Life After Trial Graverobbers and Dr. Robert Knox Part 2
About a series of murders and graverobbings in Scotland, Dr. Robert Knox's place in the crimes and life after the trials.
WILLIAM HARE (fl. 1829) AND DR. ROBERT KNOX (1791-1862)
Burke and Hare were finally found out when one of their victims was discovered by two lodgers, the Grays. Helen and Maggie tried bribing the Grays, but the honest couple refused, deciding instead to notify the police. The body, meanwhile, had been moved hurriedly to Dr. Knox's surgery. The police found it there after breaking down the door when Dr. Knox refused to admit them.
Because Hare turned state's evidence, he was not tried. Dr. Knox did not even testify. Only Burke and Helen were indicted. Burke was convicted. Helen was let off when the jury brought in a verdict of Not Proven.
And After: The jury ruled at 9:15 on Christmas morning, 1828, after the court had been in continuous session for almost 26 hours. Thousands of spectators spilled into the street, having waited through the night for the verdict. The mob was tired, uncomfortable, cold, and very angry. Hare and Helen required a police escort to survive several lynching attempts on their way out of the courthouse.
Hare disappeared into a new identity until he was recognized by some workmates several years later. Remembering the relish with which he had testified to his grisly deeds, his workmates threw him into a limepit, blinding and disfiguring him. He was last seen selling matches in the gutters of London.
Helen McDougal was relocated by the police somewhere in Ireland.
Maggie Laird had to spend the day following the trial in protective custody, during which there were two break-in attempts by the vengeful mob. Her fear for her life was so great that she fled all the way to Australia before daring to settle down.
Though officially never charged, Dr. Knox was tried and convicted by the mob. His surgery was stoned, his life was threatened, he was socially ostracized, and his activities were investigated by an unofficial committee (which found him guilty only of being "incautious"). His students continued to support him faithfully, for he was an excellent lecturer and anatomist. But parents no longer sent their children to him for training, and within a few years he was ruined. He left Edinburgh and tried unsuccessfully to gain employment at several universities. After many years he joined the staff of the London Cancer Hospital as anatomist.
On Wednesday, Jan. 28, 1829, William Burke was hanged as some 30,000 people stood in torrential rains to watch. Then his body was transported-where else?-to Surgeons' Square, where Dr. Alexander Monro, Knox's chief rival, dissected it in front of a massive crowd of students. Burke's skeleton was then reassembled for display in the University of Edinburg's Museum of Comparative Anatomy, and there it can be seen today.
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