Americas,  ER,  United States

Benjamin Franklin-  Founding Father and Serial Killer?

Basement of the Craven House Photo Credit-

Benjamin Franklin is a famous founding father, author and inventor.  However, there is a strange tale that is unfolding from his time living in London.

From 1757 to 1775, Benjamin Franklin lived in London as an ambassador for the American colonies.  His residence was a beautiful Georgian style home at 36 Craven Street.  In 1998, conservationists were restoring the residence at Craven Street to make it a museum.  There they made a disturbing discovery.  In a windowless room underneath the garden, human remains were found.  Jim Field was working in the basement and found a small pit, where sticking out of the dirt floor was a human thigh bone.  Naturally, he was alarmed and the police were called.  Experts came in and more bones were discovered in the pit until there were the remains of 10 bodies, six of them children.  Scotland Yard bowed out of the investigation when it was found the remains were 200 years old.  However, historians from the Institute of Archaeology were intrigued.  This age put the remains as being in the house at the same time Franklin was living there.  Was one of our most beloved founding fathers a serial killer?

Well, before we get a up petition to take him off the hundred dollar bill, there is a more plausible explanation.  Many of the bones had saw marks on them, which led researchers to believe they had been dissected.  Franklin had many friends and colleagues that visited him at the house on Craven Street.  One of them was William Hewson, a pupil of one of the most brilliant anatomists of the day William Hunter.  Hewson and Hunter had a falling out, and therefore Hewson was not allowed to return to the anatomy school he ran out of his mother-in-law’s house.  At this time, the study of anatomy was frowned about by ethical society.  People were not donating their bodies for scientific study.  Hunter and Hewson most certainly were getting their specimens by grave robbing- either doing it themselves or paying so called “resurrection men”.  Because of this, Hewson did not have many options to continue his studies once he was barred from Hunter’s school.  It makes sense that he would turn to Franklin.

He and Franklin were close, and many considered Hewson Franklin’s protege.  Also, Franklin was notoriously interested in everything- from physics to philosophy.  It would not have been out of character for him to have had an interest in anatomical studies.  However, this was highly illegal, so we cannot be sure how involved Franklin would have been.  The Friends of Benjamin Franklin society have found evidence that Franklin lent the house on Craven Street to Hewson, so the experiments could have been conducted during this time.  It is within the realm of possibility that he knew about the anatomical school on his property.  I would imagine his notorious curiosity got the better of him and he snuck down to take a look a couple of times.  

In 1776, Franklin returned to America and Hewson would have been forced to find another haven for his experiments.  Hewson died not too long after from developing blood poisoning after cutting himself during a dissection.  Franklin went on to bigger and better things in the a little thing called the American Revolution.  And the bodies in the basement waited to be found.


Sources available on request