The Gilded Age Plains City

The Great Sheedy Murder Trial and the Booster Ethos of Lincoln, Nebraska


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Spatial Narratives

Interpretation and Narrative

The State's Opening.

"Gentlemen of the Jury: We have been engaged now since last Monday morning in the selection of a jury to try this case and I presume that you are impressed with the importance of the case, sitting here as you have and seeing the number of men that have been examined and the challenges have been used on the part of the state and on the part of the defense, you men are selected to pass upon the issues that are involved in this trial. Possibly some of you knew personally John Sheedy. He came to this town in an early day and on the 11th day of January of this year at about half past seven o'clock, as he stepped out of his own door in this city, he was assaulted, struck over the left eye with some blunt instrument. The wound was dressed by two of our physicians, who at the time did not consider it serious. At 4 o'clock, however, Monday morning his symptoms were alarming and at ten o'clock that evening he died. In the criminal annals of this county, yea I might say of this state, there never was a more brutal, cowardly murder than that of John Sheedy. Immediately after the wounds were dressed he went to bed, and the evidence will show you that he was given three doses of medicine known by the name of 'sulfonal," to qeuit [sic] his fever and allay his pain, that he might get some rest. The first dose was given him about eleven o'clock, and the second near twelve o'clock, and these were given by his attending physician, Dr. Hart. At nearly one o'clock the third dose was given in some coffee, which was prepared by the defendant, Mary Sheedy, in this case. That he retained upon his stomach, and very shortly passed into what was at the time supposed to be natural sleep produced by sulfonal. At about four o'clock the next morning—this was given at one o'clock—a nephew of the deceased, young Dennis Sheedy, called the attention to the attending physician to the fact that his uncle was breathing very heavily. It was then discovered that John Sheedy was unconscious that he was lying in a comatose condition, that he was breathing only about six times a minute, that his eyes were closed and his limbs were paralyzed. In other words he was suffering from all of the symptoms of morphing poisoning or compression of the brain caused by the blow, the two being very similar, I might add, however, that one symptom usually presented in morphine poisoning was absent, namely the contraction of the pupils of the eye. However, the expert testimony on that point will be that the pupils are not always contracted. Some times in fact in the later stages of the case they are as often dilated perhaps as contracted, the muscles and nerves of the eye become paralyzed, and it is in just the condition that the pupil of the eye happens to be at the time. The expert testimony that will be introduced in this case will probably not be altogether harmonious as to the cause of Mr. Sheedy's death but it will all be within the variations, or counts rather, set up in the information. The information which is filled in this case charges the defendant, Monday McFarland, and Mary Sheedy, who was the wife of the deceased, with murdering John Sheedy. Originally the information contained six counts, but the first two—(Philpott objects). I say those as to two counts were withdrawn from the consideration of the jury and they have been soon withdrawn by order of the court, but the third count charges the defendant, Monday McFarland, with striking John Sheedy over the head with a cane and killing him, and also charges the defendant, Mary Sheedy, with being an accessory to that murder. The fourth count charges Mary Sheedy with the killing of John Sheedy by administering to him morphine and the defendant, Monday McFarland as an accessory to the murder. The fifth count charges Monday McFarland and Mary Sheedy both, jointly as principals, with the killing by the cane and by the administering of morphine, and the sixth and last count charges Monday McFarland and Mary Sheedy jointly with the killing of John Sheedy by striking him over the head with a cane. Perhaps it might be well for us to pause here for a short time and get definitely fixed in mind what is meant by the pridcipal [sic] , once as an accessory before the face and twice as a principal jointly with the defendant Monday McFarland; likewise Monday McFarland is charged once as an accessory before the fact, once as a principal and twice as a principal jointly with the defendant Mrs. Sheedy. As I understand it, by the laws of this state on is a principal who does the crime, or commits the act himself, to illustrate it we will say by a case of stealing—and I want to add further to that the one who is present at the time aiding, advising and abetting the other to commit the act. Now for illustration, if A. goes into a man's store and steals money or anything that is in that store, he does the act himself, and under the definition he is the principal, and if B., on the other hand, stays on the outside and watches in order to give a signal for the other man who is in there, the two working together, he likewise is a principal, although he did not go into the store and take the money, and is a principal. Or to illustrate it by this case: If Monday McFarland hit John Sheedy over the head with the cane and killed him, Monday McFarland would be a principal. If the evidence would show also that Mary Sheedy at the time of the delivery of this blow by Monday was in the Sheedy house and was signaling or doing anything to aid Monday, McFarland in the doing of what he was doing, as, for instance, the raising of the window curtain to let Monday know Sheedy was about to come out of the house, she would also be a principal, although she would not have anything to do with the giving directly of the blow. An accessory before the fact, as I understand, is one who is not present at the time that the crime was committed, but prior to that time has advised or aided or encouraged the execution of the crime. To illustrate that by this case: If the evidence should disclose to you, as it will be brought out here by the witnesses, that Mrs. Sheedy gave poison to Mr. Sheedy, but that prior to that time Monday McFarland had struck Mr. Sheedy over the head and disabled him in order that Mrs. Sheedy might follow up what he had done by the administering of poison, then Monday McFarland would be an accessory before the fact and Mrs. Sheedy would be the principal; or again, if it is shown that Monday McFarland delivered the blow that killed Mr. Sheedy, but prior to that time Mrs. Sheedy had employed Monday McFarland to do it, or had advised him to do it, or had encouraged him to do it, she would be an accessory before the fact, although she did not know that Monday McFarland was going to do it, or might not have been in the house at all.

So much for the information or what might be called the law of the case. Now as to the evidence against the defendants—first as to the evidence against Monday McFarland: The evidence will show that Monday McFarland was a barber, and has lived in this city some eleven years, and that he was well known by Mr. Sheedy. It will also disclose the fact that for some time prior to this assault upon Mr. Sheedy, Monday McFarland was wearing different clothes, not his own. On one occasion he would have on one kind of a coat and on another occasion he would have on another. And his hat—it ought to be a hat it might be a cap. It seemed that he was trying to disguise himself for some purpose. It will also show to you that he was seen very often on the corner of Thirteenth and P streets or near, and bear in mind that the Sheedy resident is near the corner of Twelfth and P, just on the opposite side of the block; and when he would be seen here he would try to prevent others from recognizing him. When anyone would come along he would step behind a tree or telephone pole or something of that kind to prevent recognition. The evidence will show to you that immediately after the assault upon Mr. Sheedy Monday McFarland changed his overcoat; that prior to that time he had gotten an overcoat of one P.J. Stepney and immediately after the assault was made upon Mr. Sheedy he exchanged the overcoat and got his own. The evidence will show to you that this P.J. Stepney is a relative of Monday's, namely a cousin. The evidence will also show to you that Tuesday prior to the assault upon Mr. Sheedy, which occurred on Sunday, Monday McFarland purchased of one Hyman Goldwater, who is a pawnbroker in this city, an iron cane, which was wound with leather, and that the cane had certain peculiar marks upon it by which it could afterwards be, and was afterwards, identified. And this cane, which was purchased on Tuesday, was found upon the Sheedy steps by the officers of this city immediately after the assault was made upon Mr. Sheedy. The evidence will further show you that Mr. McFarland or Monday McFarland told one of his friends on this Sunday night, immediately after the assault, that he had lost his cane, and that he was used up with rheumatism. He probably fell in getting off of the Sheedy porch, which would account for his being used up, or, as he explained it, his rheumatism, and then finally we have his full confession that he did not just what he has."

Col. Philpott interrupted and protested that while he conceded the right of the state to say that there was a confession, not one word of what that confession contained was permissible until the court had ruled upon its competency. The court sustained the objection against the protest of Messrs. Snell and Lambertson. Mr. Snell proceeded: "I believe that the evidence in this case will show you that some one was trying to take the life of John Sheedy. A short time before this assault was made upon him he was shot at by some one, and the testimony of the hired girl who was there at the house will be that some one was prowling around the house and she was afraid to go out after dark. There was a conspiracy, in other words, on foot to get rid of John Sheedy. Now what motive had the defendant, Monday McFarland, to strike John Sheedy over the head with this cane? His motive, as we look at and as we think the evidence wills how you, is what implicates the defendant in this case, Mary Sheedy. The evidence will show you that John Sheedy had always been a friend of Monday McFarland; that Sheedy shaved at McFarland's shop and that he always liberally rewarded him; and that Mr. Sheedy also had Monday McFarland got down to his house to care for his wife's fair; and we believe that this, on the part of Mr. Sheedy, the sending him there, is what finally ripened into the conspiracy that took the life of John Sheedy.

Colonel Philpott objected to the reference to a conspiracy, as to the counts charging conspiracy had been stricken out, but the court said that he would not only not forbid reference to a conspiracy, but that in his final instructions he would probably rule directly the opposite to line asked by defenses.

Mr. Snell then concluded:

"The evidence in this case was will show to you that John Sheedy was a man some fifty odd years of age; that his female defendant, was much younger about thirty-five or thereabouts that she had been married twice before she and Mr. Sheedy, and that she had lived with him as his mistress for a year or more prior to their marriage. (Objected to by Mr. Strode, but overruled). The evidence will further show to you that owing to the fact that Sheedy was a gambler, that their social friends were few. The evidence will also show to you that they had not children children, and that there was nothing to unite the two together except their own compatibility. The state will not go into their domestic relations prior to late last year, but sometime in July of that year Mrs. Sheedy went to Buffalo, N.Y., for medical treatment, and there she met a young man some twenty-eight years of age, by the name of A.H. Walstrom, and when Mrs. Sheedy returned home she brought with her a photograph of this young man. The evidence will also show to you that when she returned to Lincoln Mr. Sheedy did not meet her at the train, and of this she complained very bitterly, and she said at the time that is after her return from Buffalo, that Sheedy was mean to her, that he treated her badly, that he was crazy and that he threatened her life; that he carried a revolved and she was afraid of him, and that she was

afraid he was going to shoot her. The evidence will also show to you that at that time she said to one of her neighbors that she was going to leave John Sheedy, and one afternoon she did go to this neighboring house and say that she had left John Sheedy. Now bear in mind the evidence will show that this, her leaving John Sheedy and all of this, took place when Walstrom, this young man that she had met in Buffalo, was in the city. The evidence will show to you that Walstrom's coming to this state was not chance. She had told different persons in this town that Walstrom would be here, the only conclusion being that she had made arrangements with him when they were in Buffalo that he would come here, or they had carried on a secret and surreptitious correspondence in this manner. She had spoken to a young man by the name of John Klausner, who will be a witness this in this case, and told him that when Walstrom did come here that she wanted him, that is Klausner, to room with this young man Walstrom, and so when Walstrom did come to this city he went over to the Windsor hotel, where this young man Klausner was at work, sought him out and the two went together down here to a building known as the Heater block and there they picked out a room and roomed together. The evidence will also show to you that this Mr. Walstrom paid all of this room rent except about $1. It will also show to you that this young man carried notes back and forth between Mrs. Sheedy and this young man Walstrom. The prosecution does not know the contents of these notes. It will also show to you that Mrs. Sheedy sent down there to that room little delicacies for this young man Walstrom to eat, wines and cakes and knick-knacks and the like. And the evidence will also show to you that while this young man was here Mrs. Sheedy gave him presents, she also was seen with him at different times, and when this young man would call over at a neighbor's they would go and send up and Mrs. Sheedy would come over there. The evidence will also show to you that after this shooting that had been done, after Mr. Sheedy was show at, some time prior to this assault, that Mrs. Sheedy had remarked that the people could not pay Harry did it—that is what she called this young man Walstrom—that the people could not say harry did it, because Harry was at work that night. The evidence will also show to you that the very night John Sheedy was assaulted and lay there upon his bed of pain, that Mrs. Sheedy sent word by Charlie Carpenter to this young man Walstrom that John Sheedy had been struck over the head by some one. The evidence will also show you that after John Sheedy was dead she sent another messenger to this young man Walstrom, and told him as he valued her friendship he must be present at John Sheedy's funeral. We believe on the part of the state that we can convince you and show to you that Mrs. Sheedy was tired of her husband; that she had become infatuated with this young man; that she had determined to get rid of John Sheedy, get his property and enjoy it with her new found lover. Monday McFarland was the agent she chose to employ to assassinate her husband. She gave him money and promised him more to incite his cupidity; allowed him the pleasures of her body in order to get his confidence and get him into her possession and to inflame his courage, and she with the nerve of Lady Macbeth would finish with the drug what had been begun with the club, if the blow that Monday gave him was not sufficient to cause his death. Now if poison was administered to Mr. Sheedy, who administered it? The evidence will show you that no one, so far as the state is aware, gave Mr. Sheedy anything except the doctors and herself, and all of the medicine that the doctor gave him was the sulfonal, ten grams at two doses, which I mentioned along in the first part of my statement to you. The dose that she gave him in the coffee—bear in mind the evidence will show you that immediately after that he passed into a stupor, comatose conditions, from which he never recovered—and Mrs. Sheedy, when her husband was sinking, going to his long rest, remarked to different persons who were about the room that the doctors were giving him something; that the blow would not have caused his death. This is very brief as an outline of what we believe the evidence will show you. We believe the evidence will show you that John Sheedy was murdered, and that the defendants in this case murdered him. And if we show this to you beyond a reasonable doubt, we believe that it will be your duty as conscientious men and as upright jurors to return a verdict in accordance with such convictions, be the consequences and the penalty they may."

Mr. Stearns for Mary Sheedy.

Mr. Stearns, in presenting the case on behalf of his client, Mary Sheedy said:

"I venture to say that if any of you gentlemen of the jury ever sat upon a jury where a murder case was tried, or was ever in a court room during the progress of a trial, you never heard the routine of as weak testimony claiming that a murder had been committed and asking you to convict upon the testimony as outlined, as you have heard this afternoon. Now, gentlemen of the jury, it is perfectly proper for the state to outline what he expects to prove it is perfectly proper for the defense to outline in a very brief manner the nature of the defense that we expect to interpose in a case of this kind. Now, we expect on the part of the defendant here, Mrs. Sheedy, who sits before you to-day with her pensive, sad face—we expect the testimony will show to you that her husband, John Sheedy, was a gambler; that he was a common gambler; that he had [?]llowed that business nearly all his life, if not all of it altogether; that he was a strong character of that kind, strong and influential among his associates; that he achieved distinction as a ruler over them; that he managed and controlled them; that he practically had a monopoly of the gambling business in this community; that by so doing he had made many malignant and bitter enemies among his own profession; that he had suspicions of members among his own profession; that a short time prior to the time he received the fatal blow he had private detectives in his employ to protect and guard him and keep him from receiving personal injury. We expect the testimony will show you satisfactorly [sic] that, as has been stated by the counsel for the state, a short time prior to the time this fatal blow was administered to John Sheedy someone made an assault upon him and tried a shot at him and that the bullet fell short of the mission intended by the would be assassin. We expect that it will appear in evidence that the man that fired that shot was a white man; that it will appear to your satisfaction by competent evidence, so there will be no question upon that point in your minds when you come to pass upon it. Now, as there is no crime that can be committed, or has ever been committed, unless there is a motive for it, they undertake to assign some kind of a motive, so far as Mrs. Sheedy was involved in this proceeding. What is the motive, now? They tell you that she was in Buffalo in July, 1890; she went there, as the evidence will show you, to receive medical treatment; while there she made a chance acquaintance of a young man, as has been stated, Mr. Walstrom. It happens in after weeks that Mr. Walstrom came here for his health. Now then, gentlemen of the jury, there are some little circumstances that will connect Mrs. Sheedy with this man Walstrom; some insignificant circumstances. I undertake to show you to you that there is nothing of any consequence, nothing that is material, that will come out, nothing that is criminating in its nature between the associations of Mrs. Sheedy and this many Walstrom. I undertake to say that the state will fail to prove any material allegation in that information, so far as anything criminating in its circumstances, or in its associations, or in its surroundings with this man Walstrom. Now then I suppose that is sufficient for me to say upon this branch of the testimony, as it will appear to you that this many Walstrom was arrested; that he had a full, fair, complete and perfect examination before the examining magistrate that bound these two defendants over, and that after a full and complete hearing, he had no hesitancy in discharging this man Walstrom. And I want to say to you that the rule of law is reversed that applied to an examining magistrate, for it only requires probably cause, probable belief, probably guilt to bind a man over to answer to the district court; but here it requires that you be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Now I want to say this, that if Providence should mysteriously remove the heads of any one of the many greatly respected families in this community there would be ready at hand many circumstances and many proofs that are more convincing of a criminal motive in the minds of those men who are taken off in that way, than existed in this case, as you will find when the full testimony is completely before you. now, gentlemen of the jury, there is another feature in this case which I think will fully appear in testimony before you that will convince you that this is not a prosecution in any fair sense introduced here and managed by the state. You have but to look to the east and you see two very able counsel who have been retained as private counsel to assist the state in this case. It will appear to you, gentlemen of the jury, and your complete and perfect satisfaction, that this is a persecution; that it is the cupidity of John Sheedy's brothers and sisters; that it is their cupidity and desires that influence them; that it is these impulses that have been working and have brought to bear in this case to encompass a conviction of this sorrow stricken, sadfaced woman that appears here before you to-day, in order that they may get the whole of John Sheedy's estate instead of the half of it. It is blood money; it is a conspiracy to convict for the love of money, illustrating the old adge [sic] that "The love of money is the root of all evil" more pertinently than the presentation of it has ever come so your observation before. They have not allowed her one cent to maintain her. When the probate court has made her an allowance, a reasonable allowance for her maintenance and support, out of the estate of John Sheedy, the administrator representing the heirs has appealed from it, represented by one of the learned counsel who appears to prosecute this case. They refused to let her have any support: they refused to let her have any say about the managment [sic] of this estate or control of it, or have any voice in the management of it whatever, and then it will appear to you by satisfactory and convincing proof. Now then, gentlemen of the jury, you must remember, in analyzing and sifting this testimony, that you must be convinced of the truth of every material allegation in every one of the counts in this information before you can convict. You must remember that the state is large and powerful, and while it is the duty of the state to prevent crime and to punish its commission, no great harm will come to the state if an occasional criminal escapes. How is it on the other hand? How is it when an innocent person is convicted of death and is sentenced to be hung or imprisoned when they are innocent? Why, it shocks the sensibilities unspeakably. You remember what has been said, often and often, that "it is better to let ninety-nine guilty ones escape rather than have one innocent suffer." Remember the sentiment of this little stanza and let it govern you, and control you, and influence you all through your examination and investigation of this case:

"In men whom men condemn as ill,
I find so much of goodness still; In men whom men pronounce divine
I find so much of sin and [r]ot, I hesitate to draw the line
Between the two, where God has not."

Colonel Philpott then spoke briefly but earnestly in behalf of his client, Monday McFarland, denouncing with the utmost violence the methods employed by Officer Malone and Mayor Graham to secure Monday's confession, and ripping the counsel for the state up the back. He claimed that claimed that Malone and Melick were conspirators to secure the reward.

At the conclusion of the address Judge Field adjourned court until 9a.m. to-day.

Notes of the Trial.

Judge Field will adjourn court to-morrow long enough to permit all to attend the presidential reception.

Myron E. Wheeler has been secured by Reporter Mullon to report the testimony, as the former desires to catch up with past court work. It will be as well done as man can do it.

It is said that the eleven men who were in the jury room Tuesday night, a week ago, took a vote on their ideas of the case and that everyman favored the conviction of the darkey and six of the eleven were convicting Mrs. Sheedy. The only man now on the jury who was then a member is Van Campin.

Field, Allen W. [Brief Biography]
Graham, Robert B. [Brief Biography]
Hart, Charles S. [Brief Biography]
Lambertson, Genio M. [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Malone, James [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
McFarland, Monday [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Melick, Samuel M. [Brief Biography]
Philpott, James E. [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, John [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, Mary [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Snell, Novia Z. [Brief Biography]
Stearns, Royal D. [Brief Biography]

"Twelve Good Men and True," The Nebraska State Journal May 12, 1891

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