Many ironies surround the life and body of Robert Knox. Unlike the 16 people who William Burke and William Hare murdered and sold to anatomist Robert Knox for use in his teaching facilities, Knox died of natural causes. Knox’s corpse was buried in tact in 1862, over 30 years after he and his underlings had dismembered and pickled the victims of Burke and Hare.
Historian Lisa Rosner writes, “Robert Knox has been an enigma since his purchase of Burke’s and Hare’s cadavers was first made public.” How could a man of medicine be involved in a series of cold-blooded killings? How could a brilliant scientist fail to notice or suspect that the remarkably fresh bodies on his dissection table had been the victims of foul play? Was Knox, “the boy who buys the beef,” a villain or a fool? History rarely gives simple either-or answers to these questions.