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Burke & Hare
On February 11, 1828, Abigail Simpson is murdered by William Burke and William Hare in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Burke and Hare murders (also known as the West Port murders) were a series of murders committed in Scotland over a period of about ten months in 1828. The killings were attributed to Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare, who sold the corpses of their 16 victims to Doctor Robert Knox as dissection material for his well-attended anatomy lectures.
Burke and Hare's accomplices were Burke's mistress, Helen McDougal, and Hare's wife, Margaret Laird. From their method of killing their victims came the word "burking", meaning to smother and compress the chest of a murder victim, and a derived meaning, to suppress something quietly.
On February 11, 1828, Burke and Hare invited pensioner Abigail Simpson to spend the night at their boarding house before her return home to the village of Gilmerton. The following morning they plied Simpson with alcohol, and then smothering her. In late October 1828, after nearly 16 murders William Burke and William Hare were arrested. Hare turned state’s evidence and testified against Burke. The trial took place on Christmas Eve 1828 and lasted twenty-four hours. Burke was found guilty and sentenced to death. Burke was hanged on January 28, 1829, a day of torrential rain, in front of a crowd estimated at between 20,000 and 25,000. Burke's skeleton is displayed at the University of Edinburgh's Anatomy Museum, and his death mask and items made from his tanned skin are exhibited at Surgeons' Hall. Dr. Knox was not prosecuted, despite public outrage at his role in providing an incentive for the 16 murders. Burke swore in his confession that Knox had known nothing of the origin of the cadavers.
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