Deacon William Brodie


Deacon William Brodie was born in 1741 and was a qualified tradesman who worked as a cabinet maker. He was also Deacon of the Trades Guild and an Edinburgh City Councillor. He inherited the family business in the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh when his father died.

On the surface he was a pillar of the local community but Brodie had a secret gambling problem and he was a womaniser with at least five illegitimate children. He could not afford his vices and so he began to make copies of the keys to the houses and businesses in which he worked and then return later to rob them.

He teamed up with an English locksmith called George Smith and the two became increasingly bold with their thefts. He was eventually exposed after an armed raid on the Excise Office, his gang had grown to four by this point and Brodie was supposed to keep a lookout but he fell asleep. Most of them escaped but one was caught and he gave up his colleagues to avoid the death penalty. Brodie fled to Amsterdam but was caught there and extradited back to Edinburgh to stand trial. Brodie was sentenced to be hanged along with his accomplice George Smith. The sentence was carried out in 1788 using a gallows that Brodie himself had designed.

The rumours were that he used some kind of harness to evade death, possibly a steel collar and he bribed the hangman into silence before escaping again afterwards. There were later claims he had been spotted in Paris but the truth is unknown and it most likely he died and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Apparently Brodie provided some of the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's classic the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Stevenson's father had commissioned Brodie years earlier to make some furntiture for him.

There is also a pub named after him on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh called Deacon Brodie's Tavern.