The Serial Killer Compendium, p.23R. J. Parker
By 1956, John Adams was one of the wealthiest doctors in England, having enjoyed a successful career. Despite rumors about his ethics and fraudulent wills, he was seen with some of the most influential people in the country, including Members of Parliament, Sir Alexander Maguire, the 10th Duke of Devonshire, Chief of Police Richard Walker, famous painter Oswald Birley, and a host of powerful business people.
On July 23rd, 1956, the Eastbourne Police received an unidentified call about a death. It was from Leslie Henson, the music hall performer, whose friend Gertrude Hullett had died suddenly while being treated by Dr. Adams.
The investigation was turned over from Eastbourne Police on August 17th to two officers from the Metropolitan Police's Murder Squad. The senior officer was Detective Superintendent Herbert Hannam of Scotland Yard, noted for having solved the infamous Teddington Towpath Murders in 1953. He was assisted by a junior Officer, Detective Sergeant Charles Hewett. The investigators decided to focus on cases from 1946 to 1956 only. Of the three hundred and ten death certificates examined by Home Office Pathologist, Francis Camps, one hundred and sixty-three were believed to be of suspicious nature. Apparently, many patients had been given "special injections" of substances that Dr. Adams refused to explain to the nurses caring for his patients.
Furthermore, it became known that his routine was to ask the nurses to leave the room before injections were given. He would also segregate patients from their relatives, hindering contact between them. On August 24th, in an astonishing move, the British Medical Association (BMA) sent a letter to all Doctors in Eastbourne, reminding them of Professional Secrecy – like patient confidentiality, for example – if interviewed by the police. It was obvious the BMA was trying to cover their asses in the event of lawsuits. Lead Detective 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 gridlock continued until November 8th when Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller met with Dr. Macrae to persuade him of the significance of the case. During this meeting, in a highly extraordinary move, he passed Hannam's confidential one hundred and eight-seven page report on Dr. Adams over to Dr Macrae. Dr Macrae then took the report to the President of the BMA and returned it the next day.
In all likelihood, Macrae photocopied the report and passed it on to the defense lawyers. Certain of the seriousness of the accusations, Dr. Macrae dropped his resistance to doctors talking to the police. In the end though, only two Eastbourne doctors ever submitted evidence.
On 24th November, Detectives Hannam, Hewett, and the head of Eastbourne Central Intelligence Division, Detective Inspector Pugh, presented Dr. Adams with a search warrant under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1951. When the detectives told him that they were looking for morphine, heroin, Pethidine, and the like, Adams was surprised and said, "Oh, that group. You will find none here. I have not any. I very seldom ever use them.” Then Detective Hannam asked for Adams' Dangerous Drugs Register, the record of those ordered and used, and Adams replied, "I don't know what you mean. I keep no register." In fact, he hadn't kept one since 1949. When they showed him a list of dangerous drugs that he had prescribed Morrell, and asked who had administered them, Adams replied, "I did nearly all; perhaps the nurses gave some but mostly me." This contradicted what the nurses' notebooks would show during his trial. Detective Hannam then said, "Doctor, you prescribed for her seventy-five 1/6th grains of heroin tablets the day before she died,” to which Dr. Adams replied, "Poor soul, she was in terrible agony. It was all used. I used them myself. Do you think it is too much?"
As the investigators inspected Adams’s cupboards, he walked to another and slipped two objects into his jacket pocket. Hannam and Pugh saw this occur and challenged Adams. He then showed them two bottles of morphine, one of which he said was for Annie Sharpe, a patient and major witness who had died nine days earlier under his care; the other he said was for Mr. Soden, who happened to die on September 17th, 1956, but pharmacy records later showed that Mr. Soden had never been prescribed morphine. After his main trial, Adams would also be charged and convicted with obstructing the lawful 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. Mrs. Morrell wanted to die. That can't be murder. It is impossible to accuse a doctor.” In the basement of Adams's house, police found a lot of unused china and silverware. In one room, there were twenty new car tires still in their wrappings and several other car parts. Wines and spirits were stored in quantity. On the second floor, one room was devoted solely for weapons; there were six guns in a glass display case, and several automatic pistols, though he had permits for these. Another room was used completely for photographic equipment. Left lying around were a dozen very expensive cameras in leather cases.
In December, the police obtained a memorandum belonging to a Daily Mail journalist pertaining to rumors of homosexuality between a police officer, a magistrate, and a doctor. The letter directly implicated Dr. Adams. This information had come, according to the reporter, directly from Detective Hannam. The magistrate was Sir Roland Gwynne, Mayor of Eastbourne from 1929 to 1931 and brother of Rupert Gwynne, Member of Parliament for Eastbourne from 1910 to 1924. Sir Gwynne was Adams’ patient and it was well known that he would visit Adams every day at 9 a.m. The pair went on numerous holidays together and had just spent three weeks in Scotland that September. The officer in question was the Deputy Chief Constable of Eastbourne, officer Alexander Seekings. Detective Hannam ignored this line of inquest, however (even though homosexual acts were an offence in 1956), and the police, as an alternative, gave the journalist a reprimand. The memo, though, was verification of Adams' close connections to those of power in Eastbourne at the time.
On December 19th, 1956, Dr. Adams was arrested at Kent Lodge. As he was walking out with the police, he told his secretary, “I will see you in heaven.”
The investigators had only collected enough evidence to charge Adams with one murder thus far, the murder of Edith Morrell. They were still trying to tie together the Clara Miller, Gertrude Hullett, Dr. Hullett, and Julia Bradnum murders.
Adams was first tried for the murder of Mrs. Morrell, with the Hullett charge to be prosecuted afterwards. The trial lasted seventeen days, the longest murder trial in Britain up to that point. It was presided over by ‘Mr. Justice,’ Patrick Devlin. Devlin summed up the delicate nature of the case: "It is a most curious situation, perhaps unique in these courts that the act of murder has to be proved by expert evidence." Defense Counsel, Sir Frederick Geoffrey Lawrence, a specialist in real estate and divorce cases, a relative stranger in a criminal court and defending his first murder trial, told the jury that there was no evidence that a murder had been committed, much less that a murder had been committed by Dr. Adams.
He emphasized that the indictment was based primarily on testimonies from the nurses who tended to Morrell and that none of the witnesses' evidence coordinated with the others. On the second day of the trial, he produced notebooks written by the nurses, detailing Adams' treatment of Morrell. The prosecution claimed never to have seen these notebooks, even though they were recorded in pretrial lists of evidence. These differed from the nurses' recollection of events, and showed that smaller quantities of drugs were given to the patient than the prosecution had thought, based on Adams' prescriptions.
Furthermore, the prosecution's two expert medical witnesses gave contradictory opinions. Dr. Arthur Douthwaite was prepared to say that murder had definitely been committed, but he changed his mind in the middle of his testimony regarding the exact date. Dr. Michael Ashby was more uncommunicative. Defense witness, Dr. John Harman, however, was adamant that Adams' treatment, though atypical,
When the jury retired to converse about the verdict, Lord Chief Justice Rayner Goddard phoned Devlin to urge him, if Adams were 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 English legal history. During the committal hearing prior to the trial, Chief Justice Goddard had been seen dining with Sir 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 9th, 1957, after just forty-four minutes of deliberating, the jury returned their verdict of not guilty. The public was blown away. Even those in the law community were astonished as the evidence against Adams was over-whelming. It was generally agreed that money speaks louder than murder.
It is worth mentioning that some of the evidence gathered by Detective Hannam during the investigation was never permitted to be aired in court. Taken together, they suggest a certain modus operandi. The jury did not hear the following:
August of 1939 – Adams was treating Agnes Pike. Her solicitors, however, were concerned about the amount of hypnotic drugs he was giving her and asked another doctor, Dr. Mathew, to take over treatment. Dr. Mathew examined Pike in Adams's presence, but could find no disease present. Furthermore, the patient was deeply under the influence of drugs, incoherent, and gave her age as 200 years old. Later, during the examination, Adams stepped forward unexpectedly and gave Pike an injection of morphine. When asked why he did this, Adams replied, "Because she might be violent.” Dr. Mathew discovered that Adams had banned all relatives from seeing her, and withdrew Adams' medication. After eight weeks of his care, Agnes Pike was able to do her own shopping and had regained her full faculties.
December of 1946 – Emily Louise Mortimer died at age seventy-five. Afterwards, Adams took a bottle of brandy and a clock from her room. He claimed the clock had been loaned by him and that it was not “right to leave spirits in a nursing home.” Adams received the remainder from Mortimer's will and by 1957 had earned £1,950 in dividends from the shares he inherited.
February 23rd, 1950 – Amy Ware died at the age of seventy-six. Dr. Adams had prohibited 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.
December 28th, 1950 – Annabelle Kilgour died at age eighty-nine. She had been attended by Adams since July when she had a stroke. She went into a coma on December 23rd, immediately after Adams started giving her sedatives. The nurse involved later told the police that she was very certain Adams either gave her the wrong injection or far too concentrated a type. Mrs. Kilgour left Adams £200 and a clock.
January 3rd, 1952 – Adams purchased 5,000 Phenobarbitone tablets. By the time his house was searched four years later, none were left.
May 11th, 1952 – Julia Bradnum died at the age of eighty-five. The previous year, Adams asked her if her will was in order, and accompanied her to the bank to check. On examining it, he pointed out that she had not 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, and that is what she did. Adams ultimately received £661. While Adams attended Bradnum, he was frequently seen holding her hand and chatting to her on one knee. The day before Mrs. Bradnum died, she had been doing housework and going for walks. The next morning she woke up feeling sick. Adams was called. 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.
Mrs. Bradnum was exhumed on December 21st, 1956. Adams had written on the death certificate that she had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Dr. Francis Camps examined her brain, however, and excluded this likelihood. The rest of the body, unfortunately, was not in good enough condition to ascertain the real cause of death. Furthermore, it was noticed that Adams, the executor, had put a plate on Bradnum's coffin stating that she had died on May 27th, 1952. This was the date her body was interred.
November 22nd, 1952 – Julia Thomas, seventy-two, was being treated by Adams (she called him "Bobbums") for depression after her cat died in early November. On the 19th, Adams gave her 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.
January 15th, 1953 – Hilda Neil Miller, eighty-six, died in a guesthouse where she lived with her sister, Clara. They had not been receiving their mail for several 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.
February 22nd, 1954 – Clara Neil Miller died at age eighty-seven. 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 control 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 Detective Hannam regarding this, Adams said, "The person who told you that doesn't know why I did it.”
Clara willed Adams £1,275 and he charged her estate a further £700 after her death. He was the sole executor of her will. Her funeral was arranged by Adams and only he and Annie Sharpe, the guesthouse owner, were present. She received £200 in Clara's will; Adams tipped the minister a guinea after the ceremony. Clara was one of the two bodies exhumed during the police investigation on December 21st, 1956. Dr. Francis Camps concluded that she had suffered from bronchopneumonia, probably 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.
May 30th, 1955 – James Downs, brother-in-law of Amy Ware (see above), died at the age of eighty-eight. He had entered a nursing home with a broken ankle four months earlier. Adams treated him with a sedative containing morphine which made him absentminded. On April 7th, Adams gave his nurse, Sister Miller, a tablet to give to Downs to make him more alert. Two hours later, a solicitor arrived for Downs to amend his will. Adams told the solicitor that he was to be made a beneficiary to inherit £1000. The solicitor amended the will and returned two hours later with another doctor, Dr. Barkworth, who confirmed the patient to be alert. Dr. Barkworth was paid three guineas for his time. Nurse Miller later told police that she had heard Adams earlier in April tell the "senile" Mr. 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 thirty-six-hour coma, twelve hours after Adams's last visit. Adams charged his estate £216 for his services and signed Downs' cremation form, stating he had "no financial interest in the death of the deceased.”
March 14th, 1956 – Dr. Alfred John Hullett died at only seventy-one. He was the husband of Gertrude
November 15th, 1956 – Annie Sharpe, owner of the guesthouse where the Neil Millers’ had died, and consequently a major witness, died suddenly of carcinomatosis of the peritoneal cavity while detectives Hannam and Hewett were in London conducting their investigation. Adams had diagnosed her with cancer just five days earlier, and had given her a prescription for hyperduric morphine and thirty-six Pethidine tablets. The police were very frustrated. They’d had two chances to interview Sharpe, and Hannam and Hewett felt she had been about to reveal information. She was cremated quickly, precluding an investigation into her death. Detective Hannam also revealed that four members of Adams' household staff had been given morphine, heroin, or Pethidine by Adams in prescription form. Adams obtained these on the National Health Service, leading the detectives to conclude that he was merely using their names and keeping the drugs for his own supplies an act of fraud.
In the aftermath of the trial, Adams resigned from the National Health Service and was convicted in Lewes Crown Court on July 26th, 1957, on eight counts of forging prescriptions, four counts of making false statements on cremation forms, and three offences under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1951; he was fined £2,400 plus costs of £457. His license to prescribe dangerous drugs was revoked on September 4th and on November 27th he was removed from the Medical Register by the GMC. Adams continued to see some of his more steadfast patients, prescribing over the counter medicine to them.
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