Up the close and down the stair,
Up and down with Burke and Hare.
Burke's the butcher, Hare's the thief,
Knox the man who buys the beef.
-anonymous children's song
On Halloween night 1828, in the West Port district of Edinburgh,
Scotland, a woman sometimes known as Madgy Docherty was last seen
in the company of William Burke and William Hare. Days later,
police discovered her remains in the surgery of the prominent
anatomist Dr. Robert Knox. Docherty was the final victim of the
most atrocious murder spree of the century, outflanking even Jack
the Ripper's. Together with their accomplices, Burke and Hare would
be accused of killing sixteen people over the course of twelve
months in order to sell the corpses as "subjects" for dissection.
The ensuing criminal investigation into the "Anatomy Murders"
raised troubling questions about the common practices by which
medical men obtained cadavers, the lives of the poor in Edinburgh's
back alleys, and the ability of the police to protect the public
from cold-blooded murder.
Famous among true crime aficionados, Burke and Hare were the first
serial killers to capture media attention, yet The Anatomy
Murders is the first book to situate their story against the
social and cultural forces that were bringing early
nineteenth-century Britain into modernity. In Lisa Rosner's deft
treatment, each of the murder victims, from the beautiful, doomed
Mary Paterson to the unfortunate "Daft Jamie," opens a window on a
different aspect of this world in transition. Tapping into a wealth
of unpublished materials, Rosner meticulously portrays the
aspirations of doctors and anatomists, the makeshift existence of
the so-called dangerous classes, the rudimentary police apparatus,
and the half-fiction, half-journalism of the popular press.
The Anatomy Murders resurrects a tale of murder and
medicine in a city whose grand Georgian squares and crescents stood
beside a maze of slums, a place in which a dead body was far more
valuable than a living laborer.
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