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Burke & Hare

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The unvarnished, human story behind the infamous Burke and Hare murders.

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The unvarnished, human story behind the infamous Burke and Hare murders.

In a boarding house in the WestPort area of 1820’s Edinburgh, an old army pensioner dies of natural causes. He owes the landlord £4 rent. Instead of burying the body, the landlord and his friend—one William Hare and William Burke, both Irish—fill the coffin with bark and sell the corpse to Dr. Robert Knox, an ambitious Edinburgh anatomist. Burke and Hare make a profit of £3 and 10 shillings. After this encouraging start, Burke and Hare decide to suffocate another sickly tenant, so beginning the criminal career of the most notorious double act in serial killing that would only end on the gallows with the worst kind of betrayal. It’s a true tale of desperation and greed, of outsiders, ambition, corruption, love, and betrayal.


Birlinn Ltd
Book Format
Original Languages
Number of Pages
Owen Dudley Edwards
Publication Date
October, 2014
Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)
7.75 x 4.75 x 1.40 Inches

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The case of William Bu...

The case of William Burke and William Hare, who murdered at least fifteen people to sell the bodies to anatomists for dissection, has fascinated readers for almost two hundred years. Broadsides and pamphlets and songs told crowds about their fates and their confessions (the tales being based on a little truth and, usually, a lot of imagination). Their story continues to be retold even today. We are probably due for a modern re-examination of the case, based on current knowledge of anatomy and of history and custom. Sadly, this book isn't it. Apart from a strange and quixotic attempt to make Burke look relatively good, it has little new to offer. And the organization leaves much to be desired. It was simply too easy to get lost -- even though I already knew at least a little about Burke and Hare, which many modern readers will not. If you already have a good knowledge of the era of the resurrectionists, and of the Burke and Hare case, this may be an interesting counterbalance to the usual attempt to portray both men as the worst of the worst. But I would start with other sources before turning to this.

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