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Following in the footsteps of Burke and Hare

A Documentary by a Scottish Publishing Company Reveals the Locations of a Real-Life Halloween Horror Story


Halloween revellers seeking frightening thrills on Edinburgh’s numerous ghost tours may be unaware of a darker chapter of the city’s history which came to an end on All Hallows’ Eve; one that is arguably more unnerving than any supernatural tale.

A bustling metropolis by day, Scotland’s capital takes on a far more sinister air at night, particularly in the Old Town of the city, which is marked by the same narrow closes and towering tenements which dominated its streets centuries ago. Indeed, a stroll up the Royal Mile, the heart of the Old Town, is akin to taking a journey back in time. It is the perfect setting for stories designed to chill the blood and it doesn’t disappoint. Edinburgh has had more than its fair share of villainous rogues and gruesome tales to grace the pages of its history books.

Without doubt the most infamous, however, is the horrific story of the crimes committed by William Burke and William Hare.

Burke and Hare, commonly regarded as Scotland’s most notorious serial killers, murdered at least sixteen innocent people purely so that they could profit from selling the corpses to a local anatomy school which desperately required a supply of cadavers in order to teach dissection to medical students at a time when the law made it extremely difficult to obtain bodies for this purpose.

The medical school which unwittingly, or some would argue, knowingly, took possession of Burke and Hare’s murder victims still stands today as do many of the locations which were associated with Burke and Hare; a fact likely unbeknown to both the majority of Edinburgh’s residents and tourists to the city.

Leona Tyrie, Director of Scottish publishing company, Orickle Limited, and Producer of “The Body Merchants: The Shocking Truth about Anatomy Murder”, a documentary which examines the truth behind Burke and Hare’s crimes explains: “Gibb’s Close, for example, which runs off the Royal Mile, was the location for the one of the most significant murders committed by Burke and Hare, that of a young woman known as Mary Paterson, and it is still there. Mary’s untimely death raised a few eyebrows at the time and Burke and Hare were actually quite lucky to have gotten away with that crime. Today there is a tourist shop at the site but I think most people would be shocked to learn that it is also the place where one of the world’s most well-known criminal duos committed a murder.”

Unfortunately as the murder of Mary Paterson was committed early on in their killing spree it meant that Burke and Hare were to be responsible for the deaths of many more victims before they were finally caught.

The West Port murders, as Burke and Hare’s crimes would come to be known, came to an abrupt end on Halloween night, 31st October 1828, with the killing of Irish woman Mary Docherty, whose body was discovered in Burke’s dwelling house the following morning. The property where Docherty met her demise no longer exists, but the site where William Burke met his fate on the gallows does and this is just one of the many locations featured in “The Body Merchants” documentary.

Said Leona, “The documentary was filmed in Edinburgh’s Old Town, where the crimes actually occurred. The fact that many of the locations which were associated with Burke and Hare still exist and can be seen, essentially unchanged, from the time that Burke and Hare were stalking those very streets really brings the story to life so I felt it was important to show viewers places connected to the story.”

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