28/01/2018
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Bodysnatcher William Burke was executed - On this day in history

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Bodysnatcher and murderer William Burke, one half of the notorious criminal duo 'Burke and Hare' was executed on 28 January 1829.

William Burke and William Hare, who emigrated to Scotland from Ireland, supplied the corpses of their sixteen murder victims to anatonomy lecturer Doctor Robert Knox, assisted by accomplices including Burke's mistress and Hare's wife. The Edinburgh Medical School was at this time renowned for its medical sciences however the number of legally available corpses was limited, leading some students to turn to grave robbers.

The trial of William Burke

Although contemporary sources suggest that Burke was the more intelligent of the pair, it was Hare who was persuaded to turn king's evidence and accuse his partner in crime, so escaping execution himself. Burke's trial took place on 24 December 1828 with Burke convicted of 'atrocious murder' on Christmas Day.

William Burke's execution

Burke was hanged in front of a crowd of around 20,000 people with nearby householders charging members of the public for seats with the best views. Burke's body was publicly dissected at Old College in Edinburgh, during which a disturbance broke out due to the number of people who wished to view the spectacle.

Hare later fled to Dumfries, where he was forced out of town by an angry crowd and fled to England.

Read about the death of Robert Knox, the surgeon to whom Burke and Hare supplied their victims.

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