The Anatomy Murders: Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh's Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes

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Though neither was native to the city and both are long gone, William Burke and William Hare remain two of Edinburgh's most famous residents. Over a twelve-month period they killed sixteen people-three men, twelve women, and one child-in murder spree which ended only with there arrest in November 1828. The motive was profit, for Edinburgh was a major center of medical education, and lecturers would pay high prices for "subjects," that is, cadavers for dissection. The means was a form of suffocation. Assisted by Hare's wife, Margaret, and Burke's companion, Helen M'Dougal, the two men enticed their victims to drink to insensibility, then lay on top of them, compressing the chest while holding the mouth and nostrils closed: "burking", it came to be called.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
From 1827 to 1828, William Burke and William Hare murdered 16 people in order to meet demands for corpses to be used in medical research, and Dr. Robert Knox paid them for the delivery of fresh cadavers. The term burking was coined for their manner of killing by chest compression and smothering, which left little or no evidence. Rosner (history, Richard Stockton Coll. of New Jersey; The Most Beautiful Man in Existence: The Scandalous Life of Alexander Lesassier) has conducted extensive research about the first serial killers to receive media attention. She devotes a chapter to each of the victims and covers the fabric of history as Britain headed slowly into the modern age. Quotes from witnesses abound, as do old portraits and street maps of Edinburgh, Scotland, where these murders occurred. Anatomists, body snatchers, judicial authorities, attorneys, police, and forensic witnesses also play roles. VERDICT This will be enjoyed by true crime fans as well as British history buffs. Engaging, atmospheric, and tantalizing.—Krista Bush, Univ. of New Haven Lib., West Haven, CT
From the Publisher
"Lisa Rosner . . . has carried out a fascinating 'CSI' style investigation. . . . Her remarkable discoveries—told in her new book, The Anatomy Murders—[have] unraveled poignant details which bring to 'life' the personalities of some of the pair's unfortunate and, until now, largely anonymous victims."—Evening News, Edinburgh

"An engaging, readable, and comprehensive account of this famous case."—Journal of British Studies

"Rosner has delivered the definitive account in both detail and interest."—ForeWord

"This book provides us with a history of 1820s Edinburgh as much as it does of the Burke and Hare murders. The sense Rosner gives her readers of time and place is extraordinarily well done. Beautifully written."—Social History of Medicine

"This will be enjoyed by true crime fans as well as British history buffs. Engaging, atmospheric, and tantalizing."—Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812241914
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/22/2009
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Lisa Rosner is Professor of History at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and author of The Most Beautiful Man in Existence: The Scandalous Life of Alexander Lesassier, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Burke and Hare Murders

Chapter 1 The Corpus Delicti Chapter 2 The Anatomy Wars Chapter 3 Burking Invented Chapter 4 Sold to Dr. Knox Chapter 5 Based on a True Story Chapter 6 The Dangerous Classes Chapter 7 Anonymous Subjects Chapter 8 The Criminal Mind Chapter 9 Crime Scene: Edinburgh Chapter 10 Day in Court Chapter 11 All That Remains

Cost of Characters Notes Selected Bibliography Index Acknowledgments

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