Bones Found in Scotland Linked to 19th-Century Serial Killers: Page 2


Finally caught in 1828, the two men had different fates. Burke was hanged in front of a crowd estimated at 30,000 people, while Hare got immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony against his accomplice. No charges were ever brought against Knox.

Ironically, Burke's remains were handed over to the University of Edinburgh's medical school where he sold his victims. There, he was publicly dissected and anatomized in the name of science.

Although they are regarded as important relics of this period in Scottish history, the mysterious remains unearthed in the Edinburgh garden may have not passed at all through Burke and Hare’s hands.

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"There were so many clandestine dissections and articulated skeletons in early 19th century Edinburgh that there really is no reason at all to trace every single cadaver back to Burke and Hare," Lisa Rosner, author of "The Anatomy Murders" and distinguished professor of history at Stockton College in New Jersey, told Discovery News.

Moreover, the crimes of the infamous duo were so well known that all their victims are believed to have been accounted for.

"The bodies they supplied weren't just any bodies. They were fresh, well-preserved cadavers, and it is extremely unlikely they ended up as articulated skeletons," Rosner said.

Considered as high-quality -- and high priced -- medical commodities, Burke and Hare's victims were given special treatment.

"We know from the documentary evidence that they were preserved in alcohol, or divided into sections and handed over to select students. No practical-minded anatomy lecturer would waste them to create an articulated skeleton," Rosner said.

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Indeed, preparing a skeleton for anatomical display was a laborious process which involved soaking the corpse in a closed tub for about two months until all the skin and muscle fell off.

"Then, the preparer had to carefully dig out all the bones from the ‘putrid matter,’ and place them in a basin of pure water," Rosner said.

Once clean, the bones were left to dry for quite a long time during Scotland's summer months. Finally holes were drilled in so that brass or iron wires could hold the bones together.

Most likely, the Haymarket bones underwent the soaking in water treatment.

"That was the fate of second rate, often emaciated cadavers, or those whose soft parts were damaged by injury or disease," Rosner said.

Why the bones were then buried in the garden remains a mystery.

"Given the fact they may have been acquired illegally, it is possible that someone wished to bury them, or it could have been as simple as a house clearance. We will probably never know for sure," Lawson said.

"What we do know is that these were used to train the surgeons of the future and are a relic of our heritage, of that early stage of modern medicine," he added.

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