Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Burke & William Hare

Halloween 1828: The Last Murder

On Halloween morning, Burke was taking his usual morning whisky in his local tavern when an old woman entered and began talking with the patrons. Noticing that she had an Irish accent, Burke bought her a dram and she sat down and said that she was Mary Docherty from Innisowen. Burke said that his own mother was a Docherty from Innisowen, and that they must be related. Having established this bond, he easily persuaded the old woman to come to his house.

The visitor was warmly received by Helen and by a couple, James and Ann Gray, who were lodging with Burke and Helen. Burke convinced Docherty to stay overnight with them, and arranged for the Grays to spend that night at the Hares lodging house.

The arrangements being settled, everyone drank in celebration of Halloween, and the whisky flowed long past nightfall. The Grays eventually left, but were told to return for breakfast the next morning.

The festivities continued and neighbors later claimed to have heard dancing and drinking and arguments coming from Burke and Helens rooms. Around midnight, an upstairs neighbor was passing by Burke and Helens door and heard two men arguing and a womans voice calling out Murder! and Get the police, there is murder here! The man ran back into the street but could not find a policeman. Passing by the door again, the man stopped but heard nothing, so he assumed the crisis was over and went up to his own rooms.

The following morning, the Grays returned and found Mary Docherty was gone. They asked after her and Helen told them that she threw the old lady out for being overly friendly with Burke. Ann Gray later went near the spare bed to get some socks she had left behind, but Burke shouted at her to stay away from the bed. Burke yelled at her a second time when she went near the bed in order to fetch some potatoes. In the early evening, the Grays found themselves momentarily alone in the house, so Ann Gray took a peek and saw the body of an old woman lying beneath the bed. Both Grays bolted from the house, running into the returning Helen, who asked where they were going. James Gray was outraged and asked Helen what she knew about the body. Helen panicked and begged them not to say anything, claiming that their silence would be worth 10 a week. This further incensed the Grays, and James chastised Helen for bringing disgrace upon her family and the couple went out to fetch a policeman.

Helen and Margaret quickly went off to warn their spouses, and were fast enough that when the police arrived at Burke and Helens that night, there was nobody in the house. A neighbor told the police that two men had recently left the house carrying a tea chest. Burke and Helen returned home soon after, and innocently asked what the matter was. The police separated the two and asked them individually what had become of the old woman who had been there the previous night. Burke, feeling confident that he and Helen had their alibis in synch, stated that Mrs. Docherty had left their home at seven oclock that morning. Helen agreed that she had left at seven oclock, but claimed that the woman had left at 7:00 in the evening. This 12-hour discrepancy was suspicious enough that Burke and Helen were taken in for more questioning. An anonymous tip led the police to Dr. Knoxs classrooms, where Dochertys body was found and James Gray positively identified it.

The Hares soon joined Burke and Helen in prison, and the police began to slowly unravel the disappearances of so many people from West Port during the previous eleven months.

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