William Brodie (1741-1788)
lived a double life. Unlike most of the stories in this column,
though, our subject was not an inventor. He did, however, inspire a
writer to invent a new character based on his life. Read on … this
one will surprise you.
Brodie was a cabinetmaker. His work as a cabinetmaker also
included installing and repairing his clients' locks. Born in
Edinburgh to a father who was also a cabinetmaker, he would later
inherit his father's business.
Robert Louis Stevenson's father owned one of the cabinets that
Brodie had made.
Brodie also served as an inspiration to the younger Stevenson
(1850-1894). But not in the way you might think, as Brodie led a
double life. He was a respected cabinetmaker and town council member
by day and a burglar by night.
In an effort to support his wild lifestyle, which included
gambling, two mistresses and five illegitimate children, William
Brodie the cabinetmaker embarked upon an 18-month crime spree
beginning in 1786. He gained entry into his, uh, customers' homes by
making wax replicas of their house keys during the day and returning
at night to steal. In fact, Brodie was often hired to repair the
doors that he had broken into the previous night.
In addition to building cabinets, Brodie also designed some of
the gallows where hangings took place. Now you know how his story
ends, but there's something else about him that you probably didn't
[to top of second column]
I mentioned earlier that he was not an inventor, but he did inspire
Robert Louis Stevenson to invent a new character for one of his
stories. This character was based on Brodie's life.
William Brodie was the real-life version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!
But you knew that all along, didn't you?
Brodie was caught while trying to escape to America. He was
brought before a judge whose nickname was "The Hanging Judge." Now
there's a lesson to be learned here: If you're going to face a
judge, be sure to get one whose nickname is not "The Hanging Judge."
You'll thank me for it later.
Brodie met his match in the form of a hangman's noose.
Ironically, Brodie was one of the people who had earlier helped
create the design for the gallows. On the day of his hanging, he
bribed the hangman to help him escape by hiding a steel collar
inside the noose, but it didn't work. While William Brodie was able
to cheat his clients, he wasn't able to cheat death.
In the end, one of the great literary stories of all time had
Paul Niemann's column is syndicated
in more than 70 newspapers, and he is the author of the "Invention
Mysteries" series of books. He can be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2009