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November 1, 2018

Burke and Hare

In 1828, Edinburgh, Scotland was all abuzz by what was called the Burke and Hare murders…they were a series of 16 murders committed over a period of about ten months…the killers were ‘gentlemen’ named William Burke and William Hare…they took the corpses and sold them to a Dr. Robert Knox…he used them for dissection at his anatomy lectures…Edinburgh was a well-known place of anatomical study at the time and when the demand for cadavers exceeded the supply, a Scottish law was passed saying that corpses used for medical research could only come from those who had the misfortune of dying in prison, or from those who were suicide victims, or even orphans…the shortage of cadavers led to a thriving business in grave robbing…as a result, there were measures taken to ensure that graves were left undisturbed and this only made the shortage worse…one day, a lodger in Hare's house died and he turned to his good friend Burke for advice and they decided to sell the body to the good doctor...they received what they felt was a generous sum...two months later, Hare noticed a lodger suffering from fever…he and Burke murdered her and sold the body to Knox for a profit once again...industrious men that they were, they discovered a new business for themselves…continue to murder for money, so the killing spree continued…finally, their deeds were discovered and police were contacted…despite police feeling that the men were guilty, they had no evidence…finally Hare was offered immunity if he testified which he later did…he confessed that he was involved in all 16 killings…Burke was found guilty of one murder and was hanged…Dr. Knox faced no murder charges based on the testimony of Hare, although many in the court of public opinion believed him guilty in some sort, and his reputation was damaged forever…the gruesome killings did raise public awareness of the need for bodies for medical research...later, the Anatomy Act of 1832 was passed…and what happened to William Hare? Rumors say he would up as a blind beggar on the streets of London, once having been ganged up on and thrown into a lime pit...his date of death is uncertain.

(Originally published 11/01/17)