The Unexplained: Who was the real life Jekyll and Hyde?

A historical sketch of Deacon William Brodie. Photo: the national.scot

In the late 1700s in Edinburgh, Scotland, there lived a man named William Brodie.  He was a respectable and respected man.  William Brodie was an excellent cabinet maker and furniture maker.  He belonged to more than one guild for skilled craftsmen.  His father was a prosperous businessman, and both of his grandfathers were lawyers.

William got the title of Deacon, not from his religious activities, but from his presidency in one of the trade guilds.  Because of his high offices in the trade guilds, he maintained some positions of influence in Edinburgh.  He was also an Edinburgh city councilor.

Not only was Deacon Brodie an expert at making fine furniture and cabinets, he was also an excellent locksmith.  He was sought out for his locksmith talents by many elites of the area.  That is when something changed in William Brodie.  Something a little dark crept into his soul.  Something compelled him to start making copies of the keys he had made for the wealthy of Edinburgh.

Sara Marie Hogg

In 1768, for a thrill, Deacon Brodie used a copy of a key he had made for a bank to break in and steal 800 pounds.  He did not need the money.  He was well-fixed and his father had died leaving him a large sum of cash, four houses, some land, a thriving business, and other assets.

At this time in his life, Deacon Brodie belonged to several posh gentlemen’s clubs.  Some of them did center around gambling activities.  He especially liked to wager on cockfights, so some of his riches were slipping through his fingers.  He was also supporting two mistresses and five children.  His financial situation was nowhere near being in jeopardy, but he did have expensive tastes.  Perhaps that is what nudged him into a sideline of crime—no one knew.  He still maintained his prominent standing and was thought of as a pleasant and kindly gentleman.

If Deacon Brodie had kept his crimes to himself, he may have never been found out, but he was lured into partnering with some very shady criminal types.  They robbed tobacconists and goldsmiths.  They stole gold, jewelry, and expensive tea and tobacco.  In a nervy move, they broke into the University of Edinburgh and stole a historical relic.

Then they foolishly tried to break into the Excise Office of Edinburgh and were almost caught.  This caused an angry rift in the gang of thieves and they disbanded and scattered.  One of the gang had his head turned by the promise of big reward money for turning in the other thieves.  When he started turning in his fellow gang members a terrified Deacon Brodie fled the country—greedy reward seekers made sure he was tracked down in Holland, and he was returned for trial.

Up until this very moment, Deacon Brodie was still a nice, respected, well-to-do citizen, respected by many for his talents and contributions to society.  They did not know he had a secret evil life on the dark, wild, side.  It was almost as if he could drink a potion and turn instantly evil.  Does this sound a bit familiar?

Why is any of this mysterious?  It is because Deacon Brodie was the real-life model for the character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Deacon Brodie’s trial only lasted 21 hours.  Over 40,000 people packed in to view his hanging.  A gentleman to the very end, Deacon Brodie insisted on wearing only the finest clothing and an expensive powdered wig—one of many that he owned—for the occasion.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of The Scavenger’s Song. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

Sara Marie Hogg

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