The life and death masks of famous 19th century serial killers, William Burke & William Hare, are now on show at Scotland’s spookiest prison Inveraray Jail, in time for Halloween weekend. The two plaster head masks, along with a hangman’s noose, were discovered at the jail last year following the clear out of an old store room. However, how they got there and why still remains a mystery. The new addition to the visitor attraction and museum’s exhibition comes as Hollywood film Burke & Hare, starring Simon Pegg and Isla Fisher, hits UK cinemas on Friday 29th October.
Burke & Hare are said to have murdered at least 16 people, possibly up to 30, in Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh. The infamous criminal pair sold the corpses of their innocent victims to anatomy professor and lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Robert Knox, who used them for dissection and research. Their chilling crimes in the gothic city ended 181 years ago when Burke was found guilty and publicly executed. Hare escaped the hangman after giving evidence against his partner in crime.
The story of how the two heads and the hangman’s noose ended up at Inveraray Jail, in the west of Scotland, remains unexplained since neither Burke nor Hare were ever held at the prison. A life mask is thought to have been made of Hare during the trial whilst Burke’s shaven head was cast following his public hanging. A handful of masks are known to exist with one in the USA, Swansea and St Andrews and Edinburgh Universities.
Unfortunately, we have never been able to find out how they came to be here at the jail. It may be due to the new ‘science’ called phrenology which was popular at that time. It was believed the shape and contours of a person’s head could dictate their personality and ‘experts’ held talks across the country using casts of the heads of infamous criminals to illustrate their point.
With the increased awareness of Burke & Hare generated from the release of the new movie this weekend, it is a very relevant time to finally put them on display. We are looking forward to sharing the fascinating artefacts with our visitors this weekend and plan to keep them on display going forward.
With its gruesome history and haunting tales, Inveraray Jail is getting into the Halloween spirit this weekend. Two late night ghost hunts, which are now fully booked, are taking place on Saturday and Sunday night. Unexplained sightings and unusual activity recorded by visitors, staff and paranormal investigators suggest that the establishment is haunted. Meanwhile, the jail’s real life characters are ready to share with visitors how prisoners were treated in the 19th century. 6000 men, women and children were tried and served sentences in the jail between 1820 and 1889. The jail also features in popular TV programme Most Haunted Series 13, which was released on DVD last week.