Who, with his accomplice Hare, murdered persons to sell their bodies to the anatomists. Executed 28th of January 1830
THE unparalleled atrocities of which this diabolical murderer was guilty, with his associates, can scarcely ever be obliterated from the recollection of man. Devoid of all sense of humanity -- a butcher of the human race -- he was guilty of almost innumerable murders, for which his only reward was the miserable amount to be paid him for the bodies of his victims, in order that they might be submitted to the knife of the anatomist.
The scene of these horrible occurrences was Edinburgh; but notwithstanding the publication of the details of the circumstances attending them which appeared at the investigations which took place before the sheriff, few could be found who had formed such an idea of the baseness of human nature, as to believe the possibility of the truth of the dreadful disclosures which were made.
The metropolis of Scotland had been long and frequently excited by statements being made of the disappearance of persons in the lower orders of life, who were suddenly missed, and of whom no subsequent traces could be discovered. Tramps entering the city with their friends were suddenly lost; Irish haymakers, on their road to the agricultural districts of the Lowlands, in the same manner seemed to vanish from among their companions; and in one instance an idiot, who in Scotland is always looked upon as a harmless playmate for the children, as a welcome guest at every table and as an object of universal pity, was on a sudden lost from the favourite haunts of his imbecile wanderings.
The occurrence which immediately led to the disclosure of these diabolical crimes was the unaccountable disappearance of a mendicant named Mary Campbell, an Irishwoman, who, after having been seen frequenting the same vicinity for a considerable time, towards the end of October 1829, was suddenly missed. The poor woman happened to have friends, who were not disposed to treat her loss lightly, and a rigid inquiry by the police was the result. An idea was suggested that her body might be found at some of the medical schools in Edinburgh, so justly celebrated for the excellence of the anatomical instruction which they afforded to the pupils, and one day's search testified the truth of the fears which had been excited of her death, Her remains were discovered at the dissecting-room of Dr Knox, a distinguished anatomist, bearing marks perfectly conclusive of their identity. The poor woman had received a wound upon her ankle from the kick of a drunken man, the aspect of which was sufficiently well known to enable her former companions to speak with certainty as to the body. The cause of death was now the subject of investigation, and here the deficiency of caution in the purchase of subjects, the necessity of a change in the law with regard to the provision of bodies for dissection, and finally, the certainty of the murder of the deceased, were exemplified. The medical men, by whom the body was examined, gave their firm and decided opinion that suffocation had been the means by which the deceased had been deprived of life -- a means which it was exceedingly unlikely any natural circumstances would have produced. It was evident, therefore, that murder had been resorted to, it was believed, with a view to secure the body of the wretched woman, in order that it might be sold for dissection.
The next inquiry which followed, was that as to the individual from whom the subject had been purchased. The law at that time contained no enactment with regard to the mode by which surgeons were to be provided with those subjects which the study of anatomy, so important to the human race, positively required that they should possess. The occasional execution of a criminal, whose remains were ordered by the terms of his sentence to be given over to the surgeons for dissection, afforded no sufficient supply to meet the constant demand which existed; and the stealing of dead bodies was a practice openly encouraged by the professors of anatomy.
So long as the war continued, the period of time required for the completion of the education of medical students, so as to fit them in some measure for the Army or Navy, was very short, and the study of anatomy was consequently much neglected. At that time the dissecting-rooms were generally supplied by 'resurrection-men' who exhumed the bodies, and, as the suspicion of the public was not excited, this was attended with no great difficulty. The highest price ever obtained by these men was four guineas for each subject; but as the number of medical men increased, and many gentlemen, who had been engaged in the Army and Navy, returned to complete their education, the demand became greater, and consequently the risk of procuring subjects by the usual means was proportionately augmented. The men were frequently detected in their attempts, and punished severely: they therefore demanded an advance in their remuneration, and in consequence of no legal provision being made for supplying the schools, it was found necessary to accede to their demands. The price then became eight guineas, and it subsequently varied from that to sixteen guineas, according to circumstances.
On account of the greatly increased amount obtained for subjects, numbers of persons now engaged in the traffic, and the consequence was more frequent detection. Every means which ingenuity could suggest was used to obtain bodies which had not been buried, and for this purpose, the men, when they heard of the body of a person being found (drowned for instance) and which was lying to be owned, trumped up a story of an unfortunate brother or sister, humbugged a coroner's jury (who, by the way, were more than once so well imposed on as to make a subscription, to enable the supposed brother to bury his relative) and thus obtained possession of the body. In this sort of trickery the wives of the men were often employed, as their application was attended with less suspicion, and it was never difficult to impose on the parochial officers, who were always anxious to avoid the expense of burying the deceased. Subjects were thus occasionally procured, but they were much more frequently obtained by pretending relationship to persons dying without friends in hospitals and workhouses. As the bodies thus obtained were much fresher than those which had been buried, they produced generally (independent of the teeth) as much as twelve guineas each.
But the poor and friendless were not the only sufferers from this system; persons moving in a higher sphere of society have often suffered the loss of their friends, when they were confident in security. What will the wealthy not feel, when they are told that the very men employed to solder down the leaden coffin of a child have abstracted the body, and carried it off without exciting the slightest suspicion, in the baskets with their tools?
The surgeons from their anxiety to obtain subjects, and from the acknowledged illegality of the proceedings, were frequently not over-nice or minute in their inquiries as to the cause of death, or the means by which the body offered to them was obtained. The impossibility of obtaining any answer the truth of which could be relied on, and the independence of the 'resurrection-men', who were always sure of a market, may be reckoned as almost sufficient excuses for this lax mode of proceeding. It is just to believe, however, that no suspicion can ever have entered the imagination of the anatomists that unfair means had been resorted to, to take away the life of the subjects offered to them, merely with a view to their bodies being submitted to dissection. To such causes may be ascribed the non-discovery of the suspicious cause of death of the numerous miserable victims whom investigation proves to have been murdered.
In this case, happily, the frequency of the visits of the supposed resurrectionist or body-stealer to the same dissecting-room enabled the police to discover his haunts, together with the circumstances attending the disappearance of the deceased, which were sufficient to afford convincing proof of her murder at his hands. Paterson, the porter to Dr Knox, was well acquainted with the persons of Burke and a man named Hare, by whom this subject had been sold, and he related the circumstances attending its purchase to the police serjeant by whom the investigation was carried on, in such a manner as at once secured their apprehension. He said that on the 31st of October, Burke and Hare called at the dissecting-rooms, and said that they had got something for the doctor, at the house occupied by the former. Paterson had before visited this place on similar occasions and was well acquainted with its position, and on the next morning he went to the house in Tanner's Close, where he was told the body lay. He found there Mrs M'Dougal, who passed as the wife of Burke, and Mrs Margaret Laird, who stood in the same relation with regard to Hare. Upon his entrance, Burke pointed to a heap of straw under the table, signifying that the body was there, and the witness gave them 5L. to be divided between the two men, 3L. more being agreed to be paid, if the subject should turn out to be such as was desired. The men divided the money, and promised to carry the body on the same night to the dissecting- room. It arrived, packed in a tea-chest, and at the time of the visit of the police, which was on the following day (the 2nd of November), it had not yet been looked at. Upon the chest being opened, appearances presented themselves which induced Paterson to believe that the body had never been buried; the face was livid, and blood was running from the nostrils and mouth. As we have already said, subsequent examination proved that death had been caused by suffocation.
Coincident with the discovery of this evidence, the voluntary testimony of two other witnesses was obtained, which afforded conclusive proof of the violent means resorted to by Burke and Hare, to procure the death of the deceased. Mr and Mrs Gray, poor persons who were travelling through Edinburgh, informed the police, on the same day, of occurrences which they had witnessed on the night of the 31st October, which induced the most dreadful suspicions in their minds. They stated that they had taken up their lodgings in the house occupied by Burke in the course of that day, and towards the evening they had seen Mrs Campbell go in with that person. They retired to rest without holding any communication with her, as she appeared to be intoxicated, but in the morning, they were surprised to find that she was gone. They inquired of Mrs Burke what had become of her, and she said that they had turned her out because she was impudent. But an undefinable apprehension lurked in their minds of some wrong having been done, and seizing an opportunity they peered into Burke's room, and there, under the table, they saw marks of blood, and upon further investigation, the body of the murdered woman concealed beneath some straw. Terror-struck with the discovery, they immediately gathered up their bundles and proceeded to quit the house, but were dissuaded from their intention by Mrs Burke, who had ascertained the fact of their having made so important a discovery, and urged them to stop, 'as it might be 10L. a week to them'. They, however, rushed from the place as soon as they could escape, and on the following day conveyed intelligence to the police of what they had seen.
Upon the arrival of the authorities at the Tanner's Close, they found it to be a scene well fitted for the performance of such tragedies as had been recently enacted within its limits. The close itself was narrow and dark, and contained only one house, which was situated at the bottom. Here, almost shut out from the light of heaven, lived this detestable murderer, letting out lodgings either by the night or otherwise, to such poor wretches as would put up with the accommodation which he could offer. The house consisted of two rooms only, one of which was occupied by Burke and his wife, while the other was devoted to his lodgers. The former contained nothing but a miserable bed, a table, and some straw, still reeking with the blood of the murdered woman, while the latter was totally devoid of furniture. Fortunately for their purpose, the whole party, four in number, was assembled; and they were all immediately secured and conveyed to prison. Burke, it appeared, had carried on a pretended trade of shoemaking, and in one corner of his room was found a pile of old boots and shoes, consisting of nearly forty pairs; but the discovery also of a great number of suits of clothes, of various sizes, and bearing distinct marks of blood, afforded sufficient proof, that the murder of Mrs Campbell was not the only one which had been perpetrated within the apartment.
The examinations of the prisoners before the magistrates of Edinburgh served only to bring to light fresh atrocities and to excite fresh horror; and eventually the whole of the prisoners were committed for trial, the evidence being clear and conclusive as to the implication of the men, although that which affected the women left great doubts as to the possibility of their conviction being secured.
During the period which elapsed subsequently to their committal, and preparatory to their trial, Hare, with a degree of villainy excelling that of his fellow in guilt, offered to make disclosures upon the subject of the system which had been carried on, upon condition of his own indemnification from punishment, and that of his wife. Mrs Laird, it had been discovered, was the least guilty of the whole party, and so far as her discharge was concerned little difficulty was experienced, but upon the question of the other terms desired by Hare considerable doubt was entertained. Long and frequent consultations were held by the magistrates upon the subject, in which the probabilities of the conviction of these associates in villainy were most anxiously weighed, and it was at length determined that, for the sake of that justice which imperatively demanded the most satisfactory and complete evidence of the guilt of one at least of the gang, the offer should be accepted. The prisoner then made a statement to the officers of the jail, which was reduced to writing.
On the 23rd December in the same year, the two prisoners, William Burke and Helen M'Dougal, were put upon their trial before the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh. The indictment charged against them several murders, founded upon the communications made by Hare, but after much discussion on the part of the counsel for the Crown and on behalf of the prisoners, it was determined that that part only of the indictment which alleged them to have murdered Mary Campbell should be proceeded with, inasmuch as that the disclosure of any of the particulars of one murder in the course of a trial for another would materially prejudice the minds of the jury against the persons charged. The murder of Mrs Campbell was alleged to have been committed by suffocation.
The preliminary witnesses produced a plan of the house of the prisoners in Tanner's Close, and proved the identity of the remains found at the house of Dr Knox.
William Noble, the shopman to Mr Rayner, a grocer at Portsburgh, near Tanner's Close, was then examined, and proved that on the night of the 31st October Burke, who had been in the habit of dealing at his employer's house, called there in order to purchase some trifling articles of grocery. While he was standing at the counter, Mrs Campbell entered the shop, and begged for charity. She said that she had come to Edinburgh to search for her son, a boy of eleven years old, but that she had been unable to find him and that she was now quite destitute. Burke inquired her name, and on her mentioning the name of Campbell he at once claimed acquaintance and relationship with her, and finally took her away with him, saying that he would provide her with lodging for the night. The woman at this time was sober. The witness added that on the following day, Burke called again and purchased an old tea- chest, and Mrs Hare, whom he knew, as well as her husband and Mrs M'Dougal, carried it away about half-an-hour afterwards.
Mrs Ann Black and Hugh Alison gave evidence tracing Mrs Campbell to Burke's house, and as to the occurrences of the dreadful night of her death. The former said that she was a lodger of Burke's, and upon going home on the night of the 31st of October, she saw Mrs Campbell sitting in Burke's room by the fire. She was ill-clad, and was eating porridge, and in answer to a question which the witness put, Mrs M'Dougal said that she was a Highland woman, a friend of her husband's, and that she had been assisting them in washing. The witness then quitted the room, but subsequently in passing through it after dark, she saw that Mrs Campbell was much intoxicated. Hare and his wife were then there, and had brought in some spirits with them, and they were all merry, and laughing and singing together. The witness afterwards heard dancing, and on looking into the room, she saw that it was Mrs M'Dougal, Hare, and Mrs Campbell. Between ten and eleven o'clock she heard a disturbance, as if Burke and Hare were fighting, and a woman screaming, but she took no notice of it, as such occurrences were frequent with her landlord's friends. In the morning she inquired of Mrs M'Dougal where Mrs Cambell was, and was told that she and her husband (Burke) had got too friendly, and that she had kicked her out of the house. Alison, the witness, corroborated the evidence of Mrs Black, as to the disturbance which occurred in the house of Burke at about the hour mentioned, and which he had heard in his residence at one of the upper flats of a house nearly adjoining, but he had distinguished screams of agony and cries for help, succeeded by a noise as if some person had been strangling or suffocating. He afterwards heard the voices of two men in conversation in the close, whom he had taken to be Burke and Hare.
Mr and Mrs Gray, whose names we have already mentioned, were also examined upon the same point, and having proved the presence of Mrs Campbell in Burke's house at the time of their arrival, they stated that Mrs M'Dougal had told them in the morning, that she had turned out the deceased because she was impudent. They, however, watched their opportunity, and slipping into the room unseen, discovered her body concealed among the straw under the table.
Other confirmatory evidence was also given upon the same subject, and David Paterson, the porter at Dr Knox's, detailed his account of the transaction of the purchase of the body in the manner which we have already described, and of its arrival in a tea-chest. Other witnesses having proved that they saw the prisoner (Burke) and Hare carrying a tea-chest in the direction of Dr Knox's, but in such a line of street as clearly showed their object to be to escape observation, William Hare, the approver, was called.
Lord Meadowbank, a learned and very distinguished judge, presided upon this occasion, and with the most humane feelings earnestly cautioned this witness to give his evidence with truth. The fellow, whose appearance in the witness-box excited great interest and indignation, sullenly answered, that he intended to do so, but that he only came there as a witness in the case of the 'old woman', as he emphatically described the deceased Mrs Campbell, as distinguished, doubtless, from other miserable victims; his examination then proceeded. Having been sworn in the common form, he said he was a native of Ireland, and had resided in Scotland ten years. He had been acquainted with Burke about twelve months. M'Dougal lived with Burke as his wife; witness lived in the West Port, not far from Burke. He was in a public- house in the West Port on the forenoon of the 31st of October, when Burke came in, and they had a gill; he asked witness to go down to his house, to see the shot he had got to take to the doctor's; he said he had taken an old woman off the street, and wished witness to go down and see her, and see what they were doing. He understood by the word 'shot', that he was going to murder the woman. He went to Burke's house, and found there was a strange man and woman (their name was Gray), the old woman, and Helen M'Dougal; the old woman was washing her short-gown; it was white and red striped. [Identified the bedgown.] Witness remained in the house about five minutes, and then went home. Between eight and nine on the same night he was at the house of a man named Connaway with his wife, and Burke, Mrs M'Dougal, the old woman Campbell, and a lad named Broggan, Mrs M'Dougal's nephew, came in. Liquor was introduced, and after a while Burke and Broggan went away. Witness remained some time longer, but then he also quitted the house, and went to Tanner's Close. There had been some dancing at Connaway's, and at this time he had no idea that any harm was to be done to the old woman on that night. Soon after he arrived at Tanners Close, Burke, M'Dougal and Mrs Campbell also came in, the latter being so much the worse for liquor as scarcely to be able to keep her feet. A quarrel arose between him and Burke (which was evidently got up for the purpose of murdering the old woman in the confusion which would be the result of it), upon the subject of his being in the house, Burke declaring that he had no business there, while he asserted that he had been invited by Mrs M'Dougal. They began to fight, and Mrs Campbell appeared alarmed, and called police and murder. She ran into the passage twice, but was brought back each time by Mrs M'Dougal, and upon her re-entering the room the second time, witness intentionally pushed her over a stool upon the floor. She got up so as to rest upon her elbow, but was so drunk as not to be able to regain her feet; she called on Burke to quit fighting, and he did so, but then having stood for some minutes on the floor, Burke stood stride-legs over her, and laid himself down above her -- his breast being on her head. She gave a cry, and then moaned a little; he put one hand on her nose and mouth, and the other under her chin, and stopped her breathing; this was continued for ten or fifteen minutes; he never spoke while this was going on; after he had risen from above her he put his arm upon her mouth for some minutes; she appeared quite dead; witness was sitting all the while on a chair. When he saw the woman was dead, he stripped the body of the clothes, put it into a corner, doubling it up and covering it with straw. Witness's wife and M'Dougal, when they heard the first screech of the old woman, ran into the passage, and did not come in again until the body was covered with straw; before this they were lying in the bed, and witness sat at the head of the bed; did not observe blood on the floor, or on the woman's face at the time; did not observe the woman in the passage cry -- but nobody came to the door during the time. Burke had not been above the woman more than a minute or two, when the women started out of bed and ran to the door; he saw none of them attempting to save or assist the old woman, and such could not have happened without his seeing it. When it was all over the women came in again, and then Burke went out; the women asked no questions, nor did they make any remark, but they went to bed again without a word being exchanged. When Burke returned, he brought with him the man from Dr Knox's (Paterson), and he looked at the body; he said it would do well enough, and they were to get a box and put it in, in order to carry it to his master's house. At this time the women were in bed, but he could not tell whether they were awake or not, and he soon afterwards fell asleep himself, he was rather the worse of liquor, but he knew well enough what he was about.
He awoke about seven o'clock in the morning; he found himself on a chair, with his head on the bed; the women were in the bed, and John Broggan was lying beyond his aunt; Burke was at the fireside. He and his wife got up and went home. In the course of the day, Burke called on him, and asked him to assist in procuring a box. They went first to Surgeon's Square, where Dr Knox's school was situated, but failed in obtaining one there, and then Burke went and purchased a tea-chest at the grocer's. M'Culloch, a porter, took the box home, and witness arrived there with him before Burke came in. They were standing at the door when he came, and he asked whether they had put up the body. He answered that they had not, and Burke then remarked that they were worth little if they had not done that. They, however, directly went in, and witness and M'Culloch assisted in placing the body in the chest, the latter forcing it down in its place. M'Culloch also, on seeing some of the woman's hair hanging out, pushed it into the box, remarking that it would be 'a fine thing to have that seen!' The chest was corded, and M'Culloch was instructed to carry it to Surgeon's Square, witness and Burke accompanying him. On their way they met Mrs M'Dougal and his (witness's) wife, in the High School Yard, and they all went together. Having delivered the chest to Paterson, it was placed in a cellar, and the latter then went with them to Dr Knox at Newington, where he and Burke were paid 2L 7s 6d. each, 5s being given to the porter.
The witness was cross-examined by Mr Cockburn on behalf of the prisoners, when he admitted that he had followed many businesses, both in Ireland and in Scotland. He had been frequently concerned in supplying medical schools with subjects, but had never assisted in raising any bodies from churchyards. He had often seen bodies carried to the houses of medical lecturers, but declined to say how often; he also declined to say whether he had been concerned in the murder of any other person but the old woman, or whether he had been present at any other murder in the course of the same month of October.
Mrs Laird, the wife of this witness, gave evidence very similar to that of her husband, corroborating his statements to as many of the transactions as had fallen within her knowledge and observation.
This completed the case for the prosecution, and a most humane and able address having been delivered to the jury by Lord Meadowbank, at half-past eight o'clock in the evening, they retired to consider their verdict. During the period of their absence, which extended to fifty minutes, the most breathless anxiety was exhibited as to the result of the trial, and upon their re-entering the court, an eager silence prevailed amongst the persons assembled. The verdict consigned Burke to an ignominious fate by a declaration of his guilt; but the jury, contrary to all expectation, declared, that as to Mrs M'Dougal, the offence alleged was 'not proven', a finding which relieved her from all immediate consequences upon the indictment.
Lord Meadowbank immediately passed the sentence of death upon Burke, and ordered him to be hanged on the 28th January, 1830, and his body to be delivered over to the surgeons for dissection.
He and his fellow prisoner, M'Dougal, were then immediately conveyed to the lock-up house attached to the court, where they met Hare and his wife, who, although they had been examined as witnesses, were detained to answer any charge which might be preferred against them.
On the succeeding Friday, Mrs M'Dougal, who had been allowed to remain so long in custody from motives of humanity only, fears being entertained that if she were to go at large, her life would be sacrificed to the vengeance of the mob, was discharged, and forthwith proceeded to her old abode, the scene of so many horrible transactions. On the next day she ventured out to a neighbouring liquor-shop to purchase whisky, but she was instantly recognized, the spirit was refused her, and the mob gaining intelligence as to who she was, she was compelled to fly for her life. Fortunately for her, the police interfered, and conducted her again to the prison, thereby saving her from violence; but there can be little doubt that, but for this fortunate intervention in her behalf, she would have fallen a victim to the vengeance of the justly indignant populace.
In the meantime Burke had become scarcely less communicative than Hare had previously been. He made no denial of the truth of the statements which had been made by that wretch, declaring that he had sold as many as thirty or forty subjects to the surgeons, although he subsequently admitted, like his companion, that he had never once been concerned as a resurrectionist, so that it could only be inferred that he had been a party to as many murders as he had sold dead bodies.
The following conversation, which took place between him and one of the officers of the jail, sufficiently indicates the state of his mind at this time, and the respective degrees of guilt attributable to him and to Hare:
He was first asked how long he had been engaged in this murderous traffic? To which he answered, 'From Christmas 1827, till the murder of the woman Campbell, in October last.' 'How many persons have you murdered, or been concerned in murdering, during that time? Were they thirty in all?' -- 'Not so many; not so many, I assure you.' 'How many?' He answered the question; but the answer was, for a reason perfectly satisfactory, reserved.
'Had you any accomplices?' -- 'None but Hare. We always took care, when we were going to commit murder, that no one else should be present -- that no one could swear he saw the deed done. The women might suspect what we were about, but we always put them out of the way when we were going to do it. They never saw us commit any of the murders. One of the murders was done in Broggan's house, while he was out; but before he returned, the thing was finished and the body put into a box. Broggan evidently suspected something, for he appeared much agitated and entreated us "to take away that box", which we accordingly did; but he was not in any way concerned in it.'
'You have already told me that you were engaged in these atrocities from Christmas 1827 till the end of October 1828: were you associated with Hare during all that time?' -- 'Yes: we began with selling to Dr -- the body of a woman who had died a natural death in Hare's house. We got 10L. for it. After this we began the murders, and all the rest of the bodies we sold to him were murdered.'
'In what place were these murders generally committed?' -- 'They were mostly committed in Hare's house, which was very convenient for the purpose, as it consisted of a room and a kitchen.'
'By what means were these fearful atrocities perpetrated?' -- 'By suffocation. We made the persons drunk, and then suffocated them by holding the nostrils and mouth, and getting on the body. Sometimes I held the mouth and nose, while Hare knelt upon the body, and sometimes Hare held the mouth and nose, while I placed myself upon the body. Hare has perjured himself by what he said at the trial about the murder of Campbell; he did not sit by while I did it, as he says; he was on the body assisting me with all his might, while I held the nostrils and mouth with one hand, and choked her under the throat with the other. We sometimes used a pillow, but did not in this case.'
'Now, Burke, answer me this question: were you tutored or instructed, or did you receive hints from anyone, as to the mode of committing murder?' -- 'No, except from Hare. We often spoke about it, and we agreed that suffocation was the best way. Hare said so, and I agreed with him. We generally did it by suffocation.'
'Did you receive any encouragement to commit or persevere in committing these atrocities?' -- 'Yes; we were frequently told by Paterson that he would take as many bodies as we could get for him. When we got one, he always told us to get more. There was commonly another person with him of the name of Falconer. They generally pressed us to get more bodies.'
'To whom were the bodies so murdered sold?' -- 'To Dr --. We took the bodies to his rooms in --, and then went to his house to receive the money for them. Sometimes he paid us himself; sometimes we were paid by his assistants. No questions were ever asked as to the mode in which we had come by the bodies. We had nothing to do but to leave a body at the rooms, and to go and get the money.'
'Did you ever, upon any occasion, sell a body or bodies to any other lecturer in this place?' 'Never. We knew no other.'
'You have been a resurrectionist (as it is called), I understand?' 'No, neither Hare nor myself ever got a body from a churchyard. All we sold were murdered, save the first one, which was that of the woman who died a natural death in Hare's house. We began with that: our crimes then commenced. The victims we selected were generally elderly persons. They could be more easily disposed of than persons in the vigour of youth.'
Such were the horrible disclosures made by this man -- disclosures of the truth of which there cannot be the smallest doubt. The general impression raised by Burke's declaration was, that he had been originally the dupe of Hare, and that the latter having been before engaged in a similar traffic had driven him on, after having once enlisted him in the service, to commit atrocities of which he would not otherwise have been guilty.
On Wednesday the 28th of January, pursuant to his sentence, Burke underwent the last penalty of the law. During the latter portion of his confinement, he declared that his confession had tended materially to relieve his mind; and he professed great contrition for his crimes. On the day of his execution he was removed from the jail to the lock-up, at the Court-house, where the scaffold had been erected, under a strong escort of police. The crowd which had assembled to witness his final exit from the scene of life was tremendous, and seats commanding a view of the gallows were let at a large price. Upon his coming forth on to the platform, he was assailed by the hideous yells of public execration. The concluding moments of his existence must have caused him the most acute suffering, for, stung to madness by the horrible shrieks with which he was greeted, he appeared anxious to hurry the executioner in the performance of his duty, as if desirous to escape from that life which he had spent so ill. Very soon after eight o'clock, he was tied up to the gallows in the usual way; and he immediately gave the signal for the falling of the drop, by throwing down his handkerchief. A short, but apparently a severe struggle succeeded; amid in less than two minutes he ceased to move. His body hung suspended for half an hour, when it was cut down and placed in a shell, which had been brought to the scaffold for its reception. A struggle took place among the officials present for scraps of the rope with which he had been hanged, shavings of his coffin, and other relics of a similar character, but by nine o'clock, the crowd had dispersed.
The case of Hare was argued before the Scotch judges on the 5th of February, and by a majority of four to two, they determined that the public faith had been pledged to him, when his evidence was received against Burke, and he was ordered to be discharged. It was found, however, that by an ancient form of law he might be detained for the costs of the suit, and his final deliberation was therefore delayed until Thursday, the 12th of the same month, when he and his wife were set at liberty. They appear upon their discharge to have parted company, for Mrs Hare was nearly sacrificed to the fury of the mob at Glasgow, to which place she wended her way, while her husband proceeded by mail to Dumfries, where he was near meeting a similar fate. The mail, it appears, landed him at about seven o'clock in the morning, and although there was no intimation of his arrival, he was recognized by the mob, who immediately assailed him with the bitterest execrations, and with stones and other missiles. He succeeded in effecting his escape from them into the King's Arms Inn, where he obtained a refuge, but a crowd of persons surrounded the house, and demanded that he should be given up to their fury. For a considerable time consequences of a dangerous nature were apprehended, but night having arrived, the people dispersed; and when all was quiet, Hare quitted the house, and made a precipitate retreat from the town -- whither, it was not known. The subsequent history of this atrocious ruffian, and of his wife and Mrs M'Dougal, must, we believe, for ever remain a mystery.