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In Edinburgh during the 1820s, Dr. Robert Knox holds to the theory that nothing should stand in the way of science, not even a law stipulating that only the bodies of criminals hanged in prison may be used for medical research. Consequently, he scandalizes his more orthodox colleagues by dealing with grave robbers, in particular, two nefarious Irishmen named Burke and Hare. The two men eventually decide to obtain additional corpses by murdering unknown, drunken derelicts. But they over-reach themselves when they kill a prostitute, Mary Patterson, and her boyfriend, Chris, one of Dr. Knox's students. When the two fiends are arrested, Hare turns king's evidence to escape Burke's fate on the gallows. Upon his release, however, Hare is attacked by an angry mob who burn out his eyes as retribution for his crimes. Dr. Knox, cleared of complicity in the murders, finds himself despised by the people of Edinburgh, but he becomes a renowned lecturer.