The Ridiculous Burke and Hare Anatomy Murders of Edinburgh

William Burke and William Hare murdered at least sixteen victims and then sold their cadavers to Dr. Robert Knox, an anatomist and professor, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Burke and Hare were for profit killers whom cashed in on the low supply and high demand of cadavers for use of dissection by university students. William Burke was sentenced to death after his cohort William Hare turned King’s evidence against him receiving full immunity for these heinous crimes.

William Burke’s corpse was disected after his public hanging and displayed in the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh Medical School where, as of 2020, it still remains on display.

Because of the high influx of students to the Medical University of Edinburgh, demand for cadavers increased exponentially, however, they were in very short supply.

These economic forces led to an epidemic in grave robbing by men who would be known as the ‘resurrectionist’ or resurrection men. Graves were being criminally exhumed en masse, causing a major public outcry and with no other alternative for fresh cadavers, murder was the obvious solution.

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Burke and Hare would choose victims based on several factors, these included: if the victims were intoxicated, if they were old, not diseased, if they had strong family ties or would be missed, among many others. The last of Burke and Hare’s victims was Margaret Doherty, whom was visiting the area looking for her son, a migrant worker during the harvest season. The murder technique these two pioneered later became known as ‘Burking’ and involves one laying on the victim’s chest while the other closes the victim’s nostrils and mouth.

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