Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Continuing Carnage of the Scottish Stranglings

                  The regular, relatively substantial income was spent on clothes for the Burkes and the Hares that were grander than those normally seen in West Port, so that the neighbours began to comment but, as yet, no one suspected the true cause of their affluence. It was also spent freely on drink, of which all the parties were inordinately fond, but William Hare was not one to be crossed when in his cups. Burke got wind of a plot by him to murder Helen, for the sin of ‘being Scotch’ but the growingly frequent quarrels reached a head when Burke learned that Hare had sold a body to Knox whilst he had been away in the country with Helen, and had pocketed all the money himself. 

The ten pounds was usually split with six pounds going to Hare (who then paid a pound to Mary, for the use of the house), and the remaining four pounds going to Burke. Accusations flew first and then fists, and the neighbours, not privy to the cause of the fight, gathered to watch the two Irishmen going at it like Kilkenny cats. 

An Edinburgh Wynd

After the fight, which it seems Burke won, the Burkes moved into a nearby house owned by John Broggan, whose wife was Burke’s cousin. They lodged there at first, but afterwards took over the premises and rented out the rooms to other lodgers. The quarrel did not, however, interrupt business and in autumn 1828, Ann McDougal, a cousin of Helen McDougal’s came on a visit from Falkirk. 

After a couple of days of coming and going, cousin Ann was given a dram. Pretty soon, Hare was smothering her, with Burke lying on top to stop her arms and legs from thrashing about, and her body was stripped and put into a trunk supplied by Knox’s porter, Paterson. John Broggan saw the trunk standing on the landing and began to ask awkward questions about it, but he was given thirty shillings in hush money and a couple of drinks and then went off to Glasgow to think about things. Ann’s relatives began to ask questions too, but Helen deflected their attention and things were left to lie. 

From The Ballad of Daft Jamie

Burke and Hare’s next victim was, perhaps, their most controversial. James Wilson was universally know as Daft Jamie, and loved as a harmless local character. He was one of those touched individuals without a jot of harm in them, who attract the sympathy and affection of all they meet. Daft Jamie Wilson’s father, an Edinburgh hawker of general goods, had died when the boy was about twelve, and now, at about eighteen, he was left to wander the streets, where the general charity of the people provided him with meals and a few odd pennies to spend. He was well known to the citizens of Auld Reekie and liked to spend his time in the company of university students, whom he would try to trick with his riddles, and was famous for his snuffbox, which had a matching spoon and seven openings, a large central one ‘for Sundays’ and six surrounding ones for the remainder of the week, and which he was proud to offer round. 

Daft Jamie Wilson

Wandering about as was his wont, he came one day in the late September or early October of 1828 to the Grassmarket, asking if any there knew where he might find his estranged mother. Mrs Hare was in the Grassmarket too and told the poor lad his mother was at her home, over at Tanner’s Court, and if he wished, she would take him to her directly. So, innocent, simple-minded Jamie went along with her and found not his mother but William Hare waiting for him. Out, of course, came the bottle but Jamie was not so daft as to suspect strong drink, for fear of getting fou’

Mary went out to find Burke, bringing him and more whisky back home, where Jamie sat sipping from a cup of scotch. The spirits played quickly on his addled brain and soon he was lying, worse for drink and most definitely fou’, on the bed. Burke and Hare watched him for a while and, thinking him asleep, Burke jumped the lad, whose innate survival instincts roused him and he began to fight back. He was getting the better of Burke but the strapping teenager was no match for the murderous duo, so when Hare joined in the battle he was quickly bested and rapidly smothered. 

Broadsheet ballad - Poor Daft Jamie

His body was customarily stripped, bundled into the chest and delivered to Doctor Knox’s rooms, all for another ten quid. Daft Jamie was certainly too well known to be mistaken for another, and Knox’s students would certainly have recognised his sorry corpse but it is telling that Knox’s first class involved the dissection of the subject’s facial muscles, thus rendering it unrecognisable. Jamie Wilson’s disappearance did not go unnoticed, questions began to be asked at long last, rumours started to circulate and fear came to the streets of Edinburgh. 

But suspicion lay at the door of the doctors, and the plain people of Scotland knew nothing, yet, about their suppliers.

Yet more murders tomorrow

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