Plucked from the gallows to new life in US – fresh twist in Brodie tale
HE FAMOUSLY laid careful plans to survive his execution, wearing a steel collar and arranging for a doctor friend to revive him.
But for more than two centuries it was assumed William "Deacon" Brodie had failed and died on the gallows he is said to have designed.
Now a historian has cast doubt on whether Brodie actually perished in the capital, and has uncovered evidence that his daring escape plan succeeded.
Owen Dudley Edwards believes that Brodie, a crooked councillor and cabinetmaker, was smuggled to America by friends who attended the hanging at the Tollbooth on the Royal Mile.
The Edinburgh University academic says in a forthcoming BBC Scotland documentary it was probable that Brodie – whose double life inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – had survived because his body was put into the hands of friends. He also points to the fact that there is no evidence of a burial.
Brodie, who was born in 1741, became the Deacon of the Guild of Wrights on the town council. He was said to have turned to crime to support two mistresses and five illegitimate children, and to pay off gambling debts.
Brodie worked in the homes of Edinburgh's wealthy New Town residents and after making their cabinets made copies of their door keys and went back at night on raiding forays.
He was eventually brought to book after a botched raid on a Customs and Excise Office in 1788. His trial, during which the judges drank claret and the jury were forced to stand, and subsequent hanging have become part of Edinburgh folklore.
But Mr Dudley Edwards believes there is another chapter to Brodie's life story.
He explained: "Brodie was extremely well connected. The only evidence we have that he died is a statement from the people around him, but these were his own friends.
"His 'body' was put in the hands of his friends, who included a doctor and a lawyer – the right people ready to give him a sporting chance.
"They said he was dead but, frankly, this is not reliable evidence. You wouldn't expect them to say anything else."
Mr Dudley Edwards went on: "He was hanged on a gibbet of his own design. He knew how he could avoid death.
"Once 'hanged', he would plunge through a platform, taking him out of sight. Brodie's friends were underneath. He would have been taken down quickly and smuggled away."
However, Jan Andrew-Henderson, a city tour guide, said: "There may be no definitive evidence that Brodie did die on the gallows, but at the same time there's no firm evidence that he survived. He wasn't particularly clever and it was very difficult to escape death on the gallows."
Case Reopened – BBC Radio Scotland, Monday, 11:30am.
ROYAL MILE ROGUE
WILLIAM Brodie was almost certainly born where Brodie's Close, in the Lawnmarket section of the Royal Mile, now stands.
His father, Francis Brodie, was a prominent cabinet-maker in the city.
Opposite the close to this day stands the pub named after the city's most notorious politician.
Brodie was famously caught after attempting a raid on excise offices at Chessel's Court, off the Canongate.
After being extradited from the Netherlands, Brodie was held in the Tollbooth jail below the Royal Mile, while he awaited trial. He was hung outside the Tollbooth itself.
The writer Robert Louis Stevenson famously had a cabinet in the bedroom of his Heriot Row home in the New Town which was made by William Brodie.
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