Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Burke & William Hare

Disappearing Act

In February of 1828, elderly Abigail Simpson traveled into Edinburgh to collect her pension money. She started back home with a few shillings in her pocket when she met up with William Hare, who invited her to his lodging house to have a dram and rest up before her long journey home. She agreed and soon Burke and Helen joined her and the Hares and they all drank until the evening. Being dark and cold, Abigail was easily persuaded to stay the night and then continue home the following morning. Burke and Hare had other ideas for her, but they were also so inebriated that they both fell asleep.

The following morning, Abigail awoke with a bad hangover, and accepted Burke and Hares remedy of a little more whisky. The first whisky was followed by another, and soon Abigail was once again asleep on the bed. She didnt put up a fight as Burke and Hare smothered her, and her body was packed into a tea chest and taken that evening to Knoxs rooms. For the first time Dr. Knox personally inspected the body, and he remarked on the freshness of the cadaver, but did not inquire further. He authorized a payment of 10.

This flow of easy money coming into Burke and Hares pockets did not cause them to save any of their bounty. The foursome primarily used the money on liquor and it passed from their hands almost as quickly as it had been earned, and soon after one sale to Dr. Knox had been completed, they needed to begin looking for their next victim.

Not long after Abigails demise, another of Hares lodgers, an Englishman who sold matches, fell ill. As they had with Joseph, Burke and Hare charitably put the poor man out of his suffering.

Drawing of Margaret Hare
Drawing of Margaret Hare

Although Hare and Burke would later swear that neither Margaret nor Helen knew anything about the murders, the next merchandise brings this assertion into question. One day Margaret Hare encountered an old woman out in the streets of Edinburgh and brought her back to her house where she began giving the woman whisky. Margaret told the woman she should lie down, but the old woman declined and kept drinking. After three attempts, Margaret finally got the woman to rest in the bed and quickly sent for her husband and Burke, who later appeared at Dr. Knoxs doorstep that evening with a fresh delivery.

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