Secrets of serial killers who sold their victims' bodies for dissection 'revealed by wife' at Edinburgh Fringe Festival | The Sun

THE story of a serial killing duo who sold their victims' corpses for dissection will be told on stage for the first time 'through the words of one of their wives'.

During a 10-month killing spree, which started in November 1827, William Burke and William Hare slaughtered 16 at the lodging house run by Hare and his wife.

Their preferred method of murder was plying their victims with alcohol, then smothering them to death. They then sold the bodies to an anatomist to be chopped up.

Burke's wife Helen MacDougal was unaware of her husband’s killer instincts until the final murder at a Halloween party, which she witnessed and tried to prevent.

Burke and Helen were arrested, but she refused to say anything that might incriminate him. They went on trial and Burke was found guilty but the case against Helen was not proven.

‘The Woman He Lived With’, a play written and directed by Brendan Ellis who has spent years researching their crimes, tells Helen’s story, lifting the lid on loving a mass murderer and how she was driven out of Scotland.

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It will be performed at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival – just a stone's throw away from where their crimes happened in the 1800s.

Irish actress Sarah Maria Lafferty, who is from County Mayo and lives in Dublin, plays Helen.

Sarah said: ‘I was deeply moved by trying to understand Helen's nightmare of trying to survive the danger of being blamed for a murder that she tried to prevent.

‘She had a genuine love for her husband, but he betrayed her, but I was inspired by her perseverance to rebuild her life despite being banished from Scotland.

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‘It's a truly emotional experience to explore what could have turned William Burke into a murderer. It's a fascinating journey from the beginning of their relationship until Burke hugs her after he's sentenced to hang.

‘I’m touched by Helen’s resilience and I was also surprised by the romance, humour and kindness in her story too.’

During a preview of the play in Dublin this week the lights in the venue flickered as Sarah delivered Helen's story.

Sarah said: "It gave me chills. It felt like Helen wants this story to be told."

In January 1829 Burke, who was born in Ireland but went to Scotland in the 1820s, was hanged in Edinburgh and his body was taken to Surgeon’s Square in the city and dissected, just like his victims.

His dissected body is still on display today at the anatomy museum at the University of Edinburgh.

The one-hour show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival will be performed at SHOUT! The Scottish Music Experience at 111 Holyrood Road from August 5 – 19 at 6pm each night.

For more information and tickets

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