodkin Adams, but in 1957 he was headline news across the world.

"Murder Trial of the Century" splashed one newspaper. "Enquiry into 400 wills" reported another.

"Massive dosage of drugs to wealthy widows," declared the Belfast Telegraph.

Newspapers were packed with lurid stories of how Dr Bodkin Adams targeted elderly female patients in the English seaside town of Eastbourne; how he changed their wills in his favour, cut them off from their families and then killed them with lethal injections of morphine and heroin.

There were reports that he was the richest doctor in the UK, who lived in a big house and even had his own chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce.

However, it is suspected the Sussex-based GP was the precursor to notorious serial killer, Dr Harold Shipman.

Image caption Former lawyer Tim McGarry presents the BBC Radio Ulster programme looking at the case of Dr John Bodkin Adams, who was suspected of killing his patients

Irish childhood

He lived a lifestyle very different from his childhood in Ireland.

Bodkin Adams was born in 1899 in Randalstown, Country Antrim, and was the son of the local Plymouth Brethren preacher.

His mother was even said to be the holiest woman in Ireland. He later moved to Coleraine, County Londonderry, and then studied at Queen's University, Belfast, before settling in Sussex.

It was not long before rumours started circulating around Eastbourne that their doctor was bumping off rich, elderly widows.

Image caption Presenter Tim McGarry with John Bodkin Adams biographer Jane Robbins

He was eventually arrested for murder and his case was one of the most dramatic and plot-twisting murder trials in legal history.

He famously never gave evidence, which was unheard of in courtrooms at the time, and something that fuelled even more suspicion.

'Can You Prove it was Murder?', retraces Dr Bodkin Adams' footsteps from Randalstown to the Old Bailey and asks if there more to the story than what was originally reported.

Presented by former lawyer Tim McGarry, the documentary has been granted access to the controversial police files which were meant to be locked out of sight until 2033.

Expect a few twists and turns along the way.

You can find out the verdict of the trial on Can You Prove It Was Murder on BBC Radio Ulster on Sunday February 21 at 12:30 GMT.

Related Topics