Burke and Hare life snatchers

In 1836, body snatching big business. Although Burke and Hare took it upon themselves to create a profit creating cadavers, skipping the digging up the process to seizing life. Burke and Hare didn’t concern themselves with dark and stormy nights, armed with shovels and knee-deep in mud.

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

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 recieved a pension. The pair built a coffin and went to the university to sell the body. The university refused the cadaver and suggested 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 older 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.

The crimes 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.

The sentencing of Burke and Hare

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

The court could never prove 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. Legend says she “had more of the she-devil”. The locals chased her out of the surrounding areas.

Mr Hare recieved a prison sentence, and when released, the locals hounded him 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. Locals descended on his home. They hung a likeness of him in a tree on his property. Dr Knox fled to London, where he continued his work and medical practice until his death in 1862.



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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 Podcasts by Haunted Hills

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This post was written by Tegan Dawson