Killing a Rolls

1954 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn left to “sausage fingered” glutton and suspected serial killer Doctor John Bodkin Adams for sale for £65,000


Doctor John Bodkin Adams was a man with a penchant for Charbonnel et Walker chocolates and Rolls-Royces. A well-known glutton, this prequel to Doctor Harold Shipman was left two such cars by alleged victims and now one is for sale for £64,950.


Dr John Bodkin Adams (1899 – 1983) was well known for his gluttonous ways and was photographed celebrating with a roast lunch soon after he was found not guilty of the 1950 murder of Edith Alice Morrell on 9th April 1957
Dr Adams was left this 1954 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn by Gertrude Hullett in 1956


Born into a fiercely religious family in County Antrim in 1899 and the son of a watchmaker and car enthusiast, John Bodkin Adams graduated from Queen’s University Belfast in 1921 despite being described as a “plodder” and “lone wolf”. He moved to Eastbourne in Sussex in 1922 and in time Adams became known as the go-to doctor to the great and the good and most especially elderly female patients.


With patients numbering the Olympic medal winner Lord Burghley and the society painter Oswald Birley, Adams was described as “probably the wealthiest GP in England” in 1956 and became accustomed to a life of luxury. He swapped the scooter he used when he first arrived in Eastbourne for a chauffeur driven Rolls-Royce in 1928 and inherited £7,385 (the equivalent of £472,000 today) from a patient named Matilda Whitton in 1935.


In 1950, a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost (valued at £1,500 or the equivalent of £47,000 today) came into his possession after a wealthy widow and patient, Edith Alice Morrell, left it to him. Another bequest from another patient named Gertrude Hullett in July 1956 included a Shell Grey 1954 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn (“worth at least £2,900” or the equivalent of £68,000 today). That car is now for sale through Classic Automobiles in West London.


The car from the front and from the rear
The vehicle is presented in what sellers Classic Automobiles describe as “stunning condition”


Aside from resulting in Dr Adams gaining the Silver Dawn, Hullett’s death brought him to the attention of the police after one of her friends anonymously made allegations to them. He was arrested in December 1956 and during an especially high profile trial, the “fat and pink-skinned” doctor “with fingers like sausages” was even mentioned in a poem titled Adam and Eves. It was read to 150 guests at The Cavendish Hotel in Eastbourne during the trial and featured references to the Rolls-Royce:


In Eastbourne it is healthy

And the residents are wealthy

It’s a miracle that anybody dies;

Yet this pearl of English lidos

Is a slaughter house of widows –

If their bank rolls are above the normal size.

If they’re lucky in addition

In their choice of a physician

And remember him when making out their wills

And bequeath their Rolls-Royces

Then they soon hear angel voices

And are quickly freed from all their earthly ills.

If they’re nervous or afraid of

What a heroine is made of

Their mentality will soon be reconditioned

So they needn’t feel neglected

They will shortly be infected

With the heroin in which they are deficient.

As we witnessed the deceased borne

From the stately homes of Eastbourne

We are calm, for it may safely be assumed

That each lady that we bury

In the local cemetery

Will re-surface – when the body is exhumed.

It’s the mortuary chapel

If they touch an Adam’s apple

After parting with a Bentley as a fee

So to liquidate your odd kin

By the needle of the bodkin

Send them down to sunny Eastbourne by the sea.


Surprisingly, after a 17-day trial for the murder of Gertrude Hullett, the longest murder trial in Britain up to that point, Adams was cleared on the basis that “there was no evidence that a murder had been committed”. Adams celebrated his acquittal with a roast lunch and a bowl of jelly but was subsequently found guilty of forging prescriptions, making false statements on cremation forms and offence until the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1951. His license to prescribe dangerous drugs was revoked and he was struck off the Medical Register by the GMC.


Adams was reinstated as a general practitioner in 1961 and later became president and honourary medical officer of the British Clay Pigeon Shooting Association. He slipped and fractured his hip in June 1983 whilst out shooting in Battle, East Sussex and died in Eastbourne Hospital a few days later.


Despite leaving a will of some £400,000 (the equivalent of £1.3 million today), Doctor John Bodkin Adams’ last car was a far cry from the stunning Rolls-Royces left to him by his “dear patients”. Aged 84, he died the owner of a most ordinary Triumph Dolomite and now it is suspected he could have been responsible for the deaths of up to 160 of his patients.


To learn more about the case, purchase a copy of The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams: A 1950s Murder Mystery by Jane Robins. The book is available through Amazon on Kindle or as a hardcover.



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    • My late father had a Rolls Royce Silver Dawn MK2 1955. I think the price of £65,000 is a bit high! £45,000 would be nearer the mark.

    • In an attempt to lighten this up.....
      Sir Reginald Manningham Buller was dubbed Sir Reginald Bullying the style of the day; just like General Redvers Buller was dubbed General Reverse Buller

    • I am James Bolton, a 68 year old disabled gentleman, I purchased the above vehicle at Auction on the 29 August this year. Currently it is having a thorough mechanical overhaul with work likely to be in excess of £20,000. Thereafter I propose to have the bodywork brought fully up to scratch followed by chrome work. My aim is simply to restore the vehicle to as close as possible to as new.

      • Given that the wealthy widows Adams attended were all said to have 'grea$ed' his palm, be sure to ask whomever was tasked with overhauling your Silver Dawn if it has 'roller' or 'needle' bearings.

    • I'm wondering if the reason that Adams became not only the honorary medical officer of the British Clay Pigeon Shooting Association, but also its president to boot, was because, as a big $hot, he was always going to be 'loaded'...which'd gundoubtedly provide him with a lot of said, "Pull!".

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