‘Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility.’
Darcy’s words to Bingley in Pride and Prejudice perfectly sum up the notorious Dr John Bodkin Adams. Not only was the Eastbourne doctor devious and deceitful; he was probably a psychopath.
I’ve just read Jane Robins’s The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams. It’s a fascinating profile of the creepy GP who was tried for the murder of one of his patients, Edith Morrell, in 1957.
Can you prove it was murder?
When charged 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.’
Unfortunately, they couldn’t prove it was murder. And because the case failed Adams was never charged with any further cases – 160 of his patients died in suspicious circumstances. Of these, 132 left him legacies in their wills.
Jane Robins beautifully evokes the postwar era in which Adams thrived – he drove round Eastbourne in a Rolls-Royce – and explores how he operated. Eastbourne during this period was a wealthy town full of rich widowers.
Solicitous Adams inveigled his way into his patients’ lives
It was a time when such women would not queue at the GP’s but expect to be called upon. Adams inveigled his way into their lives under the guise of selfless devotion to their health and well-being.
His help would go so far to as to include financial advice and requests to be included in their wills. How did gain such influence? His patients often appreciated his attention, but he would also administer a lot of heroin and morphia to keep them compliant and dependent on him. ‘Sedating them into oblivion’ as Robins puts it.
The case is, of course, frustrating because Adams got away with it. Robins, who uses excellent sources, such as the private papers of Judge Patrick Devlin, agrees that he was probably a serial killer and forerunner of Harold Shipman.
Another author, Pamela Cullen, has argued there was a cover-up to protect Adams. What is certain is that the police didn’t really understand serial killers at this time and what kind of monster Adams probably was.
Revenge and cruel treatment
The detectives thought in terms of motive and monetary gain. But Adams was also a manipulator and beneath the self-effacing schtick, he could be very nasty. He pretended to helpful and working in service of God, but he was also brutally vengeful.
Women who crossed him were treated cruelly. One was forced to sit on a pail of hot water.
When another, Julia Thomas, told him she would never let him manage her will, Adams smiled and bided his time. Within a fortnight he was administering an injection for a ‘good night’s rest’, after which she died.
Humility that was monstrously deceitful.