Anatomy Murders Events

The True and Horrid Story of the Burke and Hare Anatomy Murders, Vesalius 500 Celebration, New York Academy of Medicine, October 18, 2014.

For Anatomy Murders events, please contact
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    Interviews, Radio Broadcasts, YouTubes and Podcasts

  • Discovery News. "Bones found in Scotland linked to 19th Century Serial Killers, Interview.
  • Digging Up the Bodies: Debunking CSI and Other Forensic Myths, Chemical Heritage Foundation Distillations Podcast.
  • Rorotoko, Cover Feature.
  • A Concise History of Burking, Berfrois.com.
  • Viewpoint, with Jean Dixon, 94.1 FM Huntington, WV
  • The Horrid and True Story of the Burke and Hare Anatomy Murders, Dittrick Medical History Center, Case Western Reserve University.
  • No Bones About It, Interview with Robert Hicks, College of Physicians of Philadelphia
  • CSI Edinburgh: Forensic Science in the Era of Burke and Hare, Center for Medical Humanities, University of Virginia
  • Up the Close and Down the Stair, Visualizing the Worlds of Burke and Hare, Digital Scholars Lab, University of Virginia
  • The Anatomy Murders, WGBH/NPR Forum Network, Harvard Bookstore
  • The Anatomy Murders, Myths and Realities of the Burke and Hare Case, Penn Press
  • The Anatomy Murders in the News

  • The Historian From the review by Maureen M. Martin
  • Rather like Knox himself, Lisa Rosner objectively dissects her subject. Peeling away sentiment and sensation from contemporary accounts and examining not just published texts but unpublished sources, such as police records, she meticulously disentangles fact from fiction. However, The Anatomy Murders does not merely reinvestigate an old scandal. In each chapter, Rosner explores a different layer of Edinburgh society, revealing the conditions—social, economic, intellectual, professional, and political—that produced the crimes or structured their investigation, prosecution, or coverage. . .The Anatomy Murders is a thoroughly engaging read—a valuable scholarly work written with elegance and wit. In our age of unscrupulous procurement of body parts from the poor of the Third World, it seems eerily topical too!
  • Bulletin of the History of Medicine From the review by Michael Brown
  • The Anatomy Murders is a beautifully crafted book, popular history as it should be written: intelligent, informative, and, above all, a rip-roaring read.
  • Canadian Journal of History From the review by Christopher Lawrence
  • Lisa Rosner is the first professional historian to examine the murders. She has impeccable credentials to do so. A student of Edinburgh history, she is the author of a highly-crafted study of a Regency surgeon Alexander Lessasier, The Most Beautiful Man in Existence (Philadelphia, 1999) in which she also revealed her considerable skill in archival research. She brings both of these talents--writing and research--to bear here, uncovering a wealth of new documents and embedding them in a most readable narrative. . .In short, this superb book should find its way into many sorts of historical library.
  • British Journal for the History of Science From the review by Steven Sturdy
  • Historians of science and medicine have tended to mention the West Port murders only in passing, allowing them to stand as reminders of the dark underside of early nineteenth-century medical science, but neglecting to enquire more deeply into what they might tell us about how that underside related to the medical and scientific world as a whole.
  • Lisa Rosner’s splendid new book The Anatomy Murders goes a long way to correct that neglect. Rosner is eminently well qualified to place Burke and Hare in their historical setting, having written what is still the best account of medical education in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth century Edinburgh, as well as a celebrated study of the seedy life of the Edinburgh doctor Alexander Lesassier. In The Anatomy Murders, Rosner combines her historical expertise with a gift for storytelling that makes for compelling reading. Read more
  • H-Law, The Creepy and Bloodless Crime Spree: Science and Murder in Edinburgh From the review by Melissa Bissonette
  • The Anatomy Murders explores the awkward yoking of knowledge and fear, humanity’s advance and its criminal underbelly...as exemplified by William Burke and William Hare, serial killers of 1828, whose string of murders were motivated by the constant demand, from the schools of anatomy and surgery in Edinburgh, for bodies to study. Rosner takes the crime spree as the focal point of a broader exploration of Edinburgh in 1828 and recreates the cultural milieu that made the murders not only possible but also almost inevitable. Rosner’s fascinating history traces the paths taken by young men navigating academic requirements and politics to learn medicine, by Irish laborers forced to migrate from job to job across the North Channel, and by the working poor and sometime “criminal classes.” Read more
  • Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences From the review by Eva Åhrén
  • The Anatomy Murders is a meticulous study. The details of the many twists and turns, contexts and circumstances of the infamous “anatomy murders” of Burke and Hare in 1827–28 present a persuasively argued, painstakingly researched account. I suspect that Rosner, just like so many writers before her, was mostly attracted by the juicy story itself: the intriguing tale of the first serial killers sensationalized by mass media, and the enigmatic Dr. Knox who was duped into buying murdered corpses (or was he?). Rosner clearly delights in performing the “historical detective work” which provides the basis for her fresh look at these heinous crimes. She analyzes previously unexplored archival material (account books, medical notebooks, letters, police reports), and so brings known and unknown actors to life again on the streets of Edinburgh. Read more
  • Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association (Tidsskrift for Den norske legeforening) Translated from the review by P Holck
  • Burke & Hare's biography, or rather the book about their misdeeds, has arrived. It is written by an American historian who, by reviewing documents from the trial against them in 1828-29, has given readers unprecedented detail from this grotesque chapter in the history of anatomy. The author goes through the entire process, step by step, maybe a bit too detailed at times, but so well written that it is easy to forget that this is not an exciting crime novel, but a true story.The book is illustrated and in addition provided with a detailed note apparatus, an extensive bibliography and index. It is recommended to colleagues and others, as a testimony of a dark chapter in the history of medicine. Read more
  • Journal of Interdisciplinary History From the review by Ian Burney
  • Rosner demonstrates a sure grasp of the social, cultural, and medico-political contexts of her story. The book is structured into chapters that "travel, cadaver by cadaver, through the fateful twelve-month period," with each chapter featuring a victim and a salient theme.This approach, a simple chronological account with thematic interest, makes for compelling reading. Moreover Rosner's careful, at times imaginative, use of archival material enables her to question not merely the accuracy of received accounts but also their very conditions of production and circulation. . . Read more
  • Hear Ye! Gruesome Murders, Terrific Book By Robert Gregg
  • On Thursday, October 27th, Lisa Rosner (HIST) gave an excellent presentation entitled “The Horrid and True Story of the Burke and Hare Murders.” Lisa likes to look at the seamier side of the history of medicine. In The Anatomy Murders, she pays close attention to the lives of all those who ended up being the victims of Burke, Hare and their accomplices. Historiographically speaking, the work is important for casting new light on events that have been shrouded in myth, not to mention the Edinburgh mist, rumbling in off the Firth of Forth. . . Read more
  • Journal of British Studies From the review by John Carter Wood
  • It is a challenge to take a single murder case (even one with multiple victims) and turn it into a book that can appeal to both general readers and academic specialists. In The Anatomy Murders, Lisa Rosner tries to do just that, providing both a detailed examination of one of the most famous instances of serial murder in British history and a historical contexualization of the time and place where it occurred. . . The book [is] a vivid snapshot of urban Scotland in the early nineteenth century. . .Those seeking an engaging, readable, and comprehensive account of this famous case...will be well served. . . Read more
  • History Today From the review by Owen Dudley Edwards
  • Burke and Hare have been done before and for the most part done worse. Whatever the merit of her predecessors, Rosner should shake the most complacent of us with some highly proficient questioning of the evidence about several of the corpses murdered in order to maintain the supremacy of the Edinburgh medical establishment. . . She has brilliantly doubted whether the murdered Mary Paterson was (as she is always termed) a prostitute, whether she had sexual relations with the anatomy student who later dissected her and whether our gullibility has been exploited by Victorian narrators in quest of morality. . . Read more
  • Social History of Medicine From the review by Helen Macdonald
  • The Anatomy Murders will satisfy both social historians and a far wider readership, for this book is a meticulously-researched contribution to history and also a page-turner. . .The sense Rosner gives her readers of time and place is extroadinarily well done. Beautifully written, The Anatomy Murders thoroughly deserves a place on our bookshelves. Read more here and here
  • JAMA From the review by Helen Bynum.
  • Supply and demand: it applies to everything. In 2009, shortages of the radioisotope molybdenum-99 compromised diagnostic and therapeutic procedures in many hospitals. Two nuclear reactors responsible for about two-thirds of the global production were shut down for repairs. Inanimate and animate, the problems are the same. Egypt is currently debating ways to expand the legal transplantation of organs by passing laws to recognize brain death—a bid to stymie the sale of organs by the poor in one of the world's hubs for commercial trade in this commodity. Sale of body tissues is also big business, and it is not all legitimate. Again, it is usually the anonymous poor who bear the burden of illicit harvesting of bone, skin, collagen, etc. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the rich occasionally get caught up in this murky trade. . .
  • The tale of Burke, Hare, Helen McDougal (Burke's "wife"), and Margaret (Hare's wife) -- as well as of hte persons murdered; Knox, his assistants, and his students; and the police and judiciary -- is powerfully retold by Lisa Rosner in The Anatomy Murders. . . Read more
  • JAMA reviews The Anatomy Murders:Q: What recent Penn Press history book has captured the attention of the Journal of the American Medical Association? A: Lisa Rosner's 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. Of course. . . Read more
  • Edinburgh Evening News, Burke and Hare: The grisly tale of Edinburgh serial killers. By Rory Reynolds: Burke and Hare's heinous crimes are to get a new lease of life on the big screen, reliving the atrocities they committed. THEY are perhaps the most infamous serial killers in history. Their names are a byword for medical malpractice, skullduggery and premeditated murder. And their crimes shocked even a public which relished the hangman's noose and the macabre punishments of the day. . . Read more
  • Dead Guys in Suits Scotland Confidential. By Pat Downey
  • We are going to start the week off by leaving the under belly of early Twentieth Century New York City to visit the dark side of early 19th Century Scotland with our special guest, Author and Professor of History, Lisa Rosner, who will be delivering her presentation on the infamous Burke and Hare murders this coming Thursday, March 18, at 8 pm, at the Observatory Room, 543 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215. We are fortunate to have her in the studio today to discuss her book: The Anatomy Murders . . . Read more
  • Dead Guys in Suits Dead guys in frocks, capes,and whatever else they wore in the 1820's. By Pat Downey
  • Though we normally discuss DGISs from the early 20th Century the DGIS staff also enjoys some good old fashioned grisly 19th Century crime as well . . . Read more
  • eHistory Review: The Anatomy Murders. By Ryan McMillin
  • The story of Burke and Hare is fascinating in its own right and surely deserves to be read by a larger public and has only been waiting for the right person to tell the story. Rosner’s The Anatomy Murders is that work. . . Read more
  • Atlantic City Press: Stockton College history professor writes book about early serial killers. By Steven V. Cronin
  • One of the benefits of writing about serial killers is you meet some really nice people.
  • That, at least, is how Lisa Rosner sees things.
  • Rosner, a history professor at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Galloway Township, is author of "The Anatomy Murders: A History of the Notorious Burke and Hare Murder Case." The book details the story of a pair of 19th-century criminals who turned to slaughter to make a killing in the emerging - and lucrative - market for medical school cadavers... Read more
  • The Scotsman: Book reviews: The Anatomy Murders
  • EDINBURGH'S status as City of Literature was well merited; more specifically, though, Scotland's capital has been the city of a certain sort of literary sensibility: civilised yet irredeemably gothic; austerely extravagant and deeply dualistic. If Deacon Brodie was born there, it was the spiritual birthplace to Doctor Jekyll and to Mr Hyde: fact and fiction alike have helped shape an insistently modern yet unsettlingly atavistic urban vision. No episode has contributed more than the murder campaign of Burke and Hare. Just as the sleek elegance of the New Town was shown up by the dark and crime-ridden slums of the Old, so Edinburgh's Enlightenment was ironically counterpointed by the brutal cynicism of these killings. Cutting-edge medical science was already cutting up the bodies of the poor: Burke, Hare and Knox just cut out the wait for death. In this exciting, thought-provoking study, Rosner rescues their story from the chamber of horrors and replaces it at the very heart of Edinburgh's intellectual and imaginative history.
  • BBC History Magazine: Clive Emsley enjoys a vivid but serious study of notorious murderers Burke and Hare
  • The media and the public relish a good murder. They – we – are particularly fascinated by multiple murder. It was ever thus. Sixty years before London, and the rest of Britain, was shocked by the atrocities of Jack the Ripper, Edinburgh was shaken by the deeds of Burke and Hare. Contemporary newspapers were full of the events; early ‘true crime’ books covered them; there were plays and, in the 20th century, movies.
  • As befits the murders, Lisa Rosner’s vivid new book – subtitled 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 – never lets the action slacken. However, this is not pulp non-fiction but a serious analysis based on a wide and impressive range of primary sources.... Read more
  • Penn Press Log, Bloody Valentines: Two UK reviews of The Anatomy Murders: This past weekend, both the Scotsman and BBC History Magazine showed some love for Lisa Rosner's The Anatomy Murders... Read more
  • The Washington Times: Author Lisa Rosner...has done a fine job of taking an already oft-told tale and injecting new information and a broader context that elevates these two grotesque villains from being seen as cartoon monsters and puts them in their proper - albeit awful - place in the customs of the time... Read more
  • Politics and Prose, Washington DC: Jack the Ripper was—if you’ll excuse me—a distant second to William Burke and William Hare of 19th century Edinburgh. Lisa Rosner, a professor of history, has brought them and their world to life in THE ANATOMY MURDERS. (University of Pennsylavania Press, $29.95) It was a widespread practice of the time to dig up corpses in order to sell them to medical men for dissection. Burke and Hare, with coldblooded ingenuity, realized they could simply skip the grave-digging, and in an atrocious spree murdered 16 people and delivered them to the anatomists—all in one year. Another crime novel? Not at all. This is a remarkably researched and riveting story of the Irish migration to Scotland, of the lives of Edinburgh’s ‘dangerous classes,’ of the medical practices of the day, of the legal system and of Burke and Hare and their very real victims. I am full of admiration for Professor Rosner. This is a perfect book for a history buff with a slightly murderous heart. Reviewed by Jeanie Teare
  • ForeWord Magazine: In the year following November 1827, the Irish knockabouts William Burke and William Hare, who lived in Edinburgh and worked as laborers, became entrepreneurs, founding a home-operated business with low overhead, a high-demand market, and payment on delivery. But in procurement, operations, and deliveries they remained amateurs. The duo’s program of bodysnatching, involving “burking” (suffocating) the victim and delivering the corpse to Dr. Robert Knox, an ambitious anatomist, crashed after the seventeenth murder. A suspicious resident in Burke’s lodging house called the police…
  • Lisa Rosner, professor of history at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, has dissected a vast overburden of material to deliver a fully fleshed account that goes far beyond murder. She explores a fascinating network of factors—Edinburgh’s socioeconomic strata, the demands of scientific medicine, the lack of bodies for dissection, and contemporary legal philosophy and criminal justice among them. Much of the book’s gripping interest lies in Rosner’s skilled analysis of the widespread furor and media frenzy that the murders provoked. The public became concerned over investigative and court procedures and a prosecution deal through which Hare was able to shop Burke, who was hanged, while he was spared execution.
  • The Burke–Hare crimes became a minor investigative industry and have given rise to numerous films, but Rosner has delivered the definitive account in both detail and interest. Reviewed by Peter Skinner.
  • 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... Engaging, atmospheric, and tantalizing... Read more
  • Penn Press Log, Corpse of the Day: With Halloween approaching, and historian Lisa Rosner on the road discussing her latest book, 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, we are giving readers a glimpse into the lives and deaths of some of the more curious corpses connected to the case. ... Read more
  • Edinburgh Evening News, A Forensic Study of Burke and Hare's Crimes. By Sandra Dick: THE story of Burke and Hare's notorious Edinburgh crimes has survived for nearly 200 years. In that time it has spawned books, films and a string of city tours, and next year their chilling tale will get another re-telling, when David Tennent is due to begin filming yet another movie based on their exploits. Everyone knows the story. The problem, argues the historical detective behind a new book examining their deeds, is how much of what they know is actually true?... Read more
  • By the Book @ Rogers Memorial Library, Crimes of the Past: For those readers who enjoy historical fiction, true crime, or nonfiction that reads like fiction, historical true crime is another genre to consider. These books are generally recent publications that either try to solve an old crime using modern research and forensics (Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Closed or The Anatomy Murders)... Read more
  • Wonders and Marvels, Burke and Hare Anatomy Murders: On Halloween, 1828, sometime before 11 pm, Hugh Alston, a grocer in the West Port district of Edinburgh, heard two men quarrelling from the floor below, and a woman’s strong voice calling “Murder”... Read more
  • Wonders and Marvels, Blaming the Burke and Hare Victim: Why, when a beautiful girl is murdered, are people so quick to assume that it must somehow have been her own fault? That has been the unfortunate fate of Mary Paterson, killed by Burke and Hare in April 1828, her body sold to anatomy lecturer Dr. Robert Knox. As if it were not bad enough to be burked at the age of 18, preserved in alcohol for three months and then dissected, she has also been saddled with a reputation as a notorious prostitute... Read more