28 January 1829 – William Burke
Forget body snatching when you can bump people off and get rich by it thought the infamous Williams Burke and Hare.
Using Burke’s lodging house, the deadly Edinburgh duo along with Burke’s girlfriend Helen McDougal, would target unsuspecting guests, plying them whisky until they literally lost consciousness, before suffocating them.
They then offloaded the pristine corpses on to grateful GPs all in the name of medical research.
But the success of their cunning plan went to their heads and they got sloppy. Instead of siphoning off strangers or faceless vagrants in West Port, they targeted two prostitutes who were well known to the area, along with a street performer who had a distinctive deformed foot. They were eventually shopped by their own tenants, who’d started to get suspicious of the scheming trio.
Of course their true feelings for each other emerged as they began turning on each other. Burke blamed Hare, and Hare blamed Burke and McDougal.
Hare won! He got pardoned for his part in the spree, in return for fitting the other two up with the crime. While McDougal was freed due to insufficient evidence, Burke was not so lucky. He got saddled with the guilt and was hanged.
In a sharp twist of fate, some allege Burke was skinned and his bits were used to bind a small book, which is on show at Edinburgh’s Royal College of Surgeons, while others say he was posthumously dissected…for medical research.
But, in case you were wondering, Hare and McDougal didn’t get off lightly either. McDougal is said to have emigrated to Australia to flee her infamy. But it followed her to the Antipodeas too, where she was hounded until she died in 1868.
Some say Hare was apparently flung into a lime pit and died a blind beggar on the harsh streets of London. Others say he wound up in Carlisle.