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Rick Hale - 5 July 0. Guest Writer - 18 February 0. Burke and Hare began to smother people, a practice that became known as burking. Their case was to have a lasting affect on both criminal legislation in the nineteenth century and was a key factor in the introduction of the Anatomy Act. Portraits of serial killers William Hare and William Burke circa Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Despite the provisions of the Murder Act , there was still a profound shortage of bodies for anatomical instruction for surgeons up and down the country.
This was particularly true in Scotland, where execution rates were comparatively far lower than in London. So feared was this trade that many coffins were reinforced and graveyards given stronger protection, a lasting legacy that can still be seen in many graveyards. Burke and Hare were two such opportunists, who began to make money by supplying bodies of the recently deceased to eminent, Edinburgh Anatomical Lecturer, Dr Knox. However, they soon decided that they needn't wait for people to die of natural causes, when they could smother or 'burke' them themselves. Burke was sentenced to be hung on January 28th, in Edinburgh's Lawnmarket.
A huge crowd turned out to watch the spectacle and many reports detail an angry crowd trying to get at his corpse to do damage to it. The site of Burke's and other public executions in Edinburgh are still marked to this day, by a plaque and three brass plates in the pavement, indicating the position of the gallows. Hare pictured right had settled at a boarding lodge with a recently widowed woman named Margaret, the two had struck up a relationship soon after her husband's death and they ran the lodge as if they were a married couple.
After a chance meeting, it was Margaret who introduced Helen and Burke to her partner and the couple soon became paying lodgers. The two couples were never the best of friends, but their love for drinking and easy moneymaking schemes made them a murderous match. Ultimately, their real dislike for one another would lead to their downfall. A cunning plan.
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In , one of Hare's lodgers, an old man named Donald, fell ill and died. Such was Hare's anger that he began to consider how the dead man could pay off his debt. Aware of the demand for corpses by anatomists, Hare hatched a plan.
On the day of the funeral, Burke and Hare took Donald's body from the coffin and replaced it with a sack of bark. Later in the day they removed the body from the house and took it to the anatomy offices of Professor Robert Knox. They were asked to return after nightfall and on doing so, they were paid 7 pounds 10 shillings for their efforts. This ready cash made the pair contemplate a risky, but ultimately effortless, moneymaking scheme. Grave robbing was labour intensive and the quality or freshness of a corpse was not guaranteed. However, committing the murder themselves would be an easy way to ensure the supply of fresh quality corpses for sale.
They didn't have to look very far for their first victim. Another of Hare's lodgers, a miller named Joseph, had fallen ill not long after Donald's death. Though he was not seriously ill, Burke and Hare took it upon themselves to put an end to his suffering.
William Burke and William Hare
After several glasses of whiskey with the two men, Joseph passed out. And by holding his nose and mouth closed whilst the other restrained him, Burke and Hare had, by chance, discovered their very own signature murder method. By suffocating the victim, they provided the anatomy students with the fresh, undamaged cadavers that they needed. From then on, their victims ranged from sickly lodgers to old prostitutes and in the first four months of their killings were limited to nameless individuals that would cause no questions to be asked.
A close call. He invited them back to his brother's where they continued to drink. While Mary slept off her excessive drinking, an argument broke out causing Janet to leave. She told Burke that she would return for Mary later and went to visit her old landlady Mrs Lawrie.
After relaying the morning's events to her old friend, Mrs Lawrie became seriously concerned for Mary's safety and told Janet to return for her at once. A servant accompanied Janet to the Burke's, but on arrival they were told that both Burke and Mary had gone out. Janet insisted on waiting at the lodgings and asked the servant to return to Mrs Lawrie and tell her the news. Still suspicious of the whole affair, Mrs Lawrie sent the servant straight back to the Burke's and suggested that Janet must leave.
By this time Mary's body was already on the way to Dr. Knox, but thanks to Mrs Lawrie's warning, Janet had escaped a similar fate.
Familiar and unfamiliar faces. Following Mary and Janet's visit to the Burke's house, the next five victims were deliberately chosen so that they wouldn't be recognised by the students and the local community. And it was around this time that the two couples fell out. Burke pictured right accused Hare of supplying Knox with bodies behind his back and it was agreed that Helen and Burke would move out on their return from visiting Helen's relatives. Once they returned, Burke and Hare's greed and apparent laziness drove them to kill much closer to home, this time they picked Ann McDougal, a relative of Helen's, who was lured to the lodging house and killed.
Whilst Burke had no qualms about Ann's final demise, he did ask Hare to carry out the killing. Carelessly, their next three victims were central to the local community and therefore easily recognised by the paying students who attended Dr. Knox's classes. Mary Haldane was an ageing local prostitute who agreed to partake of a dram at Hare's lodgings. On being told that her mother had been seen with Hare, Mary's daughter Peggy decided to pay his lodgings a visit. On arrival, Hare said that Mary had visited, but had left.
He then invited Peggy in for a drink and before long she joined her mother at Dr.
Related Serial Killers : Burke and Hare
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