The Infamous Burke and Hare

Serial Killers and Resurrectionists of Nineteenth Century Edinburgh


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About the Book

Body snatchers and grave robbers were the stuff of Victorian lore, but two real-life culprits took the crimes out of shadowy cemeteries and into criminal court. William Burke and William Hare aided Scottish surgeons competing for anatomical breakthroughs by experimenting on human corpses. As the duo evolved from petty theft to premeditated murder, they unwittingly brought attention to the medical practices of the era, leading to Burke’s death by hanging. This account not only explores the work of the resurrectionists, it reflects the nature of serial killers, 1820s criminal law, and Edinburgh’s early role as a seat of European medical research. Readers interested in the legal aspects of these crimes will find the trial testimony included to be a valuable resource.

About the Author(s)

R. Michael Gordon is the author of several books, and has written extensively on Victorian London and the Ripper phenomenon. He lives in Long Beach, California.

Bibliographic Details

by R. Michael Gordon

Format: softcover (6×9)
Pages: 273
Bibliographic Info: 24 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2009
pISBN: 978-0-7864-4403-8
eISBN: 978-0-7864-5456-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Introduction      1

I–The Field and the Players
1. Of Supply and Demand in Old Edinburgh      5
2. Of Medical Men and Resurrectionists      19

II–The Many Works of Burke and Hare
3. The Merchandise of “John and William”      37
4. The Risky Murder of Mary Paterson      48
5. The Pace Increases      55
6. The Murders of “Daft Jamie” and Mary Docherty      67
7. Rumors of Murder as the Investigation Begins      76

III–The Legal System Does Its Work
8. A Trial for Burke, But Not for Hare      95
9. Into the Night as the Testimony Continues      112
10. The Testimony of a Serial Killer      133
11. The King’s Justice for a Serial Killer      145

IV–A Postscript for Resurrectionists
12. It Was a Hanging Affair–January 28, 1829      161
13. The Press Takes Center Stage      178
14. The Aftermath of Serial Murder      191

Appendix 1. Witness List for the Trial of William Burke and Helen McDougal      217
Appendix 2. The Complete Testimony of William Hare      221
Appendix 3. Report of the Committee of Investigation as to the Dealings of Dr. Knox with the West Port Murderers      237
Appendix 4. A Chronology of Serial Murder      240
Appendix 5. The Caledonian Mercury–January 1, 1829      242
Appendix 6. The Word on the Street–January 28, 1829      248
Appendix 7. Broadsheet on Burke’s Execution–January 28, 1829      251

Chapter Notes      253
Bibliography      261
Index      263

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