often said to one another that no person could find them
out, no one being present at the murders but themselves
two and that they might as well be hanged for a sheep
as a lamb"
Burke's official confession
Up the close and down the
In the house with Burke and Hare.
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s
Knox, the man who buys the beef.
In 1829 a notebook was discovered
in a tin box buried under a flagstone near Burke's
house. It seems that William Burke kept a written record
and account of the murders and the money he made.
This list was printed in an article by
FORBES and Co.Printers, 171,Cowgate
the Donnegal militia and came to Edinburgh, December
1818, to follow the shoemaker trade.
I. Sept.1826.--Went to lodge with Hare, Tanner's Close,
and assisted with the cuddy.
Christmas 1827.—Sold the body of Donald the pensioner,
in Surgeon Square, for L.7,10.
Paid William Hare, Tanner's Close, L4,5.
For myself, L.3,5.
April 2,—Sold the woman from Gilmerton for L9.
Paid William Hare foresaid, L4.
Paid a porter 5 .
drank 3. 3d. a box is.
For myself L4, 10s.
May 7—Sold the old woman, who came to lodge in
Tanner's Close, and the child, for £12.
Paid for drink, porterage, &c. 7s. Paid William
For myself L6, 13 .
July 1.—Sold the Englishman for L10. Kept the
whole money, for Hare's conduct to me.
22.- Sold the woman Haldane for L6. Paid Hare, being
due him L5.
Paid Donald the porter, being jealous of him L1.
Aug 2-Sold the old woman, and her grand daughter for
Paid Hare L5.
Paid the grocer for a herring barrrel Is. 6d, whisky
For myself I.5, 15, 61.
Oct 5.-Sold the girl Paterson for LI0, which was all
paid to Harel, be being hard up.
3I- Sold James wilson, or draft Jamie for L15.
For myself L7, 10s.
& WILLIAM HARE (1804- ?)
to popular belief, Burke and Hare were not grave robbers.
Although common practice at the time, digging up corpses
would have involved too much effort and besides the fresher
the bodies they delivered to Professor Robert Knox (on
a no questions asked basis) the better.
two Irish immigrants moved to Edinburgh to work on The
Union Canal but didn't meet until Burke moved from Leith
into a boarding house with his partner, Helen McDougal.
Log's Lodgings in Tanner's Close in West Port, was run by
Margaret Laird and William Hare. It was named after Margaret's
previous husband who had died and the couple lived together
as if married.
1827 when a lodger of Hare's named Donald died naturally
owing him £4 in rent. Hare knew that there was a
high demand for bodies for anatomical study and saw a way
the dead man could pay back his debt.
the day of Old Donald's funeral the two men removed his
body from the coffin and filled it with tanning bark. Later
they took the body to Professor Knox at Surgeon Square
and were paid 7 pounds and 10 shillings for it.
They celebrated their easily gained cash, but the money wasn't
to last and when another of Hare's lodger's, Jospeh, fell
ill (although not seriously) Burke and Hare decided to take
it upon themselves to end his suffering whilst seeing another
opportunity for easy money and so their murderous career
chosen method of murder was to restrict their victim's
breathing by covering the nose and mouth while the other
restrained them. This left no suspicious marks on the body
and provided the anatomy students with fresh undamaged
cadavers. This method later became known as 'Burking'.
murdered at least 16 people in just under a year before
being caught, although the figure could have been as high
as 30. At first they deliberately preyed on people who
wouldn't be known or recognised but their greed for easy
money combined with their sheer laziness lead to their
downfall and before long they regarded almost anyone was
a potential victim. They even contemplated killing and
selling their own partner's Helen and Margaret if they
were ever short of money.
Mary Paterson was a teenage prostitute who was lured to Burke's
brother's house in Gibb's Close in the Canongate with her
friend Janet Brown. Mary passed out with drink but Janet
kept her head and excused herself saying she would return
later for Mary. On her return she was told that Mary and
Burke had gone out but she insisted on waiting. Her landlady
Mrs Lawrie, was concerned and sent a servant to tell Janet
to leave immediately. Mary was actuallly still in the house,
lying dead and Janet was lucky to have escaped a similar
of their victims, Ann McDougal, was a relative of Burke's
partner Helen and although Burke had no qualms about killing
her, he asked that Hare did the deed on that occassion.
Halden, another prostitute, was lured to Hare's boarding
house. When her daughter, Peggy, called on Log's Lodgings
looking for her after hearing she was last seen with Hare.
Both women ended up dead and delivered to Professor Knox
where they fetched £10 each.
and Peggy were familiar faces and gossip surrounding their
dissapearance soon spread. Rather than lying low Burke
and Hare became even more careless and murdered a well
known children's entertainer, James Wilson, known as 'Daft
Jamie'. He had a deformed foot and was instantly recognised
by paying students at Professor Knox's anatomy class. Knox
strongly denied that the subject was James Wilson but immediately
began his lecture by dissecting his face.
Halloween 1828 Mary Docherty, the 16th and final victim,
an old Irish woman was invited back to stay with Burke
and Helen after they convinced her they were related.
had since left the Hare's Boarding House after an argument
over Burke's suspicions that the Hare's were selling bodies
to Knox behind his back and Burke and Helen were now taking
in lodgers of their own, a couple James and Ann Gray.
Whilst Mary stayed the night at Burke's the Gray's were put
up at the Hare's 'temporarily'
returning to the Burke's, Ann questioned where Mary was
and was told she had been asked to leave after being 'over
friendly' with Burke. But the truth was she was still in
the house, dead and hidden under the bed in the spare room
and covered with straw.
James and Ann Gray grew suspicious after being sternly warned
to keep out of the spare room. When they were alone they
discovered Mary's body and immediately confronted Helen who
panicked and offered them £10 per week to keep quiet.
The Gray's refused and went to report them to the police
but Helen must have warned Burke because Mary's body had
already found it's way to Professor Knox at Surgeon's Square
before the police arrived. It was later found by police and
identified by James Gray.
and Helen were arrested and when interviewed separately
they had conflicting accounts of the events. Under investigation
Burke blamed Hare and claimed to know nothing about what
had been happening and vice-versa. The Hare's were also
a month of questioning the police had little evidence to
secure a prosecution and finally the Lord Advocate, Sir
William Rae, offered Hare immunity to turn King's Evidence
and testify against Burke and Helen which he readily did.
short trial at the High Court of Justicuary began on Christmas
Eve 1828 and the following morning Burke and Helen were
charged with the murder of Mary Docherty and Burke alone
was also charged with the murder of Mary Paterson and James
Wilson and sentenced to death by hanging. Helen's part
in the crimes were 'not proven' and she was freed.
January 28th 1829 over 25,000 people attended and cheered
the hanging of William Burke in the Lawnmarket. Ironically
his body ended up being dissected in anatomy lectures and
some students removed peices of his skin and bound a book
from it, stamped on the front in gold 'Burke's Skin 1829'
Before discection, Burke's body was put on public exhibition
and thousands of people streamed passed his his naked corpse
on the slab at a rate of 60 per minute. His skeleton can
still be seen at Surgeon's Hall along with his death mask
and the life mask of Hare.
was much public anger at the fact that Hare was allowed
to be let off 'Scot free' but despite attempts to bring
further charges against him by James Wilson's mother, he
was released in February 1829 and escaped to England via
the postal coach. There were stories his identity was discovered
and baying mobs threw him into a pit of lime and he spent
his final days as a blind beggar in London.
Helen and Margaret were mobbed everywhere they went and
it is rumoured that Helen escaped to Australia where she
died in 1868. Margaret is said to have fled to Ireland
after a lucky escape from mobs in Glasgow.
Professor Knox actively encouraged the pair to supply as
many body's as possible, he was also aquitted for his part
in the crimes, but his reputation made it difficult to
continue his work in Edinburgh and he eventually moved