Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Lengthening List of the Blarneying Butchers

                 Further murders followed – one morning Mrs Hare met an old woman, took her home, cracked out the whisky bottle, got her drunk and put her to bed. Hare came home for his lunch, shoved the bedding over the woman’s face and went back to work. When he returned later, she had suffocated and another fresh specimen went off to the anatomists. 

Effy the cinder woman, met a similar fate. This old woman collected what she could from cinder pits and scrap heaps, and sold on what bits of leather she found to Burke, still ostensibly a respectable cobbler. He gave her a dram, and another, then Hare arrived, so the bottle went round again until Effy climbed onto a pile of hay to sleep it off. She didn’t wake up again and another £10 was had from Dr Knox. 

William Burke

Burke’s respectable local reputation allowed him to intervene when a drunken woman was being taken to the West Port watch-house by a policeman, Andrew Williamson, whom he persuaded to pass her over into his care. She was next seen on a slab at Surgeon’s Square. 

Widow Hostler, a washerwoman, was next to go, got drunk by Burke, smothered by Hare, sold by them both for £8 (and ninepence ha’penny, which they forced out of the dead woman’s hand). 

Helen McDougal

Old Mary Haldane, a former lodger at Tanner’s Close, had once been something of a beauty, but a series of deceptions in her youth had broken her, and now, in her drunken dotage, she was a target of local sympathy and ridicule in equal measure. Burke drove off some of the district brats who were teasing ‘Mistress Mary’ and was walking her back home, when they met Hare in the street. Invited by her former landlord for the customary dram, Mary didn’t need asking twice, and the alliterative ‘dram, drunk, dead’ trilogy was played out yet again. 

Peggy Haldane, Mary’s daughter, missed her mother and made enquiries of her whereabouts, which eventually led her to the Hare household. Tales were told, stories spun and lies laid, Peggy had a dram, Burke arrived, more merry toasts, followed by slurring and rambling, until dull and stupid, Peggy lay down for a rest. Face down, Burke and Hare did their dirty despatching and another tea-chest was lugged to Dr Knox.

Tea chest

Burke happened upon an old Irish woman, new to Edinburgh, a stranger in a strange land looking for some countryman to afford her some customary Celtic hospitality. With her was her simple-minded, deaf, dumb and blind grandson, and Burke took the pair home with him, with much talk of the Ould Country and promises of a welcoming draught. Out came the bottle, and round it was passed, with the two Irishmen blarneying away to their countrywoman whilst Mary Hare kept the boy out of the parlour. Inevitably, the whisky did its work and as Grandma slept, Burke and Hare took her life and her breath away. But what to do with the child? He was not a threat – he was just a deaf, dumb and blind kid – but could they merely abandon him alone in the middle of the big city? The following morning Burke solved the dilemma. He took the boy into the same room where his fallen grandmother lay, took him tenderly upon his bended knee and stretched his little body until his back broke. 

Murder most foul

By now, the supply of tea chests at Tanner’s Close was spent so Hare found an empty herring barrel and stuffed the bodies into it, then loaded it onto his wagon and set off to see the Doctor. Hare’s horse had other ideas however, and when it reached the Meal Market it stopped, and no amount of whipping and lashing by Burke, Hare and the crowd of spectators could persuade it to move. The barrel was transferred onto a hired hand cart before its grisly secret could be discovered and was sent on to Surgeon’s Square, with Burke going ahead to announce its imminent arrival. The contents had stiffened so much in transit that it was difficult to get the cadavers out, but after much pulling and yanking, out they came and sixteen pounds were handed over. Again, no questions asked. Back at the wagon, Hare dragged the horse, sans cart, into a neighbouring tan yard, where it was shot. It was discovered to have two large dried up sores on its back, which had been stuffed with cotton and covered up with the skin of another horse. Small wonder it had refused to proceed.

More killings tomorrow

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