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"They often said to one another that no person could find them out, no one being present at the murders but themselves two and that they might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb"

from Burke's official confession



Up the close and down the stair,
In the house with Burke and Hare.
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief
Knox, the man who buys the beef.

Children's Song


In 1829 a notebook was discovered in a tin box buried under a flagstone near Burke's house.

It seems that William Burke kept a written record and account of the murders and the money he made.
This list was printed in an article by
FORBES and Co.Printers, 171,Cowgate

Left the Donnegal militia and came to Edinburgh, December 1818, to follow the shoemaker trade.

I. Sept.1826.--Went to lodge with Hare, Tanner's Close, and assisted with the cuddy.

Christmas 1827.—Sold the body of Donald the pensioner, in Surgeon Square, for L.7,10.
Paid William Hare, Tanner's Close, L4,5.
For myself, L.3,5.
                                 
April 2,—Sold the woman from Gilmerton for L9.
Paid William Hare foresaid, L4.
Paid a porter 5 .
drank 3. 3d. a box is.
For myself L4, 10s.

May 7—Sold the old woman, who came to lodge in Tanner's Close, and the child, for £12.
Paid for drink, porterage, &c. 7s. Paid William Hare L.5.
For myself L6, 13 .

July 1.—Sold the Englishman for L10. Kept the whole money, for Hare's conduct to me.

22.- Sold the woman Haldane for L6. Paid Hare, being due him L5.
Paid Donald the porter, being jealous of him L1.

Aug 2-Sold the old woman, and her grand daughter for L11.   
Paid Hare L5.   
Paid the grocer for a herring barrrel Is. 6d, whisky and Donald
7, 6J.
For myself I.5, 15, 61.

Oct 5.-Sold the girl Paterson for LI0, which was all paid to Harel, be being hard up.   

3I- Sold James wilson, or draft Jamie for L15.
For myself L7, 10s.



William Burke's Skeleton

 

WILLIAM BURKE (1792- 1829)
& WILLIAM HARE
(1804- ?)

Contrary to popular belief, Burke and Hare were not grave robbers. Although common practice at the time, digging up corpses would have involved too much effort and besides the fresher the bodies they delivered to Professor Robert Knox (on a no questions asked basis) the better.

The two Irish immigrants moved to Edinburgh to work on The Union Canal but didn't meet until Burke moved from Leith into a boarding house with his partner, Helen McDougal.

Log's Lodgings in Tanner's Close in West Port, was run by Margaret Laird and William Hare. It was named after Margaret's previous husband who had died and the couple lived together as if married.

In 1827 when a lodger of Hare's named Donald died naturally owing him £4 in rent. Hare knew that there was a high demand for bodies for anatomical study and saw a way the dead man could pay back his debt.

On the day of Old Donald's funeral the two men removed his body from the coffin and filled it with tanning bark. Later they took the body to Professor Knox at Surgeon Square and were paid 7 pounds and 10 shillings for it.

They celebrated their easily gained cash, but the money wasn't to last and when another of Hare's lodger's, Jospeh, fell ill (although not seriously) Burke and Hare decided to take it upon themselves to end his suffering whilst seeing another opportunity for easy money and so their murderous career began.

Their chosen method of murder was to restrict their victim's breathing by covering the nose and mouth while the other restrained them. This left no suspicious marks on the body and provided the anatomy students with fresh undamaged cadavers. This method later became known as 'Burking'.

They murdered at least 16 people in just under a year before being caught, although the figure could have been as high as 30. At first they deliberately preyed on people who wouldn't be known or recognised but their greed for easy money combined with their sheer laziness lead to their downfall and before long they regarded almost anyone was a potential victim. They even contemplated killing and selling their own partner's Helen and Margaret if they were ever short of money.

Mary Paterson was a teenage prostitute who was lured to Burke's brother's house in Gibb's Close in the Canongate with her friend Janet Brown. Mary passed out with drink but Janet kept her head and excused herself saying she would return later for Mary. On her return she was told that Mary and Burke had gone out but she insisted on waiting. Her landlady Mrs Lawrie, was concerned and sent a servant to tell Janet to leave immediately. Mary was actuallly still in the house, lying dead and Janet was lucky to have escaped a similar fate.

One of their victims, Ann McDougal, was a relative of Burke's partner Helen and although Burke had no qualms about killing her, he asked that Hare did the deed on that occassion.

Mary Halden, another prostitute, was lured to Hare's boarding house. When her daughter, Peggy, called on Log's Lodgings looking for her after hearing she was last seen with Hare. Both women ended up dead and delivered to Professor Knox where they fetched £10 each.

Mary and Peggy were familiar faces and gossip surrounding their dissapearance soon spread. Rather than lying low Burke and Hare became even more careless and murdered a well known children's entertainer, James Wilson, known as 'Daft Jamie'. He had a deformed foot and was instantly recognised by paying students at Professor Knox's anatomy class. Knox strongly denied that the subject was James Wilson but immediately began his lecture by dissecting his face.

On Halloween 1828 Mary Docherty, the 16th and final victim, an old Irish woman was invited back to stay with Burke and Helen after they convinced her they were related.

Both had since left the Hare's Boarding House after an argument over Burke's suspicions that the Hare's were selling bodies to Knox behind his back and Burke and Helen were now taking in lodgers of their own, a couple James and Ann Gray.

Whilst Mary stayed the night at Burke's the Gray's were put up at the Hare's 'temporarily'

On returning to the Burke's, Ann questioned where Mary was and was told she had been asked to leave after being 'over friendly' with Burke. But the truth was she was still in the house, dead and hidden under the bed in the spare room and covered with straw.

James and Ann Gray grew suspicious after being sternly warned to keep out of the spare room. When they were alone they discovered Mary's body and immediately confronted Helen who panicked and offered them £10 per week to keep quiet.

The Gray's refused and went to report them to the police but Helen must have warned Burke because Mary's body had already found it's way to Professor Knox at Surgeon's Square before the police arrived. It was later found by police and identified by James Gray.

Burke and Helen were arrested and when interviewed separately they had conflicting accounts of the events. Under investigation Burke blamed Hare and claimed to know nothing about what had been happening and vice-versa. The Hare's were also arrested.

After a month of questioning the police had little evidence to secure a prosecution and finally the Lord Advocate, Sir William Rae, offered Hare immunity to turn King's Evidence and testify against Burke and Helen which he readily did.

The short trial at the High Court of Justicuary began on Christmas Eve 1828 and the following morning Burke and Helen were charged with the murder of Mary Docherty and Burke alone was also charged with the murder of Mary Paterson and James Wilson and sentenced to death by hanging. Helen's part in the crimes were 'not proven' and she was freed.

On January 28th 1829 over 25,000 people attended and cheered the hanging of William Burke in the Lawnmarket. Ironically his body ended up being dissected in anatomy lectures and some students removed peices of his skin and bound a book from it, stamped on the front in gold 'Burke's Skin 1829'

Before discection, Burke's body was put on public exhibition and thousands of people streamed passed his his naked corpse on the slab at a rate of 60 per minute. His skeleton can still be seen at Edinburgh's Anatomical Museum along with his death mask and the life mask of Hare.

There was much public anger at the fact that Hare was allowed to be let off 'Scot free' but despite attempts to bring further charges against him by James Wilson's mother, he was released in February 1829 and escaped to England via the postal coach. There were stories his identity was discovered and baying mobs threw him into a pit of lime and he spent his final days as a blind beggar in London.

Both Helen and Margaret were mobbed everywhere they went and it is rumoured that Helen escaped to Australia where she died in 1868. Margaret is said to have fled to Ireland after a lucky escape from mobs in Glasgow.

Although Professor Knox actively encouraged the pair to supply as many body's as possible, he was also aquitted for his part in the crimes, but his reputation made it difficult to continue his work in Edinburgh and he eventually moved to London.


The execution of William Burke on The Lawnmarket 28th January 1829
 
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