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I am playing catch up here. It is safe to say until the end of the year, my writing will be a bit sporadic as I clamor to keep up with . . .everything. On to Crime that should have went live last Thursday! Again, directly from the book 100 Most Infamous Criminals by Jo Durden Smith (p. 154-155).

William Burke and William Hare (or the Burke and Hare Murders . . .  Is it just me, or does Burke and Hare sound like a law firm?)

William Burke and William Hare will always remain linked . . . Alone, living in Edinburgh in the late 1820s, they were nothing: just a laborer and the keeper of a disreputable boarding house. But together they were Burke and Hare, the most famous body-snatchers of them all–even though they ended up differently. For Hare, who turned King’s Evidence and was a witness at Burke’s trial, died later in London, after living under an assumed name; and Burke went the way of their joint victims. After he as hanged, his body was dissected at a public lecture by the Professor of Surgery at Edinburgh University, and his skeleton can still be seen today in the University’s Anatomical Museum.

It was in 1827 that the pair first met, when Burke, who’d been working on the building of the Union Canal, moved to Edinburgh with a woman called Helen Dougal. As Irishmen, they had much in common; and when one of Hare’s lodgers, an old army veteran died–and Hare had it in mind to sell his body to an anatomist–who better to help carry it off to the house of the celebrated anatomist Dr. Robert Knox than his new friend William Burke?

Dr. Robert Knox

Until the passing of the Anatomy Act in 1832, every dead person, by law, was required to have a Christian burial. So it was extremely difficult for practicing anatomists and their students to get hold of the necessary raw material, except from so called body-snatchers, who dug up newly-buried corpses from churchyards. Otherwise the bodies of executed criminals were the best they could get. Knox, then, was delighted to accept the body from Burke and Hare, with few questions asked, and he paid more than seven and a half pounds for it. He also said that he’d take any more they might be able to get their hands on, with over ten pounds to be paid for a really fresh specimen in good condition.

Burke and Hare, thrilled by their windfall, spotted a gap in the market and, like good capitalists, soon filled it. They began to lure travelers, usually to Hare’s boarding house, and ply them with drink. Once befuddled, they simply smothered them. A least fifteen people went the same way, at prices ranging from eight to fourteen pounds, until a couple who’d been staying with Burke and Helen Dougal spotted the body of a woman hidden under a pile of straw. They went to the police with what they had seen.

Burke, after turncoat Hare gave evidence against him, was hanged on January 28th 1829–and the others disappeared, Hare to London and Helen Dougal, it’s said to Australia. Dr. Knox’s house on Surgeon’s Square was invaded by a mob–two of the victims had been well-known on the city’s streets–and his University lectures were constantly interrupted by heckling. In the end he left Edinburgh and, unable to get another university position, ended his days as an obscure general practitioner in east London.

 

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