The dark side of Edinburgh


Since moving to Edinburgh almost five months ago, I think the most interesting story I have been asked to research is that of the history of Burke and Hare.

The dark tale of the city’s most notorious serial killers – who murdered at least 15 people during the 18th century and selling the bodies to a doctor at the University of Edinburgh’s anatomy department – invokes everyone’s imagination.

I believe this is because when you really get into the story you begin to realise that they were just two ordinary guys who liked a drink down the pub but were a bit short of a bob or two.

People always respond more to ‘true stories’, because they get that ‘this could have happened to me’ shiver down their spine, and I think this story in particular is so off-the-wall that people will talk about it forever.

However, the older the myth gets, the more it becomes just that – a myth. Some of the facts have already been lost in a Chinese Whispers effect, one of the most prominent being the belief that Burke and Hare were grave robbing body snatchers.

After visiting the Surgeon’s Hall Museum and the Anatomy Museum in Edinburgh, it was emphasised by a few people who really knew their stuff that the pair were just opportunistic murderers.

And really, isn’t the thought of two Irish drunks luring you back to their lodging house to suffocate you much freakier than having your body disturbed after it has been put to rest?

It is my fascination with the facts that makes me really disappointed in the recently-released film Burke and Hare.

The director, John Landis, had SO MUCH to work with, but he just did not execute it. Yes there were funny parts, and the story was loosely tied in to what had actually happened, but I got the feeling the movie as a whole sort of missed the point.

Simon Pegg seems to have been type-casted as a ‘nice guy’, and this is exactly how he played the part of William Burke. For me, the ‘I was doing it for love’ angle just did not work. Burke was a murderer, plain and simple.

Don’t get me wrong – the film was definitely entertaining. It just wasn’t what I was expecting. Maybe if I hadn’t taken such an interest in the story beforehand I would have been able to relax and stop correcting the facts in my head.