Whether Abigail Simpson or Joseph the Miller was the first person to be murdered is still a matter of controversy. Historian Lisa Rosner, author of The Anatomy Murders: Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh's Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes, believes that while Joseph was likely to have been the first murder victim, Simpson was probably the first victim to get "burked."
"Burking" involves covering the victim's nose and mouth while squeezing her rib cage and thus preventing her lungs and diaphragm from expanding. In other words, the victim can no longer breathe. Unlike other methods of suffocation, such as smothering, "burking" was, as Rosner put it "practically undetectable until the era of modern forensics." It's doubtful that Abigail Simpson or any other able bodied adult would simply lie still while for two men to sit upon her torso and cover her nose and mouth. Simpson, like most of Burke and Hare's victims, first fell pray to their charms and to alcohol.
Simpson had come to Edinburgh on February 11, 1828. The next day she was lured into the Hare boarding house for a little whiskey. And within 72 hours of her arrival, her body, along with Joseph's had been sold to Dr. Robert Knox at Surgeon's Square. Knox's assistant, Alexander Miller, would not have been surprised to receive a body reeking of liquor. Drunken stupor and alcohol poisoning were common causes of death among the so-called "lower people." So no questions were asked. In fact, Dr. Knox was reportedly pleased to receive corpses that were "so fresh."
Once the people of Edinburgh finally discovered Burke and Hares lucrative and lethal use of liquor compressive asphyxia, it was too late for Abigail Simpson, Joseph the Miller, and fourteen other souls. And the very notion of a murder method that left no trace struck terror in the hearts of British citizens for years to come.