Adams, John Bodkin (1899–1983), doctor, was born 20 January 1899 in Randalstown, Co. Antrim, elder son of Samuel Adams, watchmaker, and Ellen Adams (née Bodkin) from Desertmartin, Co. Londonderry, and grew up in Ballinderry, Co. Antrim. His brother died in 1916. His father retired early and was a JP in Coleraine; the family belonged to the Plymouth Brethren, and religious observance and behaviour were strictly regulated. John was educated at Coleraine Academical Institution (1912–16), and in 1921 took the medical degrees MB, B.Ch., and BAO at QUB. After short periods working in English hospitals, he paid £2,000 to join a practice in Eastbourne, Sussex, England. He was unmarried; his mother lived with him till her death (1943). He became Eastbourne's most popular doctor, but rumours began to circulate when the condition of elderly patients improved after they moved away from his care, and when those less fortunate left him quite substantial sums in their wills – almost £22,000 between 1944 and 1955, as well as silver and a Rolls Royce.
On 24 November 1956 Adams was arrested and charged with the murder in 1950 of Edith Morell, an elderly widow who had been cremated. His trial was one of the most celebrated at the Old Bailey in the twentieth century, and the public followed the case avidly in the newspapers, which, almost unanimously, had immediately decided that he was guilty. During the trial, however, the evidence of Mrs Morell's nurses was undermined by brilliant defence cross-questioning, and the prosecution's chief medical witness changed his opinion while actually in the witness box. Adams remained silent throughout; the judge, Patrick Devlin, defended his right to do so, and directed the jury to find Adams not guilty. In an unusual book, written after Adams's death, Lord Devlin recorded his poor opinion of the crown prosecutor's handling of the case. Investigators felt at the time that one of the other seventeen suspicious deaths linked with Adams might have produced stronger evidence. He was subsequently found guilty of minor offences to do with irregularities in prescriptions and the poisons register, and was fined and barred from practising for four years. His patients flocked back to him afterwards, despite continuing rumours, and in latter years he assiduously and successfully prosecuted newspapers for any libellous references. He died 4 July 1983, leaving an estate of £408,305.