March 18

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1957

    Above: Antrim-born Dr John Bodkin Adams—‘a mercenary mercy killer’, according to his trial judge, Lord Devlin.

    The trial of Antrim-born Dr John Bodkin Adams on a charge of murdering Edith Morell, one of his elderly patients, opened at the Old Bailey. A lifelong bachelor, Adams was for many years a popular and familiar figure driving around the more affluent areas of Eastbourne, East Sussex, in his Rolls Royce, attending a large number of rich widows. The chattering classes became increasingly concerned, however. He was lavish in prescribing heroin and morphia, and it was noticed that many of his elderly patients improved after they moved away from his care whilst many others died unexpectedly, leaving him gifts and legacies—no less than 132, it later emerged—in their wills. Though it was rumoured that the police were looking at no less than 300 suspicious deaths, he was eventually charged with only one and was acquitted thanks to a brilliant defence team, questionable medical evidence and, crucially, his avoidance of cross-examination. He was later convicted for forging prescriptions and failing to keep proper drugs records and was struck off the medical register. Commenting many years later, the trial judge, Lord Devlin, said that he was probably ‘a mercenary mercy killer’, not entirely motivated by money but greedy all the same. Reinstated as a GP four years later and considerably enriched by thirteen successful libel actions, he continued to practise until his death in 1983, leaving the princely sum of £402,907 in his will. Amongst the 47 beneficiaries were twenty lady friends, his chums in the local clay pigeon shooting club, his housekeeper, his chauffeur and his grocer. And his own doctor got a few pounds as well.

  • 1940 Roderick O’Conor (79), Roscommon-born painter who spent most of his later years in Paris and as part of the Pont-Aven movement, died.
  • 1969 The newly inaugurated President Richard Nixon secretly authorised the use of long-range B-52 heavy bombers to carpet-bomb Cambodia. ‘Operation Menu’, as it was called, would continue until May 1970.
  • 1967 The SS Torrey Canyon, bound for Milford Haven with a full cargo of crude oil, struck rocks off the Cornish coast, leading to a major environmental disaster.
  • 1916 Stopford Augustus Brooke, Donegal-born preacher, churchman, chaplain to Queen Victoria and writer, whose Primer of English literature (1876) sold half a million copies during his lifetime, died.
  • 1768 Laurence Sterne (54), Tipperary-born clergyman and author, notably of The life and opinions of Tristam Shandy, gentleman (1759) and A sentimental journey through France and Italy (1768), died.
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