Another chapter down in the Folio Society series on Historical Trials. This begins the fourth and final volume.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the study of medicine created an increasing demand of human cadavers for study that could not be fulfilled easily because it was more or less illegal. As you might expect there soon was a black market trade in corpses set up to supply the need.
The scandal of grave robbers digging up the recently interred was bad enough. The practice of finding indigent people and whisking them away was distasteful. But when Burke and Hare were found to have been ‘cutting out the middle man’ by killing people and selling them to the medical trade it was too much. The trial was a sensation.
The police had a bit of a problem, since the evidence of the bodies save the last one had been used up by the medical college. They needed some sure-fire evidence, and decided to get it by giving Hare immunity in exchange for his testimony. He testified, and Burke was hanged.
Hare had trouble after the trial in 1828, having to dodge mobs. He fled to England from Scotland but was recognized by some factory workers who blinded him with lime. He lived out his life after that as a beggar in London. In 1832, the laws were changed to relax the restrictions on getting cadavers through legal means and these kind of practices were more or less eliminated.