The Burke and Hare murders were a series of 16 murders committed over a period of about ten months in 1828 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The killings were undertaken by William Burke and William Hare, who sold the corpses to Doctor Robert Knox for dissection at his anatomy lectures.
Edinburgh was a leading European centre of anatomical study in the early 19th century, in a time when the demand for cadavers led to a shortfall in legal supply. Scottish law required that corpses used for medical research should only come from those who had died in prison, suicide victims, or from foundlings and orphans. The shortage of corpses led to an increase in grave robbing by what were known as resurrection men. Measures to ensure graves were left undisturbed exacerbated the shortage. When a lodger in Hare’s house died, he turned to his friend Burke for advice and they decided to sell the body to Knox. They received what was, for them, the generous sum of £7 10s. A little over two months later, when Hare was concerned that a lodger suffering from fever would deter others from staying in the house, he and Burke murdered her and sold the body to Knox. The men continued their murder spree, probably with the knowledge of their wives. Burke and Hare’s actions were uncovered after other lodgers discovered their last victim, Margaret Docherty, and called the police.
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