The Burke and Hare Murder Dolls

The Burke and Hare Murder Dolls

Wonders and mysteries will never cease. Nobody knows how the two Irish friends turned from respectable construction workers to lodgers, to body snatchers and later to cold-blooded killers…

But that is the tale connected to the Burke and Hare murder dolls.

The story of William Hare and his fellow murderous Irishman by the same first name, William Burke began late in the 1820’s.

The two had separately moved to Scotland in search of a better life before ending up in Edinburgh where they met and struck a friendship.

As fate would have it, Hare had an old “roomer” called Donald who died of natural causes. This was the beginning of Burke and Hare’s journey to the dark side!

After the burial, the pair raided the cemetery and stole Donald’s corpse.

Hare and Burke had received news about the shortage of dead bodies at the local university and there was one professor in particular who was in charge of appropriating the dead bodies for the institution for use in anatomy classes.

His name was Dr. Knox.

The two lodgers now turned grave thieves thought the 7 pounds that Dr. Knox was offering for a single dead body was just too good an opportunity to pass.

And with fewer lodgers dying of natural causes, the two decided that they would have to start killing people so as to deliver more bodies for Dr. Knox; who many still believe was well aware of the pair’s serial killing activities as the main source of all the bodies he’d been buying.

He, however, was never charged with anything connected to the murders committed by the two greedy friends.

They killed and sold a total of 17 dead bodies to the “good” doctor.

The two continued killing old prostitutes and homeless old men until Burke made a fatal mistake and a dead body belonging to one of his lodgers was discovered under his bed by another tenant who turned them in to the police.

The Mystery of the Murder Dolls

Things were soon to take a sudden mysterious turn a decade later when 17 wooden “murder dolls” were accidentally discovered by a young boy hunting for rabbits in a cave.

The small carved effigies, each stuffed in a miniature coffin, measure 4 inches each and 8 of them are still on display at the National Museum of Scotland.

Although their origin is not fully known, there have been many speculations as to where they might have come from.

At first, the dolls were associated with witchcraft or some ritualistic cult items. But later someone made the connection between the 17 murders committed by Hare and Burke and the 17 wooden dolls.

Some people believe that this was an act of remorse by one of the killers or people close to the pair who knew of their killing spree.

The only people assumed to have had knowledge of the murders include Hare’s mistress Margaret, Burke’s wife Helen, Dr. Knox, and the doctor’s brother who usually helped in receiving the bodies from the two serial killers.

The only theory that makes any sense is that someone close to these two killers made the dolls as a way of giving the victims some sort of a respectable send-off.

An Eye for An Eye: Brutal Justice

As the story goes, Hare ratted out his friend to save his own skin! He decided to cooperate with the police and implicate his friend. Hare was later released but he just disappeared was never heard from again.

So what happened to Burke?

He was found guilty of all 17 murders and sentenced to death. He was hanged in 1829 but his body was not released to his family for a burial.

Instead, it was given to the same University to be torn apart for human anatomy classes.

It is rumored that his skin was removed and used to make wallets. The rest of his body was also stripped off in separate pieces and his skeleton has been kept at the University to-date.

DNA Testing: In Search of an Elusive Connection

Numerous people and organizations have come forward trying to connect the dolls to Burke through various DNA tests.

The truth, however, is that none of these tests have ever given any conclusive results and we’re afraid the mystery of the Burke and Hare murder dolls might never be uncovered.

Professionals say that DNA testing is no longer viable since the dolls have been handled by so many hands throughout history. They were in fact privately owned by a collector before the Museum bought them.

Are the dolls connected the murder victims? Did Burke carve them? Did Hare’s guilt for the murders and selling out his friend drive him to carve the effigies as a sign of remorse? The truth is still out there…

7 thoughts on “The Burke and Hare Murder Dolls

  1. The story definitely has the creepy factor and I am always interested in reading about different paranormal cases. Even if the accounts of activity is made up it still makes for a good story!

    What do you think? Do you feel they are connected to the murders committed by Dr.Knox?

    1. Well they certainly seem to be Salvatore. The main question is WHO actually made them and what relation were they to the culprits?

  2. Excellent post and thanks so much for sharing it.

    Of course I am aware of the story already as it is of course factual.

    Although I was aware of it many years ago, I was surprised to see it hit the big screens.

    If i remember Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis were starred in the film , and it was really well presented. I enjoyed it, have you seen it?

    I think it is an important part of history in Edinburgh and one that will remain for many years to come.

    I enjoyed reading about it again here!

    Many Thanks


    1. Hi Chris,

      Yes I have seen the film, a few years back now, but obviously it doesn’t follow the story of the dolls in the case we have covered above!

      It certainly is an important part of history in Edinburgh – are you Scottish yourself? (I only ask as I’m actually Welsh…and I’m nosy!!!!). 🙂

      Thanks for reading our work Chris – great to have you commenting here!

      1. AAhh no.. I am actually English, but live in Greece now…

        I spent a lot of time in Scotland though in years past as I was in the military… I had the pleasure of going to Edinburgh and still have friends there to this day 🙂 A wonderful place.

        I also spent time in North Wales too, so we have something in common 🙂

        Thanks again for some really interesting information. Love what you are doing here 🙂


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