William Burke and William Hare set out to make their money in the same fashion as any young up and coming entrepreneur living in 19th century Britain: by stealing dead bodies for dissection.
A pretty gruesome way to make a living, sure. But such was the demand for corpses (for medical students to practice on) that it was a pretty popular crime and one generally overlooked by the authorities, since the victims were already dead and all. Burke and Hare made their first buck from the trade when a tenant in Hare's lodging house died. They took the body and sold it to Edinburgh Medical College for seven pounds.
It didn't take long before the pair started thinking about how they could make their operation more productive. The two thought outside of the box. You know, the box people were buried in. That's right, these savvy young lads cut out the middle man and just started killing people on their own.
"I gotta tell you, this is so much easier than digging up graves.
Over 18 months, Burke and Hare, along with their wives, killed 16 people. First they killed their tenants, then, when their supply ran out, they started luring people to the apartment.
Unfortunately for the pair, one of Hare's tenants became suspicious after finding a dead body under a bed and alerted the police. Hare was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony against Burke. As a result Burke was hanged in 1829, his body given to medical students to dissect according the British rules of ironic punishment.
How Much Did They Make?
At the rate these guys were going, it seems like they'd have had to slaughter a whole city to make a decent living. Burke kept a diary about the murders and wrote in one entry: "July 1. Sold the Englishman for L10. Kept the whole money, for Hare's conduct to me."
So these jackasses killed 16 people that we know about, yet still haggled over a few bucks here and there. It almost seems like they could have, you know, just gotten jobs instead.