Burke declares...They made it their business to look out for persons to decoy into their houses to murder them.

William Burke

The Victims

The first cadaver William Burke and William Hare sold had died of natural causes in Hare's lodging house. It was the ease with which the body could be sold, and the high price they could realize for cadavers -- between £8 to £10 -- that, Burke said, "made them try the murdering for subjects." From January through October 1828, they killed three men, twelve women, and one child.

The three murders that caught the attention of the public were Mary Paterson, James Wilson (better known as Daft Jamie), and Madgy (Margaret, or Margery) Docherty (also known as Campbell). Paterson, also identified as Mary Mitchell, was thought to be a "girl of the street," that is, a prostitute, and rumors circulated about her extroadinary beauty. Wilson was a well-known street figure, with a mother and sister living. Docherty was the last victim, and the only cadaver examined by the police. These were the three victims named in the indictment, and for that reason the press printed every scrap of information, real or invented, that they could find about them. There was a brisk trade in hand colored prints purporting to represent the victims, but Wilson's was the only likeness drawn by an artist who had actually seen him alive. Years later, sketches of Daft Jamie turned up in the papers of the artist R. C. Bell, and his son presented them to the Edinburgh City Museum.

Read more about the victims -- Donald (the first cadaver), Abigail Simpson, Mary Paterson, and James Wilson -- at the Penn Press Log.


Click on thumbnails to view slideshow.


Hand-colored images courtesy of the Library of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

Sketches of James Wilson courtesy of the William Roughead Collection, Library of the Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet.