If Only They’d Listened: The Sad Tale of Hannah Heesom

New Year’s Eve 1828 was a sad day for Thomas Heesom. Not only did he bury his daughter, 5 year old Hannah, but that evening, her body was snatched not having been in the ground for 24 hours. 

West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Reference: RDP106/28. Via Ancestry.co.uk

Being a little uneasy about the activities of the resurrection men, Mr Heesom had given strict instructions to the sexton of St Mary’s Church to place layers of straw in Hannah’s grave when filling it back up. These instructions were ignored, the straw being ‘dumped’ directly on top of the coffin before the soil was replaced. Heesom’s request to dig a deeper that normal grave was also ignored. 

Leeds Intelligencer - Thursday 22 January 1829
Leeds Intelligencer – Thursday 22 January 1829

If the Sexton had listened to Thomas Heesom that day, Hannah may still be lying in her grave. However, less than 24 hours later, Hannah, together with her coffin, were removed from Whitkirk church by the body snatcher Thomas Brown. 

Leeds Mercury – Saturday 24 January 1829


Mr Heesom was so desperate to get his daughter back that he offered a £10 reward. It is not without suspicion that the notorious body snatcher William Yeardley was the one to alert Thomas Heesom of the fate of his daughter. As principal witness at Brown;s trial, Yeardley stated that Brown had been so unprofessional during the snatching that he had ruined any chances of any other resurrection men using the site for at least a year. 

Standing trial at Leeds it became obvious that Brown would probably have been caught anyway, he was disturbed a number of times whilst trying to secure a ‘subject’ that night, and it was his lack of care on removing Hannah’s body and his failure to ensure that his presence in the churchyard that night went undetected that led to his arrest. Yeardley just pointed the authorities in the right direction. 

The National Archives Criminal Registers HO 27; Piece: 38; Page: 373
The National Archives Criminal Registers HO 27; Piece: 38; Page: 373

Brown was sentenced to one month imprisonment with hard labour. William Yeardley was not imprisoned on this occasion despite his obvious involvement. By informing Mr Heesom about his daughter which subsequently lead to Brown’s imprisonment, Yeardley was given the £10 reward. 

A slightly fuller account of this case can be found in my book ‘Bodysnatchers: Digging up the untold stories of Britain’s Resurrection Men’ available via the link at the top of this blog.