9. The Black Market Victim
In the 18th century, a young woman died in Scotland. Her name and life story are unknown, but a stomach-churning narrative is etched in her skull. The woman’s remains were recovered from a plot reserved for the deceased not claimed, usually because the families were too poor to pay for a funeral.
Paupers make for exploitable corpses. During that time, there was a great need for bodies nobody would miss. The Edinburgh Royal Infirmary once stood opposite the cemetery, and the hospital staff moonlighted by selling body parts to the city’s medical underground.
The woman, who was in her late twenties or early thirties, had a cleft skull marking her as one of Edinburgh’s first autopsies. Her front teeth had also been wrenched out. Researchers believe that low-paid workers sold them to the then-thriving market for dentures made with real teeth.
It is not clear why she died. But after death, doctors sawed open her head, likely for research purposes. Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was a flagship in medical research, but the anonymous woman’s treatment highlighted the criminal practices that went with it.