Had they not gotten so cocky, it may have been quite lucrative, as each body fetched approximately £10, a large sum for those days.
Macabre Supply and Demand
At that time, the main legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were of those condemned to death and dissection by the courts. Although executions were rather plentiful in those days, they still were not frequent enough to keep up with the demand on ‘modern science’ and anatomy studies. Body snatching became prominent, and often that would also fail, because after a while graveyards took security measures to ensure the fresh graves were not dug up.
A tenant at the boarding house, an old army pensioner passed away of natural causes, with £4 of rent in arrears. Hare knew that the old soldier didn’t have anyone who would look for him, so he arranged, with the help of Burke, to fill the coffin with bark and sell the body to Dr Robert Knox, Edinburgh’s leading anatomist, who drew large crowds to his dissections at the University of Edinburgh, for a fee. The men got £7.10s (2010 values: £731, US$1,130), quite a considerable sum of money at the time!
A Long List of Victims
The next victim was a woman. Abigail Simpson was an older lady from the village of Gilmerton. They invited her in off the street to spend the night, and then also intoxicated her with alcohol before smothering her. Her body was placed in a tea-chest and a clandestine meeting was arranged with a porter to exchange the body. They were paid £10.
Two more murders were committed within relatively quick succession. Hare’s wife orchestrated one murder, ensuring the victim was intoxicated and stayed that way until her husband arrived home to ‘finish the job’. The next was murdered by Burke, acting on his own.
Burke then met two women at a part of Edinburgh known as Canongate, Mary Paterson and Janet Brown. It is probably these two ladies were prostitutes. Brown was uncomfortable when an argument broke out between Burke and his mistress, so she left. Paterson stayed and unfortunately met her demise.
Effie, a scavenger who sold scraps of leather was the next victim, and the one after that was a drunk woman who was so close to being arrested, only to have ‘Burke’ save her by saying they knew her and could return her to her lodging. Instead he delivered her body to the medical school.
Next were a Mrs Hostler and Ann Dougal, a cousin of Burke’s mistress. Mary Haldane, a former lodger who had asked to sleep in their stable was the next victim, and then Mary’s daughter, Peggy, a few days later, when she came around to ask if they had seen her mother.
James Wilson, known as ‘Daft Jamie’ was the next victim. He was a mentally disabled youth of about 18 years when he was murdered. The mistake they made with this victim was that he was a familiar figure on the streets, so when he went missing, it was noticed, and his body was recognised when Dr Knox uncovered it. The Doctor denied that it was Jamie and quickly dissected him to make him no longer recognisable.
The last victim was Mary Docherty, who was invited into the lodging house, and given supper and some drinks, but whose death was delayed due to the presence of other lodgers, the Grays, there at the time. Neighbours reported later in the evening that they heard the sounds of a struggle, and a woman’s voice crying out “Murder!”
Burke and his mistress McDougal faced three charges of murder. Their trial lasted 24 hours, and found Burke guilty, but McDougal not proven so.
In a show of irony, the next day his body was pubically dissected.
So what happened to Hare?
Well, he was given the chance for immunity if he served as a witness against his best friend. Naturally he did it, and spent the rest of his life fleeing angry mobs, whenever he was recognised in towns all throughout the United Kingdom.
Put together by Ashley Hall 2014