Edinburgh historical figure from the 18th century, famed for being a town councillor by day and a housebreaker by night. He was allegedly the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
William Brodie was the son of a respected figure in Edinburgh society. His father had a cabinetry business in the Lawnmarket and served on the town council. The younger Brodie learned his father's trade, but spent his spare time gambling, drinking and womanising.
When his father died in 1780, Brodie inherited the cabinetry shop, a substantial sum of money, and the family house. However, his profligate lifestyle was more expensive than he could support from his legitimate business. He still drank and gambled heavily. Sources vary about how many mistresses he had, ranging from two to five. He also had a number of illegitimate children to support.
He succeeded to his father's place on the town council, where one of the topics of constant concern was the level of burglary taking place in Edinburgh. The council voted to set up new gallows, and Brodie helped obtain the timber. At the same time, he was taking wax impressions of his clients' keys when he went into their houses on business. His partner in crime, English locksmith George Smith, would make keys from the impressions, and Brodie would return at night to steal his customers' possessions.
Brodie and Smith then decided to rob the Excise Office along with two other burgulars, Andrew Ainslie and John Brown, on April 5, 1788. After the robbery, Brown turned informer in exchange for a reward and a free pardon. Smith and Ainslie were arrested, and Brodie fled to Amsterdam. He was caught boarding a ship to America and extradited back to Scotland to stand trial. Both he and Smith were sentenced to hang on the city's new gallows (the very ones he had helped build) in October 1788.
Rumours that Brodie did not die on the scaffold abound to this day. Some say he wore a harness to his execution, so that he could appear hanged and still survive. Others think that he persuaded a surgeon to put a metal tube into his windpipe so that it would not be crushed by the noose. There are stories that he was seen in Paris after his execution.
Deacon Brodie's life was made into a film in 1996, starring Billy Connolly, and one of the most popular pubs on the Royal Mile bears his name. However, his most popular legacy is probably the fictional characters that he inspired, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.