What a terrible pair!
In the 19th Century, Edinburgh was in the middle of the anatomical study craze. With laws that limited useful cadavers to those who died in prison, those who committed suicide, and foundlings (orphans), there was a short supply in specimens.
Enter the body snatchers.
Also known as Resurrection Men, the body snatchers would dig up recently deceased citizens of Edinburgh and bring them to hospitals for a pretty penny. Some families managed to pay someone to stand guard in the early days of burial, while others installed the ever-impressive mortsafes (to keep snatchers out, not zombies in like some internet memes would have you believe).
Grave robbing and body snatching might seem like some pretty nasty stuff. But William Burke and William Hare took things one step further. Instead of waiting for people to die, they murdered 16 people and sold their bodies to Dr. Robert Knox (for £7 if you’re interested… about $225 today).
For about 10 months in 1828, Burke and Hare murdered 16 individuals, including lodgers living with Burke, and continued to sell the bodies to Knox. Eventually, Hare turned on his accomplice and Burke was found guilty of murder. While Hare walked away free, Burke was hanged and dissected in front of Knox’s anatomy class. Oh, sweet irony.
His body is still on display in the Edinburgh Medical School.
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