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J.P. Morgan as a young man in his own words - "The Public Be Damned."

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

NEW UNDER THE SUN


I celebrate the fourth of July, every year. But I also be celebrate the fifth of July, because on the fifth of July in 1883 the U.S. government granted patent #278967 for a formula of something that had never existed under the sun before. The patent was granted for an invention that every one reading this has probably used at least once in the past year, and if you haven’t used it in the past year, you really ought to. It was the brainchild of an energetic young marketing genius with some help from his brother, and the invention made them both rich – even though their original idea was pretty much a bust.

The story begins with a pharmacist in London named Gustave Mellin. Like many other pharmacists of his day, Gustave was looking for a magic elixir that would make him rich. In the second half of the nineteenth century, all over Europe and America, ambitious young men were throwing chemicals into pots and kettles and selling the resultant concoctions to unsuspecting guinea pigs (aka customers). Some of these latter day alchemists just made people ill. A few killed people. And few got very rich.

It was an Atlanta pharmacist, Dr. John Pemberton, who cooked up Coke-a-cola in his back yard in 1886. And Caleb Bradham of New Bern, North Carolina invented Pepsi Cola in his pharmacy during the summer of 1893. In Cincinnati in 1886 Robert Johnson, who had worked as a pharmacists’ apprentice, joined with his brothers James and Mead in forming Johnson & Johnson, to sell their inventions of band aids and first aid kits. But the guiding light for Gustave Mellin was Henri Nestle, a Swiss citizen who in 1867, made his reputation and his fortune by saving a premature infant with his own recipe of powdered milk and ground up wheat. His formula released the proteins trapped in wheat by grinding it into a powder, and thus making it easy to transport over vast distances and store for long periods.

Nestle’s sold his product by warning first time mothers that “impure milk is one of the chief causes of sickness among babies.” And in London another Swiss citizen, Gustav Mellin began selling his own version of Nestle's formula, which he inventively called “Mellin’s Food”.  Mellin’s marketed his product with free samples, and a pseudo-scientific booklet convincing new mothers his formula was better for their babies than breast milk. Within a few years Mellin became Nestle’s principle competitor. And the success of Mellin attracted the attention of a young, dashing, handsome, ambitious and driven Englishman from the tiny village of Ruardean, in Gloucestershire.

James Horlick began as an apprentice at the feet of the master, and what he learned from Mellin was that marketing was at least as important as the invention itself. But working for somebody else was no way to get rich, and in 1873 James quit his job and immigrated to America, to join his younger brother William in Chicago. And he took with him a little something he had been working on.

In 1860, for the last time in history, the value of American agricultural goods was greater than the products from her factories. And amazingly this shift happened at same time that American farms were becoming the breadbasket of the world. Chief among this new bounty which was flooding the world markets was American wheat and rye. And that is why James and William Horlick had emigrated to America. The money was still in England, but the source of that wealth was now in America. And within weeks after James arrived in Chicago the brothers set up J&W Horlicks to market their new baby wonder food, “Diastroid”.

What William and James needed was a community with cheap property values, a ready supply of clean water, an already industrialized work force, easy access to their raw materials (wheat and rye) and to shipping routes. They found just what they were looking 60 miles North of Chicago, where the Root River enters Lake Michigan, in Racine, Wisconsin.

The city had been incorporated in 1848 with a population of 3,000, and by 1870 was approaching 30,000, filling with English, Danes, Czechs, Swedes and Norwegians. The foundation of the economy was the town’s harbor and rail connections. Early on Fanning Mills built heavy farm equipment here, including machines to separate the wheat and barley from its chaff, the slurry of which is called a malt. That created a pool of trained factory workers which attracted Jerome Case who built his heavy equipment factory there, and S.C. Johnson who established his cleaning products factory in Racine.

So, in 1877 the Horlick brothers opened their single story factory in Racine, making "Horlick's Infant & Invalids Food" and got ready for success. Okay, it was a little slow in coming. Oh, the baby formula business was doing okay, but it was by now very competitive and not the rocket to success that James had dreamed about along the banks if the River Wye, back in England. Still, in 1883, James’ preeminence in the field of baby food had been confirmed with the new patent, thus effectively limiting their competition. In 1890 James returned to England to be closer to the money, and to handle the marketing of their infant cuisine empire. In 1908 Horlick’s opened a new, much larger plant in Racine. And they just kept plugging away, searching for the marketing angle that would make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.

 They thought they had hit the mark in 1909 when explorers Robert Peary, Amundsen and Scott all three pick Horlik’s product to supply protein for their assaults on the North and South Poles. Overnight Horlick's food was in the forefront of the "health food" craze. And it remains a popular health food item to this day. That same year, 1909, the brothers opened a new plant in New Zealand, to supply mothers and explorers down under with portable protein. But that was not the advancement that changed human life.

But it was in the early years of the 20th century that the great revolutionary event did occure. It’s unclear who did it first, but my bet is it was the new player on the stage. They were called "soda jerks" because in the early years they were required to jerk on the levers to dispense the carbonated water that was the main ingrediant of their trade. I doubt that it was an employee of Horlick who first made the discovery, else their name would have been enshrined in company legend. Besides, after all, it was a small step and may have been taken in several places at about about the same time.

Remember the Horlick formula was a concoction of ground wheat, dried just-sprouted barley malt and powdered milk, which was then mixed in water or milk at the point of sale. And then some unknown genius  added ice cream, and thus was born the malted milk shake.

I doubt that most people realize that everything “malted” can only be made under license from Horlick’s, including malted milk, malted milk balls, malted tablets or disks and malted “shakes”. Malted is a flavor that is owned. It was invented. It does not appear anywhere in nature. It started out as baby food, then became a health food before it became a treat of magical proportions. And it gave all those soda jerks something to serve with the ice cream Sundaes they had invented, because in the conservative core of middle America carbonated water was considered too racy a drink to be served on the Lord's day.

But surely, before the judgment of God, the invention of the cold, frothy and thick Malted Milk Shake will count on the plus side for humanity come the judgement day.

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BIG FOOT IN MY FREEZER


I do not have Big Foot in my freezer, nor do I have “The Best Political Team on Television” on my television. I never thought I did, and I don’t care how many times Wolf Blitzer tells me that I do; I know I don’t. But I also know I am growing weary of watching Blitzer being reduced to his own punch line just for a paycheck. Frankly, not only is he not “the most trusted name in news”, he is not even the most trusted name in commercial lead-ins, anymore.

What I have developed is an increasingly low tolerance for stupidity, which makes me less and less willing to be entertained by fools, even ones claiming to have collected a dead Big Foot in their freezer. It's just not funny anymore.

I even confessed to my wife last Saturday night that for years I have found “COPS” to be dull and predictable and I don’t want to watch it anymore. I have given up all hope that one night a COPS contestant will pull yet another package of meth or crack out of a suspect’s front pocket, hear the same old tired “It’s not mine” excuse once to often, and just snap. I don’t want the cop to shoot the addict.

That would be too “Hollywood”. Instead, I would rather see the officer lock the idiot addict in the back of his or her patrol car, call for a taxi cab and just go home. And never go into a police station again as long as he or she lives. We could call it “Ex-Cops”. It is not a hunger for justice that burns in my heart anymore, but a simple desire for novelty. Honesty on television would be something new.

This is a very dangerous feeling in our culture. I feel the same way about “American Idol”, “Survivor”, “The Nanny” and every hackneyed “reality” show on cable: except, of course, for “Dirty Jobs”. I could watch Mike Rowe read the phone book, as long as he had never read it before. But I do worry that my dissatisfaction with the current state of American culture could be a portent of doom. Except I have even lost faith in doomsday.

The Mayan Calendar predicts that the world will end in the year 2012. In fact the Mayans world ended about the year 1100. If they were smart enough to have created a calendar that recorded the end of the world a thousand years after their culture had already been reduced to hot chocolate and chewed cocaine leaves, how come they overlooked the importance of 1492, when a bunch of unwashed Euro-trash showed up on their doorstep with bang sticks and no concept of a public health option?

The Mayan super priests missed that little Armageddon, but they were still on track for a 2012 doomsday prediction? It just sounds like something else Wolf Blitzer will be droning on about as the date approaches.

“Is the world scheduled to end in the year of 2012? We will hear from the experts on both sides of the issue, right after the break”. I have grown weary of reminding Wolf  (in my head) that there are no “sides” to insanity. It is not an arguable position. It is not a defensible position. It is a medical condition. Which could bring up the entire health care debate - But let's not get into that. This is a history blog; right?

According to the Washington Post and the New York Daily Tribune, on May 18, 1910, sixteen year old Jane Warfield of Aline, Oklahoma came within a seconds of being sacrificed by a group calling themselves "The Select Followers". They were seeking to appease Haley’s Comet, which was about the end the world unless it was offered the fresh spilled blood of a virgin Okie.

According to the Cherokee Republican of May 27, 1910, the group’s leader, Henry Heinman, told his fellow "Select Followers" outside of Aline, Oklahoma that “…the world would end on the 18th day of May, and the comet now in the sky would sweep with pestilential gases across the earth eliminating all animal life…he had received a revelation that he was to sacrifice the girl and thus avert world calamity. Sheriff Hughes has placed the girl in the hands of safe parties and Heinman will be held to await action by investigating officers.”

What a story! What kind of looney, crazy people have they got living in Oklahoma? What a bunch of rubes! Somebody needs to bring some common sense to the undereducated farmers out on the plains.

Except, the story turns out to have been a fraud. It was the concoction of a newspaper editor named Ed Marchant. According to research brought together by historian Guy W. Moore, on the web site “The Virgin and the Comet”, there is no listing for a “Henry Heinman” nor a “Jane Warfield” in the 1910 Oklahoma census. And in 1910 the sheriff for Major County, where Aline, Oklahoma is located, was Lewis Burwell, not the mythical Sheriff Hughes.

In other words, the tale was a joke the folks in Oklahoma could enjoy at the expense of the rubes in New York and Washington D.C. who bought the story hook line and sinker.

Its the same way the people in Southwest Washington State who knew Bob Heironimus all of his life, and instantly recognized his distinctive arm swinging lope in the infamous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin “Bigfoot film”, got the same joke. Those locals knew right away it was Bob striding around in a  monkey suit. Only an rube would think there really was a big foot. What's he been eating all these years in the woods? Vienna Sausage? And where has he been pooping? And why, in all these years, has no poor hunter or tourist ever stepped in a great big pile of Bigfoot big poop? It's a joke. There is not Bigfoot living in the woods. And the only people who believe there is live in the local "Days Inn".

But there is a difference between a tale of a virgin sacrificed on the plains of Oklahoma or a gorilla suit covered in pig’s entrails and stuffed into a freezer, and a phony bill of sale for Nigerian Yellow Cake uranium ore or Death Panels pulling the plug on grandma. One is a story told for the sheer joy of the story telling. It's a big whopper, told to illustrate a larger truth - that we are all fools at times. It is called in polite circles "fiction".

The other is a story invented out of greed - greed for money or greed for ratings or greed for power. It tells no truth except the truth about those who tell it; they are frauds. Frauds tell lies. And liars too often profit. And all it costs them is their souls. And ours, for believing them.

And, upon reflection, what I really hunger for is not novelty, but truth; honesty in advertising, candor in news gathering, sincerity in politics and just a little athenticity in the lies we tell each other to get through the day- like claiming to be the best team in politics, or calling a staged farce a reality show just because it doesn't have written skript, or airing a news story that has nothing "NEW" in it.

Oh, and speaking of reality; have you noticed that we speak of primative cultures sacrificing virgins, while in our "modern" culture we seem determined to sacrifice "fallen" women? What's up with all this punishing of women stuff? And how come the virgin men rarely get thrown into the volcano?'
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/6745/VirginandCometIII
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HIS MASTER'S VOICE


I never believed old Joe Kennedy’s story about getting a stock tip from a shoe shine boy in 1929. Joe told the story that when he a kid offered him insider info on a stock Joe knew that if the kid knew, then everybody knew. And that meant that the good times were over. So, Joe said, he sold most of his stocks just before the Black Friday crash of October 29, 1929. And that was why, Joe said, when the market bottomed out he still had the cash to pick up stocks for a song just before they went back up, and that was how he made his fortune. It's a good story. It makes him sound very smart. But it was a load of Irish manure.

In 1929 Joe’s fortune was already estimated at $4 million. He had just sold out most of his stock portfolio, not because of some tip from a shoe shine boy but as part of the game of stock manipulation that was the standard practice on Wall Street during the 1920's. In fact Joe used to tell friends they all had to cash in on the game, because someday, soon, it would be made illegal. In fact Joe and most of the other insiders knew a crash was inevitable. All of them just figured they were smart enough to get out in time. But smart turned out to have nothing to do with it.

That the market crashed just as Joe was heavily liquid (short on stocks and long on cash) was his sheer blind luck. Still, like most successful moguls, in retrospect Joe’s luck became, in his self justification version of reality, a shrewd investment move. And by 1935, feasting on the financial corpses of his unlucky competitors, the Kennedy fortune was said to be worth $180 million. Of course if his timing had been a little bit slower or faster Joe would have been wiped out like all those other shrewd Wall Street investors. The only time people truly get in trouble on Wall Street is when they start thinking their master's voice is their own genius and not the collective carcophony of fools.

The classic example of the games played in those days was the RCA stock pool, formed by the brockerage house M.J. Meehan and Company. Joe was part of this game. In the modern vernacular the process is called “a pump and dump”. In the slang of 1929 it was “painting the tape”, as in ticker tape. First the stock was quietly accumulated by the pool members, who also sold the stock “long”, meaning they made a behind the scenes bet that the price would go up. Then the reputation of the stock was made to look better than it actually was by well publicied sales between pool members at inflated prices, and by articles planted in newspapers and magazines.

This attracted buyers from outside the pool who were either fooled by the games or who suspected what was actually happening and gambled they could follow the “smart money” and get out before the dump. Of course the pool members were already quietly selling the stock short, betting it would go down, which, of course, they were about to insure that it did. In the final act the pool members would suddenly dump all their stock, making the insiders richer, and the outsiders poorer.

The RCA pool started pumping on Saturday March 9, 1929, (the NYSE met for half day sessions on Saturdays at the time). Shares of RCA were selling at $93 each. Two weeks later, Saturday March 30, the stock was selling for $109.75 a share. It was time to pull the dump. Almost overnight the stock fell to $80 a share. And for what was in essence two weeks work the pool members made $5 million ($60 million in todays value).

The only problem was that the $5 million the “smart money” had just squeezed out of the market had to come from someplace. Lots of the “suckers” who had bought RCA on a standard 10% margin were suddenly caught short by the switch to the “dump” mode. They would now either have to pay the 90% they still owed for the stock at the pumped price (which most could not afford to do) or come up with another 10% to maintain their margins.

The rush to raise cash to meet the margin calls did two things at once. First, as people sold other stock to meet their short calls on RCA, that drove down the price of lots of other stocks. The New York Daily News called it a “selling avalanche”. And two: as those who either could not or chose not to sell other stocks to avoid the “margin calls” on RCA, looked for the cash to meet their raised margins. Their demand for cash drove the price of loans (the interest rates charged) higher and higher. It was an instant liquidity crises - sound familiar?

In a single day, Monday, March 25th, the market abruptly dropped 4% across the board. What stopped Monday, March 25, 1929 from becoming Black Monday was that on Tuesday, March 26, 1929 at about 1:30 in the afternoon, as the panic was still spreading across the floor of the stock exchange, Charles "Sunshine Charley" Mitchell, president of CitiBank and a member of the Federal Reserve Board, boldly walked onto the trading floor and placed a loud “buy” order for U.S. Steel at higher than the then depressed market price. He also announced that he had $25 million to stabilize the market ($300 million in today's value). Immediatly the panic on Wall Street stopped, and conservative Democratic Senator Carter Glass called for Mitchell’s resignation because he had violated "purity" of the market.

The famous “Sleeping Prophet” Edgar Cayce would write a letter in the first weeks of April 1929 famously predicting the October collapse of Wall Street. In fact the near collapse at the end of March was repeated again with another 4% drop in value on May 22 and again on May 27 and yet again on August 9 and yet a fifth 4% drop on October 3, followed by a 6.3% plummet on October 23. And all of these drops preceded the infamous Black Monday collapse, when in a single day the market dropped 12% of its total value. You would have had to been deluded not to have seen the market collapse was just around the corner. But if you were looking for some genius to believe in, and the mystic attracts you, then you will choose to follow Edgar Cayce.

Or, if you were of a mercenary mindset, you could choose to listen to the voice of Joe Kennedy and his fellows. Joe continued to believe that he was smart enough to avoid getting caught in the next market downturn. He wasn't, of couirse. But fortunately for Joe, Wall Street was filled with desperate, deluded people who for lots of reasons refused to see the approaching abyss any better than Joe did. Ever since the October 1929 collapse of Wall Street Edgar Cayce has been making converts, based on his mystical prediction that doesn’t seem so mystical in retrospect. The same can be said of Joe Kennedy. The list of the well connected and well informed experts who continued to predict that all would be well on Wall Street was almost endless.

On Friday, October 18, the editor of the Wall Street Journal said in a speech that stock manipulations on Wall Street were “impossible”. Yale Economics professor Irving Fisher observed that “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau”. And every time one of these “experts” predicted that the dark skies were going to clear up, the market would bounce back from the brink of disaster, reaching its all time peak index on September 3 of 381.17. Then came the crash.

After the 1929 crash the NYSE would not return to the 300 level again until 1954. In the immediate aftermath of the debacle of 1929 Senator Carter Glass helped fashion legislation (The Glass-Steagall Act) that divorced commercial banks from intimate ties with brokerage houses, the source of a lot of the cash used in speculation and one of the primary fuels in the collapse. That was a major violation of the purity of the market, and it was designed by Carter Glass. And Joe Kennedy helped write new rules that banned “insider trading”, such as the RCA pool he had profited from.

And "Sunshine Charley, the man who saved the market in March of 1929, died flat broke in 1955. His was just one more of the millions of lives ravaged and destroyed by the Great Depression, in America and worldwide; hunger, lost education opportunities, violence, even World War Two. It seems a very high price to pay to make Joe Kennedy a little richer.

The Glass-Steagall Act was largely repealed in 1999, because the mystics on Wall Street are still selling the idea that secret knowledge and mystical skill can trump luck on Wall Street. Ten years later came proof that the mystics were wrong again. And yet there are still those who want to believe and are willing to pay for their faith.

And where ever he is at this moment, in heaven or hell, Old Joe Kennedy must be having a very good laugh about the “spike” in oil prices that the experts assured us was certainly not the product of speculation, and now their assurance that the financial collpse of 2008 will never happen again if we just have faith in the purity of the market.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

UP THE STAIR


I confess that my favorite nursery rhyme might be considered a bit morbid. Of course there is nothing unusual in that. The harmless "Pop goes the Weasel” tells the story of a gin addict, gin being a product of the mulberry bush. And the rhyme known as “Burke and Hare” has a similar history, just a bit more bloody. Try to imagine little red headed girls playing jump rope, keeping time by chanting this Scottish ditty, “Up the close and down the stair, In the house with Burke and Hare, Burke's the butcher, Hare's the thief, Knox the man who buys the beef. Burke and Hare they were a pair, Killed a wife and didnae care. Then they put her in a box, and sent her off to Doctor Knox. Burkes the Butcher, Hares the thief, Knox’s the yin that buys the beef!” Of course it didn’t quite happen that way, but it is still catchy, isn’t? William Hare was an Irish immigrant to Scotland who worked as a “Navvy” on the Union Canal. He married Margaret Laird, who had inherited a boarding house, Logs Lodging, in the West Port section of Edinburgh when her first husband died. In 1827 Margaret renewed her acquaintance with William Burke, another Irish emigrant, who was returning to Edinburgh after working as a weaver, a baker and a shoe maker. Burke had abandoned a wife and two children in Ireland, but in Scotland he had picked up a common-law wife, Helen M'Dougal. They became two more lodgers of Margaret Hare’s. In December yet another lodger known to history only as Donald, died of “natural causes” – alcoholism – leaving an unpaid bill of four pounds. Hare was so angry over the debt that he decided to take action. Enlisting Burke’s aid, a weighted coffin was substituted for the deceased. And after dark Burke and Hare lugged the corpse down Infirmary Street to Surgeons Square, where the old man’s remains were sold to Dr. Robert Knox, a lecturer at Barclay's Anatomy School. The value of Donald’s corpse was set by Dr. Knox at 7 pounds 10 shillings, for a profit to Hare of three pounds ten shillings – a small fortune for men such as Burke and Hare.The market for selling dead bodies had been fairly steady in Edinburgh since the school of Surgeons had combined with the Royal College of Physicians to form the world famous University Faculty of Medicine in 1726. Dr. Robert Knox was not a member of the University, but since the University’s lecturer in anatomy was dull enough to bore the dead, the popular Dr. Knox made a nice living displaying brains freshly removed from skulls and explaining how the corpses’ medulla oblongata was just as highly developed as that of the Bishop of Edinburgh, or discoursing upon the ways an alcoholic liver reminded him of the Lord Mayor of Edinburgh. And all the students laughed. But besides a cutting sense of social humor, to remain in business Dr. Knox required a steady source of corpses. And there was one small problem with that.It was well known that the dissection of human corpses was essential for the training of doctors. People who were sick wanted a trained knowledgeable doctor to save their lives. But the family of the deceased wanted their loved ones to rest in peace, in one piece, pending the resurrection. The conflict between those two desires could get very nasty. In 1742 an angry mob whipped one John Samuel through the streets of Edinburgh after he was caught transporting the corpse of a young girl. The authorities banished Samuel from Scotland for seven years. The mob wanted him lynched. Unable to achieve that, they burned his house to the ground and attacked his family. In part this social rejection of "resurectionists" accounted for the high price required to attract entrepreneurs to the profession of grave robbing. But the principles of finance being what they are, it was inevitable that eventually the field would attract capitalists (think, a WalMart for the dead) who found a way to undercut their competition in both overhead and supply of fresh corpses.Instead of expending the effort required to unearth their raw material, these savvy investors simply harvested the wheat while it was still able to deliver itself to the reaper. And rather than waiting until the fruit ripened and fell into their arms, these master cultivators forced the crop into early maturity. And who were these agrarian managers of such foresight that they would have impressed Scotsmen like Adam Smith and David Hume? Those two Irish transplants to Scotland, Msrs. Hare and Burke In December (the off season for bodies, with the ground too frozen for excavations) another lodger named Joseph Miller fell ill. Burke put his hands over Miller’s nose and mouth while Hare sat on his chest. Afterward this technique, which left no visible wounds or bruises, would be called “Burking”. And the first product of the method produced a ten pound profit. Our new venture capitalists now had capital. In February of 1828 Abigail Simpson was “burked”; ten more pounds. Then Margaret Hare got into the act, finding investment number three, another old alcoholic woman; ten pounds more. Next, a prostitute named Mary Paterson and a woman begger named Effie made their contributions; ten pounds apiece. Business was booming! Not that there weren’t problems; college students of today are no more given to sexual escapades than those in 1829, and several of Dr. Knox’s 1829 students had been customers of Mary Paterson – some of them recently. They didn’t remember her coughing or showing signs of illness. So her appearance in the dissecting theatre of Dr. Knox was troubling. But none of the students felt comfortable enough with their suspicions to raise the accusation against the eminent Dr. Knox. With the approach of the spring thaw however, competition drove the price down to eight pounds per corpse. To offset this fluctuation Hare and Burke simply increased production. An old woman and her grandson produced sixteen pounds. Then there was a Mrs. Ostler, followed quickly by one of Helen M'Dougal’s aunts, Ann. And then our budding business moguls made their first big mistake. They figured a mentally retarded 18 year old with a game leg named Daft Jamie would be an easy profit. But the boy actually wanted to live and fought back. It turned out to be a lot of work for a mere eight pounds. And on top of that Jamie’s mother came looking for him. Now it was embarrassing. There was worse to come. In the morning, when Dr. Knox unveiled his new corpse for his dissection class, several of the students recognized Jamie, having seen him quite recently - and in good health at that. Dr Knox was forced to dissect Jamie’s face first to calm those few squeamish students and to disguise the evidence. Things were now getting frustrating even for Dr. Knox. In an abundance of caution, he immediately removed the boys deformed feet, to avoid being accused of being a heel. There was no doubt, success had caused the stockholders and employees of Hare & Burke to put their foot in it. Shortly thereafter a couple named Gray came back to their rented room at Logs Lodging to find some of the inventory stored under their bed. It was an Irishwoman named Doucherty. The Grays called the police. By the time the officers arrived, the body was gone. But a tip led the lawmen to Dr. Knox’s dissection class where the product was found, waiting to do her service for the medical profession. And at this point the corpses hit the fan. All four members of the corporation were arrested. The invention which had given rise to the company, Burking, had so disguised the method of death that it might prove impossible for the authorities to prove any murder had even occurred. And, amazingly enough, the corporation was not accused of robbing a single grave. If anybody was going to be punished for this crime spree the cops needed one of the conspirators to turn on their fellow conspirators. The Lord Advocate went to the smartest member of the corporation, offering him immunity in exchange for a full confession. And that is why William Burke went up the stairs of the gallows all by himself in January of 1829. Everybody else, Helen M'Dougal, Margaret and William Hare, got a walk. And Dr. Knox, who financed the entire operation, was never charged.William Burkes’ real crime may have been that he was always arguing with his business partners. In the end it was a capital offense. William Burke danced at the end of a rope, alone. His corpse was removed to the University anatomy theatre, carved up and used as an abject lesson in sin and immoral behavior – not a very productive example when the profession was seeking to encourage others to donate their bodies to medical science. And to drive their pointless point home even stronger, Burke’s skeleton remains in Edinburgh to this day, in a glass case, labeled as a notorious fiend and a serial murderer. His public image remains as a villain in films, plays, history books and a child’s nursery rhyme. He was William Burke the butcher, while William Hare, the brains behind the outfit, is usually protrayed as "the thief". In fact, William Burke was
the man who paid the price, of being remembered as a fiend, but whose real crime was not being nice.
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