William Brodie (1741 – 1788), more commonly known by his prestigious title of Deacon Brodie, was a Scottish cabinet-maker who maintained a secret life as a burglar, partly for the thrill, and partly to fund his gambling.
Billy Connolly as Deacon Brodie found here
By day, Brodie was a respectable businessman, member of the burgh council and deacon (or president) of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons. Part of his job in building cabinets was to install and repair their locks and other security mechanisms.
Victorian lock found here
At night, however, Brodie became a burglar and thief. He used his daytime job as a way to gain knowledge about the security of his clients and to copy their keys using wax impressions. He used the illicit money to maintain his second life, including five children, two mistresses who did not know of each other, and a gambling habit, reputedly with a loaded dice.
Get your loaded dice napkins here
In 1786 he recruited a gang of three thieves, Brown, Smith, and Ainslie, and then organised an armed raid on an Excise office in Chessel’s Court on the Canongate. One story has it that Brodie, probably being very intoxicated, actually fell asleep during the midnight break-in. Ainslie was captured and agreed to turn King’s evidence, informing on the rest of the gang. Brodie escaped to the Netherlands but was arrested in Amsterdam and shipped back to Edinburgh for trial.
image found here
The jury found Brodie, and his henchman George Smith, guilty. Smith was an English locksmith responsible for a number of thefts, even stealing the silver mace from the University of Edinburgh. Before a crowd estimated at over 40,000 Brodie and Smith were hanged at the Tolbooth on 1 October 1788, using a gallows Brodie had designed and funded the year before. According to one tale, Brodie wore a steel collar and had a silver tube inserted in his throat by a surgeon to prevent the hanging from being fatal. It was said that he had bribed the hangman to ignore it and arranged for his body to be removed quickly in the hope that he could later be revived. If so, the plan failed though rumours circulated later that he had been seen in Paris.
collar found here
The dichotomy between Brodie’s respectable façade, and his real nature inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Stevenson’s father had furniture made by Brodie.
image found here