Read an Excerpt
The Good Doctor
Hyde Cemetery, Hyde, North of England, November 1998
The rusting black-and-gold gates, proudly emblazoned with the town's crest, are rarely shut. Fresh yellow lilies lie alongside a gravestone inscribed, "To LOVING DAD STAN." A few yards away fading daisies for a "MUM GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN." Elsewhere stand numerous ivy-choked tombstones of generations long departed. Wire mesh garbage cans hold old bottles of beer left by the people who sometimes slip into the cemetery to drown their sorrows. Across the way, a park worker with a rivet gun fixes tiny metal plaques to a stone wall in the garden of remembrance.
The 104-year-old Hyde Cemetery provides a backdrop more befitting a horror movie than real life. Gnarled old oak trees flash long thin shadows across the ground. Large ornate monuments erected in memory of some of the area's richest families create an almost gothic atmosphere. November is the month of the Holy Souls, when parishioners of the nearby St. Paul's Church pray for the dead at every Mass. If ever their prayers were needed, it is now.
Just one hundred yards away, residents sleep peacefully in their homes as cars and vans creep quietly along the cemetery pathway in low gear. In the starry sky, half a moon leaves long fingers of darkness across the grass. The smooth blankets of turf that covered the graves of Marie Quinn, Bianka Pomfret and Ivy Lomas have been peeled back and replaced with churned mounds of earth which now scar thecomes after investigators have completed their grim task, in a far corner of the graveyard where the rows of new marble tombstones glisten like black, shiny teeth.
The Catholic section bore the brunt of it, with four exhumations. Flowers and a modest brown marble gravestoneinscribed, "A DEAR WIFE, MUM AND NANA, ALWAYS IN OUR HEARTS AND SADLY MISSED"are removed from Mrs. Turner's well-tended plot as the mechanical digger starts up.
One officer stops by the fence and pours a cup of tea from a flask, while another lights a cigarette.
"I'm glad I'm not over there," he says.
The entire operation will take at least two and a half hours, the sodden ground and waterlogged grave making the task more difficult than in previous exhumations. At hourly intervals a church bell tolls. Eventually, lights begin to come on in nearby homes as early risers awaken.
An hour later the digger falls silent, leaving an unearthly hush; the operation is complete. The tent is removed to reveal the workteam carefully clearing away their equipment and debris from the grave and surrounding plots. But these exhumations have struck fear and horror into the hearts of the people of Hyde. One woman, whose house backs onto the cemetery, says: "You hear noises and half wake up, then realize what it is. It makes you shudder."
As Father Maher later pointed out: "It's pretty normal to die. You have the funeral, and that gives a natural completion to death. But this reversalit has a profound effect on everyone involved. For a big town, Hyde is very close-knit. Everyone either is related, or knows someone whose death is being investigated. Quite frankly, I don't know if the place will ever get over it. It's like a cancer eating away at the heart of the community."
But where and how did that cancer begin-once neat and tidy graveyard. The stark image of a white tent covering a desolate grave indicates that something is wrong. It's pitch dark. The grumbling sound of a generator cuts through the cold night air. Powerful spotlights strike beams of white across the gravesites. The old mill town of Hyde, in Lancashire, is about to unearth yet more evidence of the death and destruction wreaked by Fred Shipman.
A total of seven bodies would be exhumed from this same cemetery over the following months. A large white tent has been erected around the plot of Irene Turner. This once proud grandmother-of-four, described as "exquisite" by her family, always dressed to the nines, never a hair out of place. Yet she was about to undergo a final humiliating fate.
As the inquiry team gathers, Father Denis Maher whispers a prayer, his breath sending out small slivers of steam through the cold, damp air. Maher has been asked to attend by many of the families whose loved ones have been disinterred. Back in their homes they lie awake wondering what horrific sights are greeting the investigators and their hand-picked priest.
Each suspected victim has been assigned two detectives dedicated to her case, including the task of exhumation. All forensic officers wear green plastic department bodysuits. Just beyond them, uniformed officers patrol the perimeter of the graveyard checking for ghoulish onlookers, their flashlights flickering. It is a most distressing time for all the investigators. It's just as bad for the freelance workmen contracted at double-time pay rates to dig up the graves. They usually find most of their employment excavating roads.
Father Maher explains: "Nobody enjoys doing this. Nobody wants to do it, but they know it must be done, and they do it with dignity and sensitivity."
The priest repeats the prayers and service as each body is returned to its final resting place in a new coffin with a new name plate, usually within twenty-four hours. "It consoles the families," says Father Maher. But that reburial only
Copyright © 2002 by Wensley Clarkson.