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William Brodie


(Deacon Brodie)

1741 - 1788

Ingenious burglar. Living in Edinburgh, Brodie was a skilful cabinet-maker and a respected member of the Town Council. However, by night, Brodie had a secret life of prolific burglary, brought on by his need to support two mistresses, numerous children and habitual gambling. He would copy the door-keys of his customers, while working in their houses, returning later to steal from them. His last crime was an armed raid on the Excise Office in Chessel's Court, on the Canongate. He escaped to the Netherlands, but was arrested and returned to be tried and hanged at the Tolbooth with his accomplice George Smith, a grocer. However, Brodie's story does not quite end there. He bribed the hangman to ignore a steel collar he was wearing, with the hope this would defeat the noose. Despite the arrangement he made to have his body taken quickly away, he could not be revived. The final irony was that Brodie was hanged from an improved version of the gallows which he himself had invented. Brodie was buried in an unmarked grave in the kirkyard of the former Buccleuch Parish Church.

Brodie's double-life inspired Robert Louis Stevenson, whose father had had a cabinet made by Brodie. Stevenson included aspects of Brodie's life and character in The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. A public house named after him forms a well-known landmark on the Lawnmarket. Brodie's Close, on the opposite side, is where the Deacon lived, but is actually named after his father, Francis.


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