Wallet made from the skin of body snatcher William Burke

The William Burke Museum in Edinburgh Has Just One Macabre Exhibit

The world’s smallest museum has only one exhibit: A piece of Edinburgh’s executed grave robber and murderer William Burke.
A case made from the skin of William Burke
Made from the skin of William Burke. Image courtesy of the William Burke Museum, Edinburgh

There is a museum in Edinburgh that says it is the world’s smallest, and with only one exhibit, that claim is hard to refute. But in this case it’s not the size of the museum that matters – it’s that lone exhibit, a single macabre object, that brought in over 15,000 visitors from around the world during it’s first year in operation.

The William Burke Museum, located inside The Cadies & Witchery Tours shop, is home to a unique piece of Edinburgh history: A 19th-century calling card case made of what appears to be fine leather with gold tooling. Only it’s not leather. The case was fashioned using actual human skin, taken from the museum’s namesake after his execution and public dissection on January 28, 1829.

William Burke and his accomplice William Hare were body snatchers.

Scottish law stated that only suicide victims, criminals who died in prison, orphans, and foundlings could be used for dissections. Edinburgh, one of Europe’s leading centers for anatomical study, needed more cadavers than they could legally acquire, so teachers hired “resurrection men” like Burke and Hare to keep them in steady supply of fresh corpses.

Families began hiring guards to watch over fresh graves, or used deterrents like mortsafes, coffin collars, and other devices to thwart grave robbers and keep their loved ones in the ground long enough to become too decomposed to be useful to anatomists. This lead to a shortage of cadavers and a crisis for medical schools.

Burke and Hare steal a corpse for dissection

Burke and Hare soon turned to murder.

The duo killed 16 people over the course of 10 months before they fell under suspicion. A lack of evidence kept authorities at bay, however, until they extracted a full confession from Hare in exchange for immunity. Burke was hanged for their crimes and publicly dissected just like their victims had been…but his story doesn’t end there. According to the William Burke Museum, “Grisly souvenirs were made from skin taken from various parts of his body.”

The calling card case now in the museum’s possession was made using skin from the back of Burke’s left hand.

“The calling card case was owned for many years by a Dr Hobbs, and was handed down to the family of Piercy Hughes, a descendent of one of the surgeons involved in William Burke’s dissection,” the museum’s website says.

Robin Mitchell of The Cadies & Witchery Tours bought the case at an auction in 1988, outbidding the Surgeons’ Hall, whose collection includes Burke’s death mask and an entire book bound in his skin. The case accompanied Mitchell’s walking tours of Edinburgh, until it was decided that it needed to be better protected. It was loaned to the Police Information Centre in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile where it was on display until it closed in 2014.

Then, last year on the 188th anniversary of Burke’s hanging, the William Burke Museum opened – a case containing the morbid relic on the counter of The Cadies & Witchery Tours shop. The museum is celebrating it’s one-year anniversary this month on January 28, so stop in and see a piece of history’s most notorious body snatcher.

The William Burke Museum in Edinburgh
The William Burke Museum

The shop is open 7 days a week from 11am-8pm. Entrance is free. Find it at 84 West Bow, Victoria Street, Edinburgh or go to witcherytours.com for more information.

Haunted bunkbed terrorized the Tammann family of Horicon, Wisconsin

Inside the Haunted Tallmann House: Photos from the Bizarre 1988 Case

Photos surface from the 1988 paranormal investigation of the Tallmann house and the haunted bunk beds that drove the family from their home.
Investigating the haunted Tallmann house in Horicon, Wisconsin, 1988
Investigating the haunted Tallmann house in Horicon, Wisconsin, 1988

30 years ago, on January 11, 1988, the Tallmann family fled their home in the middle of a frigid Wisconsin night to escape a seemingly evil entity that had taken up residence. In the months prior, Allen, Deborah, and their three children had been experiencing increasingly more harrowing events that began, or escalated soon after they bought a bunk bed from a second-hand shop.

The story made international headlines, and thrill seekers poured into the small community of Horicon in droves hoping to catch a glimpse of furniture flying around the house, bleeding walls, the snowblower driving itself up and down the driveway, or any of the other rumors being sensationalized by the media.

The Tallmanns disposed of the bunk bed and abandoned the house.

From the Cult of Weird archives:

The story was featured in an October episode of the television series Unsolved Mysteries that same year. It was filmed on location inside the house with permission from the new owners, and local talent was hired for the reenactments. The real bunk bed, however, was long gone by then – buried in a private landfill – and I came to believe there were no existing photos of it. Not that I assumed it would appear to be anything but an ordinary bunk bed, of course. But, however skeptical I may be, curiosity gets the best of me when ghostly activity is attributed to an inanimate object. Especially one as mundane as children’s bedroom furniture.

The Tallmann story is among the strangest paranormal cases in American history and, since Horicon is mere miles from my hometown, it captured my attention as a child.

I needed to see the notorious haunted bunk bed.

Recently, my friend Allison Jornlin of MilwaukeeGhosts.com was granted access to the files of the late Dr. Don Mueller, the associate professor of social welfare at UW-Milwaukee, and avid researcher of the paranormal. Mueller investigated hauntings and gave presentations – complete with photos – on the cases he was involved with.

While going through Mueller’s 2,000 presentation slides, Allison discovered a series of photos taken when Mueller and several others were called in by Horicon Police Chief Doug Glamann to investigate the Tallmann house.

The Investigation

After spending time with the family, Glamann was convinced they had genuinely experienced something horrific. They were a respected and hardworking family, not to mention that since the story of a “ghost house” had gotten out, they had been hiding from the media for fear of being exploited.

Prior to the events that drove them from their home, their pastor, Reverend Wayne Dobratz, had visited several times and blessed the house to drive out the evil. On January 25, several weeks after the family left, Dobratz decided he wanted to return to the house to see if he could incite whatever demonic entity inhabited it.

Glamann, unwilling to accept the idea that the house was haunted, but sure the family had experienced something traumatic, accompanied the minister along with two other officers. They were looking for recorders or projection devices, any evidence that the Tallmanns had been the victims of some cruel prank.

They found nothing.

Disturbed by a lack of physical evidence to explain the ordeal, Glamann called in experts to conduct a psychic investigation of the home. That’s when Mueller arrived, along with parapsychologist Carl Schuldt and retired professor Walter Uphoff, who had authored two scholarly books on apparitions, clairvoyance, witchcraft, and other paranormal phenomena.

What they determined, if anything, is unclear, though attendees of Mueller’s seminars were likely treated to a thorough analysis of the investigation as the professor enthusiastically clicked through his slides.

The Basement

The basement of the haunted Tallmann house in Horicon, WI

The basement of the haunted Tallmann house in Horicon, WI

Allen had been painting the basement one night, preparing to finish it and build extra rooms. When Deborah called to him to help put the kids to bed, he placed the paint brush on the tray and went upstairs. He returned about 30 minutes later to find it stuck upside down in a can of paint.

That was the moment he realized something was actually going on in the house.

Another time, they found a basement window had been removed and neatly propped up against the wall. There was no evidence that anyone had entered the home, and nothing was missing.

The Garage

The garage of the haunted Tallmann house in Horicon, WI

The garage of the haunted Tallmann house in Horicon, WI

Deborah would sometimes hear the garage door opening and closing for no reason, and Allen was beginning to feel uneasy. He felt like something was watching and waiting for him there. When he closed the door, he said he felt like he was “shutting himself in a tomb.”

One night, Allen returned home from work, parked in the driveway, and started walking toward the front door. A strange howling sound caught his attention, then he heard a voice beckoning him. “It said, ‘Come here!’ real loud,” he told journalist James B. Nelson of the Milwaukee Sentinel. He ran back toward the garage, sure someone was hiding nearby trying to scare him. “Then it was glowing inside the garage, an orange red. There were flames coming out of the overhead door. There were two eyes in the windows.”

The Bunk Bed

The haunted bunk bed

A closer look at the haunted bunk bed

One night, not long after moving into the house, Allen and Deborah hired a babysitter and went out for dinner. When they returned later that night, the babysitter was upset. She claimed a kitchen chair suddenly started rocking back and forth while she and their 7-year-old son sat at the table playing a board game. She said it bounced around, then stopped. The next morning their son corroborated the story.

Nothing happened for months after that.

Allen and Deborah bought the bunk bed to accommodate their two young daughters. They moved the older boy into the smaller bedroom, and the girls got his old room. The first night after the switch, Deborah tucked him in and turned on his clock radio to play music as he fell asleep. Not long after, he came out and said the radio station had changed. Deborah got him back into bed and tuned the radio back to the station it had been on. He came back out a few minutes later, frightened. He said the station changed again, and this time he watched the dial move on it own.

The boy soon became uncomfortable sleeping in his room, kicking and screaming when it was time for bed.

As the summer of 1987 progressed into fall, restless nights became common for the whole family. Allen and Deborah would hear their youngest daughter talking and giggling at night. They thought she was playing with toys. But the late night conversations progressed into nightmares, and she started running into her parents room, telling them about the sounds she was hearing. “Don’t you hear it?” she would ask them.

From left: Walter Uphoff, Mike Smith, Doug Glamann, and Carl Schuldt in the basement of the Tallmann house

Things were fine during the day, but as the sun set, so did the oppressive feeling of something sinister occupying the Tallmann home. The family has many sleepless night, and tensions were running high. The increasingly violent activity escalated through Christmas and into the new year.

Allen was at work on the January 11, 1988, when chaos erupted at home. A teenage relative of Allen’s, was over helping Deborah with the children. It was bedtime, and he was getting the kids into bed when he began shouting for Deborah. Something had manifested itself, and all the kids saw it. They were hysterical.

After everything that had happened, Deborah couldn’t bring herself to even go down the hall into the bedroom. Panicked, she rushed everyone out the door, got them into the car, and fled.

All photos by Dr. Don Meuller. Provided courtesy of Allison Jornlin of MilwaukeeGhosts.com

Thank you for sharing these photos Allison!

Allison was named the Wisconsin Researcher of the Year at the 2016 Milwaukee Paranormal Conference. Recently, she has been investigating reports of Mothman sightings around the Chicago area. Follow her Youtube channel to keep up on the latest: youtube.com/mothman

Unfortunately, the Unsolved Mysteries segment featuring the story of the Tallmann house is no longer available, and was not included in the recent streaming release of the series. For a complete and detailed account, read “Something Evil on Larabee Street” in the book Haunted Heritage by Michael Norman and Beth Scott.