Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Burke & William Hare

Mary & Janet

Drawing of Helen Burke
Drawing of Helen Burke

On the morning of April 9, 1828, 18-year-old West Port prostitutes Mary Paterson and Janet Brown began their day by heading to a local tavern.  While drinking their first whiskies of the day, they encountered William Burke, who invited them back to his house for breakfast.  Mary readily agreed, but Janet took more convincing. Yet soon all three went off to Burkes brothers home, where the drinking continued and they had breakfast.  Mary fell asleep at the table, and so Burke asked Janet to accompany him to another tavern, where Janet drank more but did not become inebriated.  Burke took her back to his brothers house and offered her more drink, but was surprised by a sudden appearance of Helen, who screamed at Burke and Janet.  A fight ensued as Burke shouted back and eventually threw Helen out -- Mary apparently continued to sleep through the violence.

Janet, upset by the incident, prepared to leave, although Burke tried several times to convince her to stay.  Janet refused, but said she would return after Helen, who was still screaming and cursing from outside the door, had left. 

Instead of going home, Janet stopped by the lodging house of a Mrs. Lawrie, with whom she and Mary had once lodged.  Janet told Lawrie of the days events, and the landlady became concerned for Marys safety and told Janet and one of her servants to return to Hares and fetch Mary back immediately.

On returning to Burkes brothers home, Janet found only the Hares and Helen in the house.  She was told that Mary had gone out with Burke but would return soon.  Janet sent the servant back to Mrs. Lawries and sat down to wait. 

The servant told Mrs. Lawrie what had happened, and the landlady again became alarmed and told the servant to go back and bring Janet back with her.  Janet dutifully returned to Mrs. Lawries, avoiding for the third time that day the fate that had already befallen Mary.

Mary Patersons murder was the riskiest Burke and Hare had yet committed.  When they brought the body to Dr. Knoxs, several of his students recognized her, probably from having hired her services previously.  Burke and Hare chose not to elaborate on how they came into possession of the body, and Knoxs doorman stated that her body was so good a specimen that many of the students took sketches of it, one of which is in my possession.

Janet would continue to walk the dark streets of Edinburgh inquiring about her friend Marys whereabouts at every opportunity.



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