Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Burke & William Hare

The First 'Merchandise'

In November of 1827, one of Hares lodgers, an old army pensioner named Donald, fell ill and died. Hare was not concerned about the mans actual death, but was outraged that Donald had passed away owing 4 in rent.

Professor Robert Knox
Professor Robert Knox

After the authorities had been called to fetch the mans body, Hare came up with a plan to get the money Donald owed him. With Burkes assistance, they took Donalds body out of the coffin and replaced it with an equal weight of tree bark and hid the corpse until the coffin had been taken away. The two then went off to find the offices of anatomy instructor Professor Munro, but, in asking directions, were redirected to the classrooms of Professor Robert Knox. Knoxs assistants said that they were interested in the body, and to bring it after nightfall.

That night Knoxs doorman answered the bell to find Burke and Hare and a large sack. Three of Knoxs assistants examined the body and offered to pay a little over 7 for it. The two men quickly agreed, and left the doctors rooms discussing the obvious advantages of this method of making significant amounts of money with so little effort.

Another of Hares lodgers, Joseph the Miller, fell ill not many days later. Joseph owed no money to Hare and was not as seriously ill as Donald had been, but Hare and Burke discussed the situation and decided, with no medical expertise whatsoever, that Joseph was going to die, and was in pain, and they decided to put him out of his misery.

The two, showing great sympathy for Josephs discomfort, gave the sick man glasses of whisky until Joseph fell unconscious. Then one of the men held Josephs nose and mouth shut while the other spread himself across the victims prone body, pining the arms and preventing any struggle.

Joseph never regained consciousness and was soon on Knoxs doorstep. Inadvertently, Burke and Hare had stumbled onto a foolproof method of murder with Joseph: it appeared that the victim had died from illness or drunkenness and there were no incriminating marks. They would repeat the process frequently over the next 11 months.

Hares other lodgers continued to be healthy, and so Burke and Hare eventually felt the need to seek out new merchandise for Dr. Knox outside of the lodging house.

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