William Brodie

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Illustration to William Brodie (1788)

Deacon William Brodie (* 18th September 1741 ; † 1. October 1788 ) was a Scottish carpenter and town councilor of Edinburgh to live out, who led a secret life as a burglar in part to the lure of the forbidden, in part, to his gambling addiction to finance.


By day, Brodie was a respectable businessman, a councilor, and a leader in the local craft guild. Part of his job as a cabinet maker was installing and repairing locks and other security devices.

At night Brodie became a burglar and thief. He used his job to scout out the security precautions of his customers and copied keys with wax prints. As one of the city's foremost craftsmen, he received orders from the richest families in Edinburgh society. Brodie used the money stolen from his break-ins to finance his secret second life and his passion for games, and to entertain five children and two lovers who knew nothing about each other. His criminal career began around 1768 when he copied a bank's entry keys and stole £ 800 . In 1786 he hired a gang of three thieves: Brown, Smith and Ainslie.

Later, in 1786, Brodie organized an armed raid on the excise office in Chessel's Court . The plan failed and Ainslie was captured. Ainslie agreed to a leniency program and betrayed his accomplices. Brodie escaped to the Netherlands with a plan to flee to America, but was arrested in Amsterdam and brought back to Edinburgh, where he was charged.

The trial began on August 27, 1788. At first, there was no tangible evidence against Brodie until copied keys, disguises and pistols were found in his home. The court spoke to Brodie and his cronies George Smith, an English locksmith responsible for a number of thefts such as: B. was guilty of a silver mace from the University of Edinburgh .

Brodie and Smith were hanged from a gallows on October 1, 1788 , which Brodie had probably designed and built the previous year. Brodie is said to have worn a steel collar to avoid the deadly effects of the gallows and to have arranged with the hangman that his lifeless body should be quickly removed for a resuscitation. If the story was true, then that plan failed. Brodie was buried in an anonymous grave at Buccleuch Parish Church in Edinburgh. Rumors that he was later spotted in Paris gave the stories a boost that he had managed to escape death.


Deacon Brodie's Tavern - Brodie a day
Deacon Brodie's Tavern - Brodie at night

Brody's life was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde , published in 1886. The novella was preceded by a drama Deacon Brodie (1880) co-authored by Stevenson and William Ernest Henley . Stevenson's father reportedly owned furniture made by Brodie.

In 1975, the novel was published in The Strange Case of Deacon Brodie of Forbes Bramble .

In 1997, Brody's Life was made into a film for television under the title Deacon Brodie, starring Billy Connolly .

A pub in Edinburgh on the Royal Mile at 435 Lawnmarket not far from Edinburgh Castle is named after Brodie: Deacon Brodie's Tavern , also known as Deacon Brodies .


  • Klaus-Dieter Dobat: man of honor by day, crook by night. Deacon Brodie or the dubious double life of an Edinburgh man. In: At that time - the history magazine. Vol. 21, No. 3 (March 1989), pp. 262-271.
  • Rick Wilson: The Man Who Was Jekyll and Hide: The Lives and Crimes of Deacon Brodie. The History Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-7509-6019-9 (print); ISBN 978-0-7509-6356-5 (eBook)
  • Aeneas Morison, Writer in Edinburgh: The Trial of William Brodie and of George Smith before the High Court of Justiciary, Held at Edinburgh on Wednesday the 27th ans Thursday the 28th, August 1788, Containing the Evidence, Accurate Statements, the Opinions of the Judges , with the Whole Proceedings, Edinburgh, printed for Charles Elliot MDCCLXXXVIII (1788)

Web links

Commons : William Brodie  - Collection of images, videos and audio files