“Killing for Corpses“ William Burke and William Hare Pt. 2Medical Murders
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- 24 Feb 2021
In 1828, Burke and Hare managed to successfully run a business selling corpses to anatomy professor Robert Knox. For nearly ten months, the duo went unnoticed — until an eye witness accused the men of murder.
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Listener discretion is advised, this episode features discussions of murder, medical malpractice, domestic violence and violence against animals that may be upsetting. We advise extreme caution for listeners under 13. We expect serial killers to be strange, disturbed, frightening creatures, abnormal others existing on the fringes of society. But what happens when ordinary men realize they can get rich by committing murder? William Burke and William Hare were not criminal masterminds. They were not evil geniuses for some time in their lives.
They weren't even unhinged lunatics. They were average Joes, little different from those around them.
And therein lies the trap, because they were ordinary members of society, Burke and Hare were easily able to lure their victims to an early death for quite some time. No one questioned the bodies they sold as educational cadavers, but behind their friendly smiles and pleasant demeanors lived to monsters in the business of killing. This is Medical Murders, a Spotify original from podcast. For decades, thousands of medical students have taken the Hippocratic Oath. It boils down to do no harm.
But a closer look reveals a phrase much more interesting. I must not play it God. However, some doctors break that oath, choosing to play God with their patients, deciding who lives and who dies each week on medical murders. We'll investigate those who decided to kill. We'll explore the specifics of how they operate not just on their patients, but within their own minds, examining the psychology and neurology behind heartless medical killers. I'm Alastair Madden and I'm joined by Dr.
David Kipper, M.D.. Hi, everyone. I'm Dr. Kipper, and I'm happy to be here to assist Allaster in offering some medical insight into our final episode of William Here and William Burke, those groundbreaking bodysnatchers of the Eighteen Hundreds.
You can find episodes of medical murders and all other Spotify originals from podcast for free on Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts to stream medical murders for free on Spotify, just open the app and type medical murders in the search bar. This is our second episode on William Burke and William Hare, a duo who killed 16 people in 19th century Scotland and sold their victim's bodies to a college professor. Last time we explored the history of body snatching in the United Kingdom, the poor public image of anatomy professors at the time, and how Burke and Hare began their homicidal careers.
Today, we'll delve into Burke and his final string of murders and the convoluted investigation that followed that 10 month killing spree. All this and more coming up. Stay with us. Netflix presents the first season of its new documentary series Crime Scene The Vanishing The Cecil Hotel from untimely deaths to housing serial killers serial killers. The Cecil is known to many as LA's deadliest hotel college student. Elisa Lam's disappearance is the latest chapter in the hotel's complex history. But will it be the last crime scene?
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Follow mark played by American Horror Stories, Kyle Allen and Margaret, played by Big Little Lies, Catherine Newton or both stuck in a time loop and must decide how and if to escape their endless day stream the map of tiny, perfect things. February 12th only on Amazon Prime Video. 19TH century Edinburgh, Scotland, was both beautiful and squalid. The city's university stood at the cutting edge of medical science, producing some of Europe's finest surgeons. But each surgeon was trained on cadavers and there were never enough dead bodies to go around.
Rather than opt out of courses that required human bodies, many students supplied them by their own means to them. It felt like the only way to the education they needed to advance their careers.
Studying human anatomy has evolved from the somewhat crude study of animals to today's more sophisticated techniques like magnetic resonance imaging. It's such an important field because it gives us an understanding of how the body functions systemically. The study of anatomy tells us where organs and blood vessels are in relation to one another, how they connect and communicate, and how parts of the body interrelate to overall health and disease. While in their first year, medical students take simultaneous courses in physiology, biochemistry and anatomy.
Physiology relates to how structures in the body function as they do both in health and when disease biochemistry then further breaks down bodily functions at a cellular and chemical level.
And anatomy then puts everything into a larger perspective, basically providing a physical structure for our physiology and biochemistry to operate. Studying human anatomy as opposed to other animals, anatomy is a far superior teaching mechanism for pretty obvious reasons.
Animal organs often appear different than those of humans, and their positioning isn't exactly the same. Treating people in a medical practice requires the most specific picture of what you're going to be dealing with.
Hands on experience that most accurately replicates the reality of the job is invaluable for new doctors. But unfortunately, the educational value, many students and professors were willing to pay top dollar for cadavers and that enterprising locals would go to criminal lengths to supply them between late 18, 27 and 18, 28 Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare killed approximately 16 people. All of the murders were motivated by one thing and one thing only profit. And has process was simple, but effective Hair ran a lodging house in the city slums within its walls, the two accomplices would ply their victims with drink.
Once a person passed out intoxicated, either Burke or hair would hold them down while the other smothered them with his bare hands. After the deed was done, Birkenhead would stuffed the body into a trunk, carry it through town to Surján Square and sell it to renowned anatomy professor Dr. Robert Knox.
But as ordinary men looking for quick cash payouts, they didn't always think to select unpopular victims nor to cover their tracks. In short, Burke and Hare were sloppy.
In April 1828, they murdered what was likely their fourth victim, a young woman named Mary Patterson, who was thought by some to be an occasional sex worker while no one actually saw them carrying out the murder.
Burke and Hare were seen in public with Mary on the day she died.
Furthermore, she was fairly well known around town. Some of Dr. Knox's staff even recognized her body, which sparked suspicions from locals.
Nevertheless, Burke and Hare appeared to have had no inkling that they were walking a thin tightrope.
While Burke and Hare, of course, attempted to keep their murders a secret, they did not hide the fact that they sold bodies presenting themselves as body snatchers explained away their newfound wealth. And it was close enough to the truth that the lie was more believable.
It's suspected that most of their murders were strikingly committed during the day since has lodging house was occupied by guests at night, it made practical sense to murder when the guests were out and about the town and somewhat paradoxically, brazenly delivering a body in daylight drew less suspicion than sneaking one through the streets at night. A subsequent victim who was ostensibly lured under the bright light of day was an elderly woman known as Effy. It's important to remember that most of what we know about Burkean here comes from Burke's confession.
Like the stories covid last time, we must take the details with a grain of salt. But we do know for a fact that Burke and Hare murdered several people, including Effy. In the past, Effy had provided Burke with small bits of leather for cobbling. Unfortunately, she bartered with the wrong person within weeks of killing Mary Patterson, Burke and Hare quickly after she sold her body and cashed out. The work had become somewhat procedural, they hardly took any time off before selecting the next target.
When Burke saw a police officer escorting an intoxicated woman home one evening, he kindly offered to take the woman off the cops hands, at which point he and Hare murdered her two. But their targets weren't limited to adults. Around midsummer, Burke and Hare murdered an elderly woman from Glasgow who was staying at the lodging house as soon as they were done. They also murdered her grandson, who had been travelling with her. The young boy was only about 12 years old.
This victim wasn't the only parts that deviated from their earlier attacks. Birken had killed the woman and her grandson in the dead of night.
The next morning, Birken had put the bodies into a Harring barrel, loaded it onto a horse cart and led the horse cart towards Cerrejón Square.
After a couple of blocks, however, his old horse came to a full stop and refused to move another foot berk and hair cast and struck the animal to no avail. It was as though something invisible was preventing it from moving. In a panic state, Burkean has scrambled, a small crowd gathered around them to watch, frightened that they'd be caught transporting a dead boy who'd been relatively healthy. The previous day, Burke waved down a reporter. He hired the man to put the barrel of bodies into his wheelbarrow and luggage over to search and square.
When they finally got back home with their money, her shot, his horse. He couldn't risk the chance that the creature stopped again. Such an extreme reaction reveals just how on edge the two men may have been, but Burke and Hare weren't the only ones starting to act strangely. According to Berg, has wife Margaret Ladd approached him and tried to convince him that they should murder Berk's common law wife, Nellie McDougal. Margaret didn't think the woman could be trusted.
Of course, Burke refused to kill his wife.
Instead, he packed some things and left the city with Nellie for a few days to visit Nellie's father during that time in June 1828, hair killed alone, unbeknownst to Burke. When Burke returned, he couldn't help but notice that hair suddenly had plenty of money suspicious, Burke questioned hair. If he had been working without him, Hair assured him he had not. It was a lie and Berg knew it. To confirm his misgivings, Burke visited Dr. Knox, who informed him that he had indeed brought him a body.
It was a woman has found drunk on the street, took home and murdered her, lied because he hoped to keep the money all to himself.
But has secrecy soured Berg's perceptions of him? In turn, Burke and his wife Nellie moved out of his lodging house and for a short time, Burke Slade's solo.
Like hair had done to him, Burke kept it secret, then pocketed the entire payment he received for the body. While it's tempting to see Burke's unaccompanied murder as some way of getting even with hair, it's more likely Burke just wanted the entire bounty to himself.
An eight pound payout in 1827 was the equivalent of over a thousand U.S. dollars today, even though the payouts varied between seven and 10 pounds after an estimated 13 victims, they'd made the equivalent of over 10000 US dollars at this point, and the easy money had filled him with insatiable greed. Still, the industry of killing was too lucrative for Burke to pull out of his partnership with her completely, even when he and his wife left the lodging house, they only moved a couple streets down from her in.
And once they reunited, Burke and Hare would be even more dangerous than before. Coming up, Burke and Hare go too far. Hi, it's Vanessa from Parks Network, and I'm thrilled to tell you that this month marks a huge milestone for us.
It's the four year anniversary of a podcast I hosted called Serial Killers. If you haven't had a chance to dive into the stories and psychology behind the most nightmarish murderers of all time, why wait? There's no better time than right now to start listening. Each week we enter the minds, the methods and the madness of the world's most sadistic serial killers from the Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, and the coed killer, Edmund Kemper to Aileen Wuornos, Ed Jean and coming soon, the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez.
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Now back to the story. By September 1828, William Burke and William Hare had reconciled. They celebrated their reunion by murdering a washerwoman named Mrs. Owsla and selling her body. It was a murder that would mark the beginning of a high selling season, since refrigeration didn't exist at the time. Anatomy classes usually took place during the winter. In the summer months, bodies decompose too quickly, thus during the coldest time of the year and hair could rely on getting 10 pounds per body instead of eight.
There was even more incentive to kill. A week or two after the murder of Mrs. Owsla Burkean have felt it was time for another attack, their next victim, Anne McDougle, the young woman, was from out of town, which made her a safe catch. She'd come to Edinburgh to visit Nelly, her long time friend and burgs wife, of course, poor, and had no idea that Nelly was married to a murderer. That's not exactly the type of thing one shares over tea.
It's possible Nelly was even in on the murder scheme, though whether it was premeditated or not remains unknown. We do know that despite the personal connection Perkins had treated and like every prior victim they got, the poor woman drunk, then held her down and smothered her. After stripping her body, they then placed Ann's corpse in a new trunk. And then Burke's new landlord, Mr. Brogan, came home and saw the trunk. He was immediately suspicious. So Berk and Hair pulled Mr Brogden some whiskey and let him in on the secret.
There was a body in the trunk. It's likely they assured him that they were bodysnatchers. Mr Brogden was stunned, but the two pounds and 20 shillings Burkean had tossed at him were apparently enough for him to look the other way. It probably helped that Mr Brogden had recently been in several scuffles with the police himself. He couldn't afford to go running to officials without the chance that he would somehow be implicated off the hook. Birkenhead transported the trunk with Ann's body to the medical college, sold it to Dr Knox for 10 pounds and returned to Berk's.
Once there, they gave Mr Brogden three of those 10 pounds just to be sure they'd shut him up.
Though Burke and Hare were annoyed by their costly blunder. They felt they'd salvage the situation. For now. One October morning, Burke was enjoying a drink in a local shop when he noticed his wife Margaret in the street talking to an 18 year old named Jamie Wilson, the young man had a developmental disorder and Margarets was leading him back to the lodging house. She operated with hair in Tana's close. Tragically, his mother had kicked him out of her home, so he spent most nights sleeping in doorways and was well known around town.
He was a kind chap and many called him Dhaif Jamie. Though his warmth made him a friendly face in town, Jamie's gentleness often got him in trouble as he refused to fight those who made fun of him. Instead, he sought to find goodness in others. And it was that trusting spirit that Burke and Hare preyed on. Margaret stopped in at the shop where Burke was and tapped him on the foot, signalling Jamie was ripe for the plucking. It's almost certain Margaret was aware of the previous murders and likely she had helped out in some capacity.
However, this was the first time Margaret Ladd was officially complicit. Burke wasted no time circling in on the victim she poached he walked to his lodging house where the two men ply Jamie with whiskey. But shortly into his visit, Jamie said he was done. He didn't want to drink anymore. When Burke and Hare insisted, Jamie resisted, then began calling for his mother. But Jamie had already fallen into the company of sinister characters. There was little he could do to escape to calm the victim.
Burkean had lied, saying Jamie's mother would be there soon.
Around this time, Margaret locked the three in the room and slipped the key under the door.
When Jamie continued resisting the liquor Birkenhead trying to force on him, her got fed up and lunged at Jamie, attempting to smother him. Perhaps her underestimated Jamie because he had a disability and was known to be gentle, or maybe Heather wasn't really thinking at all and just lashed out in frustration. In any case, Jamie fought back a violent altercation broke out once Burke stepped in. However, Jamie was subdued and smothered. Burke and Hare got 10 pounds for his body, but they made a mistake in choosing Jamie to be their victim.
Like Mary Patterson, the local woman known by some as a sex worker, Jamie was a familiar face in Edinburgh, according to Brian Bailey, author of The Year of the Ghouls, The Act of murdering a well-known figure like Dhaif.
Jamie indicates a startling recklessness, which might mean that by this time, Burkean had thought they could get away with anything and were ready to throw all sane precautions to the winds.
Once the anatomy students opened up the latest trunk delivered by Burke and Hare, they immediately recognized Jamie Wilson. But Dr. Knox denied that the body was Jaimie's. By this point, Burke and Hare had sold him 16 bodies, while the first body, that of an old soldier who had been staying at his lodging house, had probably died from disease. The next 15 had been murdered. Dr. Knox may have had his suspicions and probably didn't want to cut off his cadaver supply.
In fact, once he heard the rumor that Jamie had gone missing, he allegedly ordered that the body be dissected immediately, possibly in an effort to destroy the evidence. In teaching anatomy, Alistar Cadavers may also be dissected by instructors and presented in parts, they're also filled with certain preservation fluids these days before they're given to the instructors. But Jamie's body probably wasn't. Cadavers are usually dissected, starting with the extremities, followed by inspecting the internal organs, starting with the abdominal cavity, then the thorax and finally the brain.
The process of dissection definitely has a potential to destroy evidence of a murder, given that it causes some degree of mutilation, a disfigurement of tissue that could provide insight into how someone was killed.
This would have been especially true in the 19th century because preservation methods weren't optimal, making the process messier and therefore harder to construct a story and mystery surrounding a murder dissection could have even distorted a pre-existing trauma to someone's internal anatomy, which would have ruined an investigation. It's also important to keep in mind that after bodies were used in educational settings back then, they were quickly burned or cremated due to primitive preservation techniques. Disposing of cadavers still happens pretty quickly today, but it was especially hasty in the eighteen hundreds once the body was disposed of.
Very little physical evidence, if any, was left behind.
For Burke and Hare, any damning evidence was largely eradicated. While rumors about what really happened to Dhaif Jamy world throughout Edinborough, Burke and Hare were business as usual.
On Halloween morning, 1828, Burke sat in a shop enjoying his usual whiskey. When a poor Irish woman came in to beg for charity. She introduced herself to Burke as Mary Dockerty after she claimed she was from the town of Inácio in in Donegal. Burke's attention was piqued. Mary would make the perfect victim to lure her in. Burke lied that his mother's last name was Dockerty and that she was also from in a show and pleased to be in familiar company.
Mary agreed to join Burke at his home for breakfast in whisky. When the two arrived, Burke introduced Mary to Nellie and then headed out to share news of his soon to be victim with hair. Delighted, Hare followed Burke to his home. It's unclear what exactly happens next. But that evening here, Margaret, Nellie and Mary Dockerty were all seen drinking and dancing at Burk's.
At some point, Burke slipped out to meet with one of Dr. Knox's assistants, David Paterson, as a liaison between Dr. Knox and Burke, Patterson often confirmed whether the doctor was available to purchase a corpse. Unfortunately for Berg, Dr. Knox was not available that evening with an exacerbated sigh, Burke returned to his home. Back at Berk's place around 11, 30 p.m. on Friday night, Berk's neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Olsten, heard a loud quarrel break out during this.
A woman in the residence yelled a most chilling remark, for God's sake, get the police. There's been a murder here. However, no police came to the building. Around midnight, Burke paid David Paterson another visit, and this time he was home, Paterson was surprised to see Burke at such a late hour. But Burke was able to convince him to come to his house, where Burke showed Paterson a hefty lump of straw at the end of a bed and said it was something for the doctor.
Patterson insisted only Dr. Knox could handle such things and left, so Burke and Hare kept meritocracies body under the straw in hopes of selling it to the doctor the following day. The next morning, another pair of Burke's neighbors, Mrs. Conaway and Mrs. Gray, visited Burke to follow up about the noises they'd heard the previous night. He also inquired about the guest of the evening, Mary Dockerty.
In response, Nelly explained that she had kicked meritocracy out for getting too friendly with Burke as she spun her web of lies, Burke thrashed about splashing whiskey on the ceiling, the bed, the floor and over his chest.
Struck by his odd behavior, the women asked what he was doing, to which Burke explained that he wanted to empty the bottle so that he could get more. The deception was painfully obvious. Burke was likely attempting to cover up the stench of a corpse. A cadaver's odors are the byproduct of the chemical process of decomposition when a body is decaying, bacteria and microorganisms within the intestinal tract start to devour the corpses tissue, basically eating it from the inside out.
These bacteria and microorganisms then create foul smelling gases that seep out of the body. On top of these gases, dead bodies secrete numerous chemical compounds that create horrible odors. Two examples of these compounds or Putera scene and cadaverine, both which come from amino acids breaking down the body's tissues. Putera, seen in cadaverine, are also associated in life with the process. It creates bad breath and the odors associated with severe vaginalis infections. There are also sulfuric acid compounds along with skeletal involved in this decomposition, which can create a rotting egg like aroma.
Part of what makes the smell of death so strong, especially in indoor settings, is that the relevant chemical compounds in gases permeate surrounding porous materials like fabrics, unvarnished wood, stone and concrete. This explains why Burke desperately splash whiskey around in order to cover up what must have been an incredibly pervasive stink. The odds of bird masking the stench were slim as her something almost animalistic instinctual about a human's ability to recognize even the faintest odor of death. Mrs. Conaway and Mrs.
Gray probably smelled something unsavory in the air, but they didn't stick around, Burke seemed unhinged. But Mrs. Gray wasn't obtuse, skeptical. She returned to Burke's empty residence later that day and snuck into Burke's room to snoop around. When she lifted the straw at the end of Burke's bed, she couldn't believe her eyes. They're lying naked was the lifeless body of Mary Dockerty. Mrs. Gray called for her husband, who recognized the body as Mary's and immediately confronted Nellie.
Nellie fell to her knees and begged Mr. Gray to keep a secret, offering him up to 10 pounds a week to keep quiet. But the Grays declined on their way out. Margaret Laird attempted to lure them back to Burke's place to avoid attracting attention. But Mr. Gray was having none of it. He didn't tell Margaret, of course, but he was on his way to the police. Meanwhile, Burke and Hare tried to arrange the sale of Daugherty's body to Dr.
Knox. Unbeknownst to them, getting rid of the body was now a matter of maintaining their innocence. The duo bought a large secret, then visited a local reporter, John MacCulloch, to request his help moving a heavy object into it.
At that point, Burke asked MacCulloch to help him bring the crate to Surgeons Square. MacCulloch knew he was being asked to deliver a dead body, but it may not have been the first time he'd transported a corpse for Birken hair, which is probably why he didn't raise a fuss. At Surján Square, Dr. Knox paid Burkean, had two pounds, ten shillings each, poor MacCulloch received five shillings. The criminal duo would receive the rest of their payment after the doctor had had time to examine the body on Monday morning.
Burkean has satisfaction surged, and when Burke returned home, he laughed off the neighbor reporting rumors he had murdered Mary Dockerty.
He'd faced controversy in the past and things had turned out just fine. But this time, luck was not on his side. Coming up, the law catches up to Burke and Hare. Pill patch ring, if the thought of getting any of those feels like a crime. Listen to this. Simple health is a better way to get birth control.
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At some point on Saturday, November 1st, a pair of police officers arrived at Berks Place. When they asked Burke about Mary Burke said she left at seven o'clock that morning, one of the officers noticed blood stains on the bed. Nellie attributed them to a woman's period, claiming the sheets had not been washed since. But the police weren't ready to let their suspicions go. They decided to question Nellie separately, perceiving her as a weak link. They thought correctly.
When the officer asked Nellie when Mary Jocketty had left, Nellie said it had been seven o'clock the previous evening. This didn't match up with Mr. Gray's claims of seeing Merry's dead body, nor Burke's account of events. So the officers took Burke and Nelly to the police station. The next morning, the police visited David Patterson, who led them to Dr. Knox's home there. The police opened the tea box to find Mary Daugherty's body inside. A medical examiner noted that Dockerty had probably died by violence, but couldn't be certain when shown the body Burkean nely denied having ever seen the woman before.
Unfortunately, this only further implicated them as they had already claimed to have hosted Mary Dockerty at their home. They were arrested on the spot along with her and Margaret, who, like their accomplices, denied any knowledge of Mary Dockerty and her death. All four evidently believed denial could save them, since it was difficult to say how exactly Mary Dockerty had died.
One medical examination suggested that Mary Dockerty had likely been killed by suffocation, but it could not be determined conclusively.
Bruising, lacerations and abrasions can also suggest a violent death, but a murder by smothering might not leave such obvious clues. Coroners might look for bloodshot eyes or signs of a heart attack which can precede a death from suffocation due to a loss of oxygen. Another sign of suffocation is the presence of petechial hemorrhages or purple reddish spots that can appear on the neck eye's face or lungs, these spots are created from the high intravascular pressure associated with oxygen deprivation. Also, haemoglobin in red blood cells turns from red to blue when it suddenly loses oxygen, resulting in a deep, dark discoloration of the skin, turning it blue, black or purple.
This is a process called cyanosis. And it's another clue for coroners to suspect death by suffocation. Examiners might also look for broken noses or bruising around the nose and mouth, which can happen from the pressure of a pillow or towel smothering the victim's face. Forensic examiners also look for trace evidence like fibers from the cloth of an object used in the smothering.
Today, there are sophisticated techniques allowing pathologists to look for elevated carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which can also reflect a death from suffocation. At the time of these murders, autopsies and forensic procedures were still in their infancy, and the insights they could offer weren't as robust.
Though the medical examination did not provide conclusive evidence, Burke, Hare, Nellie and Margaret were charged with murder, trying to get off, Burke lied to the sheriff, saying that a hooded man in a great coat had dropped off the body while Burke wasn't looking.
It wasn't until after the stranger had left that Burke saw he'd left a body behind.
Burke admitted that he'd been splashing wisky about the room in order to cover up the smell of the dead body, but insisted that the blood police found on his bed was the result of nely menstruating.
When the sheriff asked Burke if the hooded man who brought him the body was William Hare, Burke said yes, betraying his friend without a moment's hesitation.
A week later, Burke told police a different account of events.
This time, he said, Mary Jocketty had joined them for a drink when she suddenly dropped dead. Technically, this meant that Burke and Hare had merely sold a corpse to Dr. Knox. The bruises on the body were no doubt the result of putting it into the tee box. But officers weren't so quick to take him at his word, especially because his partner in crime proposed a different theory entirely.
Hare insisted that Burke's landlord's son had struck and killed Mary Dockerty for some unknown reason, despite the conflicting confessions, it was painfully clear. Burke and Hare were both involved in Mary's death. Among the authorities, the lord advocate, Sir William Ray, was responsible for assigning blame and he believed Burke was most guilty.
So he approached her and offered him immunity in exchange for revealing what had really happened to Dockerty and any other murders committed by Burke, Hare immediately agreed to snitch on Burke.
Once the story hit the press, the public was outraged and has infamy spread like wildfire, neighborhood children even took to chanting a rhyme about the pair. It went something like up the close and down the stairs in the house with Burke and Hare.
Berk's the butcher has the thief knocks the boy that buys the beef.
On Christmas Eve morning of 1828, the trial of Burke and Neli began, the police had to draft 300 men to keep an angry mob out of the courtroom while professional soldiers were kept on alert in case things got out of hand, 55 witnesses were called, including Dr. Knox, his students, a friend of a victim who had almost been killed by the duo and of course, William Hare.
However, only 18 of the 55 witnesses actually testified.
Dr. Knox, for instance, was able to avoid the witness stand. The testimony was damning, but both Burke and Nely pleaded not guilty. The trial lasted all day into the evening and then on into Christmas Day, nearly 24 straight hours without a single break. Then at eight thirty on Christmas morning, the jury was asked to reach a verdict. It took them 50 minutes.
Nellie was found not guilty, BRK guilty. One of the judges, Lord Meadowbank, announced in the whole history of civilized society, there never has been exhibited such a system of barbarous and savage iniquity or anything at all corresponding an atrocity to what this trial has brought to light.
The Lord Justice.
Clark then declared that Burge was to be taken to the old toll booth jail in Edinburgh. He would be fed bread and water only until Wednesday, January 28. On that day, Burke was to be hanged until dead.
The judges decreed that Burke's body would then be handed over to anatomy professor Alexander Monroe so that it could be publicly dissected for all of his lucrative trips to the cadaver lab. It was poetic justice. As Fanelli, the public was furious that she had gotten off scot free, narrowly avoiding mob violence, she left Edinburgh and disappeared from the historical record. Hare and Margaret Lead were kept in prison for a time for protection from angry crowds, those who weren't itching at a chance to inflict vigilante justice on Hare stopped by his lodging house, which was quickly becoming a minor tourist attraction.
The first few visitors were even able to abscond with unofficial stolen souvenirs.
On January 3rd, Burke offered up his first confession, he admitted that he and Heather were Great Britain's most prolific serial killers on record, all while trying to insist that hair was mostly to blame. Then, a week before his execution, Burke offered another, more detailed confession in which he again pinned as much as he could on hair. And Margaret led. This confession was not official, but was given to someone working for the Evening Current newspaper. Like all of his other accounts, Burke's confessions were contradictory.
At one point, Burke insisted that Nellie and Margaret lead were not present when the murders were committed, and he wasn't certain if they knew what was going on. Later, he suggested that Margaret had often helped Burke and Hare pack the bodies into chest's. Meanwhile, right up until the end, Burke insisted that Dr Knox was completely innocent and that the doctor never encouraged them to murder anyone. Some have speculated that an individual working for Dr Knox met with Burke while he was in prison and found a way to convince him to exonerate the anatomist.
It remains unclear what exactly moved him to do. So whatever the case, Burke's testimonials weren't enough to free him. In fact, the townspeople had grown increasingly eager for his hanging. In the days leading up to Burke's execution, houses surrounding the execution square rented out windows for interested onlookers, even the famed poets. Walter Scott attempted to reserve a window. The demand was so high that he was forced to share one. Up to 25000 people may have witnessed William Berg's execution on January 28.
Death from execution by hanging is thought to take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, but exact time frames are not really known. However, death is more instantaneous if the neck snaps and the spinal cord between their head and the neck is severed. This is referred to as a hangman's fracture. This kind of brake causes the severing of the upper cervical spine and results in an immediate loss of consciousness, paralysis and eventual death from asphyxiation. It's usually considered the best possible outcome for the victim because there's little to no suffering involved.
However, sometimes the neck fracture doesn't completely sever the spinal cord or occur at all, for that matter. In this case, the victim is slowly strangled by his or her own body weight and left gasping for air for minutes before dying. This would clearly be the worst case scenario in terms of pain and suffering. In Burke's case, this kind of punishment had a dark irony. Execution by strangulation was perhaps fitting for a man who had smothered so many people to death.
The next day, Berk's naked corpse was dissected in Professor Monroes lecture room. The crowd was so great there that students trying to force their way into the lecture hall clashed with police who resorted to using batons after being shown to the public for a few days where many thousands had a gander at the dead serial killer.
Berg's body was stripped of its flesh. His skeleton was preserved. It is exhibited in the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh University to this very day. As for Burke's former friends, they faced only slightly better fates upon her release from jail, Margaret Laird was assaulted by a mob throwing stones and mud. She had to be rescued by police and jailed immediately upon her second release. She fled to Glasgow, where she was also assaulted by a mob and rescued by police.
Eventually, she was able to get aboard a boat for Ireland and was never heard from again. Meanwhile, Dr. Knox faced his own share of the public's fury in February, a large mob hanged a Life-Size effigy of Knox from a tree when they attempted to burn the effigy. It wouldn't light, so they tore it to shreds. Then they hanged another effigy and burned that. Though he never faced prosecution, Knox's reputation was tarnished beyond repair. His classes, once the most popular in Edinburgh, steadily diminished.
He left Edinburgh for London, where he struggled to attain another permanent teaching position. He never publicly admitted to any wrongdoing. And on December 9th, 1862, he suffered an apoplectic seizure. Knox never regained consciousness after the episode, and he died 11 days later on December 20th. By the time of Burke's execution, public opinion was of the mind that hair had been the most evil of the two and held greater responsibility. According to Bailey, Hair had not shown the slightest sign of remorse for his actions and in fact, had given some appearance of being quite pleased at getting himself off the hook at Burke's expense.
Like Margaret and Dr. Knox have faced public outrage when he was finally released from custody in February. He fled to Dumfries, where a mob of some 800 people nearly killed him.
After that, it seems he managed to cross into England, where he, too, disappeared.
General consensus has it that William Burke and William Hare murdered 16 people in nine months or about one murder every 17 days.
Thankfully, grave robbing is no longer necessary to train good surgeons, interestingly enough, though, there are still rare cases of people who get their organs stolen for a profit and it often results in death.
This is more common in underdeveloped countries, and the theft of body parts like kidneys and hearts can yield some quick cash due to today's high demand for organ transplants.
It's actually pretty analogous to the crimes Burke and Hare were committing in their environment. Bodies were unfortunately a commodity, and this inevitably led to horrific ways of acquiring them. There's no excuse for their actions. But just like the organ robbers of today, Birken Hair saw a grim opportunity that could ease their harsh living conditions. The consequences of poverty can be horrendous on the body and on the mind. It's not all that surprising that it can lead to criminal actions if it offers a way out.
William Burke and William Hare were ultimately the unique product of a very different time and place in history. Luckily, it's unlikely that we'll see more figures like them now that lots of people willingly donate their bodies to science. In the aftermath of the Burke and Hare murders, legislation was introduced to make it easier for medical professionals to obtain cadavers for study. Still, it took years before the days of body snatching ended. And until then, the citizens of Edinburgh walk through the streets with just a bit more speed in their step lest they fall prey to another duo like the infamous Burke and Hare.
Thanks for listening to medical murders and thanks again to Dr. Kipa for joining me today. Thanks so much. For more information on Berk and Hair. Among the many sources we used, we found Burke and Hare, The Year of the Ghouls by Brian Bailey. Extremely helpful to our research. You can find all episodes of medical murders and all other Spotify originals from podcast for free on Spotify, not only just Spotify, already have all of your favorite music, but now Spotify is making it easy for you to enjoy all of your favorite Spotify originals from podcasts like medical murders for free from your phone, desktop or smart speaker to stream medical murders on Spotify.
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Medical murders is a Spotify original from podcasts. It is executive produced by Max Cutler, Sound Design by Trent Williamson with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden, Kristen Acevedo, Jonathan Cohen, Alexandra Trick, the daughter, and Bruce Kaktovik. This episode of Medical Murders was written by Devin Hughes with writing assistants by Maggie Admire and Lauren Dalil, fact checking by Bennett Logan and research by Chelsea Wood. Medical Murders stars Dr. David Kepa and Alastair Murden.
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