Burke and Hare life snatchers

Body snatching big business in 1836, although Burke and Hare took it upon themselves to create a profit stealing cadavers, upgrading to killing and snatching life.They didn’t concern themselves with dark and stormy nights, armed with shovels and knee deep in mud.

For 10 months during 1828, Burke and Hare killed 16 people in Edinburgh, Scotland – then sold the bodies to Doctor Robert Knox who dissected them to better understand anatomy.

Margaret Laird, Hare’s wife joined this deadly business. Burke’s mistress, Helen McDougal was kept in the dark for most of this time.

The trio started selling cadavers in 1827 when Douglas a tenant of the Hare’s died owing 4 pounds. Douglas died of natural causes. He’d previously served in the armed forces and was receiving a pension at the time of his death. The pair built a coffin and went to the university to sell the body. The university refused the body and they were directed to surgeons square, where they sold the body for 7 pounds, 10 shillings.


Burke and Hare murder for profit

The money from selling cadavers was good, although not enough people were dying of natural causes, Burke and Hare commenced killing people for it. They began with Joseph, another tenant, he was ill at the time and they fed him whisky, then they suffocated him. His body fetched 10 pounds.


The next victim they lured off the street was an elderly woman named, Abigail, and used the same method as with Joseph.

Mrs Hare invited the next victim in and fed them alcohol until Mr Hare returned home to finish the job.

This went on like this, except for one where Burke changed the method and he broke the back of a young victim, he said the eyes haunted him.

Eventually, after a Christmas Eve trial that lasted 24 hours. Burke was hung in the January of 1829 for his crimes. His body was publicly dissected and his skeleton is still on display.

It was never proven that Helen McDougal acted in these crimes, however, the townspeople hounded her out of town. It’s believed she died in Australia in 1868.

Mrs Hare served no time and was released shortly after the trial, some say that she tried to garner favour with the jurors holding her baby with whooping cough. It was said of her that she “had more of the she-devil”. The locals chased her out of the surrounding areas.

Mr Hare was sentenced to prison and he was released in February of 1829. He too was hounded out of town. There were rumours that he was thrown into a lime pit causing him to become blind and beg on the streets.

The townsfolk never trusted Dr. Knox once all the information came to light. They did not believe he didn’t know that he was receiving murder victims. The locals descended on his home, with an effigy of him that they hung in a tree on his property. Dr Knox fled to London, where he continued his work and medical practice until his death in 1862.



Keep reading:

Body snatching is covered in our article on cursed graves, and our Crime in the Brown Coal Mine tour.

History of body snatching

Fictional stories relating to body snatching

Crime Tours by Haunted Hills Tours

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