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



Stenographer Wheeler Had Not the
Nerve to Sing It, but Mumbled It
Quietly to the Jury.

The Corroborative Testimony Begun and
The Cane Identified—How Monday
Was Spotted—His Numer-
ous Admissions.

A Most Trying Ordeal Passed.

"James Van Campin."


"George Albrecht."


"J.C. Jensen."


"Jacob Croy."


"Albert Ward."


"Henry L. Willis."


"Ed Young."


"John Robertson."


"C.S. Cadwallader."


"Luther Patten."


"James Johnson."


"Thomas Riley."


The Sheedy jury was there, and all there. So, indeed, was a large crowd of spectators, including about a dozen ladies. Most of the ladies interested in this great trial had discerned that the hearing of the darkey's confession was not likely to be as agreeable as it would be interesting, and had remained at home. Even the court officials and attorneys dreaded the ordeal before them, but the majority of those present were there for the very reason that they desired to hear just what those most interested dreaded so much. The announcement had been made that the confession was to be read, and it was apparent that a good many spectators had come just to hear that darkeys disgusting recital of sinfulness and crime in all its crude obscenity. This story, stripped of its many shocking indecencies of language, has several times been printed, but that was not enough to satisfy all, it appears. The few ladies present soon disappeared and even the three sisters of the defendant would have gladly escaped the fearful ordeal that confronted them. Indeed the attorneys for the defense asked that Mrs. Sheedy be permitted to remain out of court while the stenographer was reading the story, agreeing to waive all error that might otherwise be claimed because of the absence of the defendant from the court during the trial. For reasons of their own the counselors in behalf of the state declined to agree to her absence, and her three sisters took their places resignedly by her sidMonday McFarland's sister did not come in until she had been warned that the reading of the story was completed.

No one was heard expressing any envy of Myron E. Wheeler, who reported Monday's confession, and who, as a witness, was called upon to read it. Much to the disappointment of the crowd outside the railing the witness moved his chair over to a point just in front of the jury, and when the parts of the confession were reached which were not fit for public utterance, he lowered his voice so that none but the jury could distinguish what he was saying.

The defense on behalf of Mrs. Sheedy again interposed objections to the reading of the confession on the ground that it was made, if made at all, without the knowledge and not in the presence of Mrs. Sheedy; that it was obtained by promises of immunity, threats and intimidation, and no proper foundation had been laid for its introduction.

The most impressive silence reigned when the witness started in on the long type-written revelation of the methods and details of the crime. To JOURNAL readers the details are more or less familiar, so that no minute repetition is necessary here. It told how for years Monday had been employed at the Sheedy home to dress Mrs. Sheedy's hair; how up to her return from her sojourn at a medical institute in Buffalo, N.Y., he had never noticed anything out of the way in her deportment; how a few months prior to the tragedy she began to make affectionate advances toward him and finally made to him the proposition which to most of those who have read his story has made it seem improbably; how he availed himself repeatedly of the proffered privileges and became infatuated with the woman. It related that the first time this relation was sustained no intimidation was given of the devilish design which, the narrator afterwards conceived, was the price of the favors accorded him; that it was the second occasion of their intimacy when Mrs. Sheedy revealed to him her infatuation for Walstrom, who, she said, was coming about Christmas to take her away, and told the darkey that she wanted he freedom; that her husband did not treat her well; that he called her vile names, that he had threatened to kill her and that she had not sustained wifely relations with him for a year. It told how she swore the negro to secrecy and told him she would kill him if he ever revealed the proposition she would make to him; how she offered him $5,000 to secure her the freedom she craved. How she generously improved the offer by telling him she would gladly double the amount if she got $50,000 of her husband's possessions along with her freedom; that she would give him $500 or $600 the day after he had done the work, and buy him diamonds, a horse and buggy and clothing and set him upon business; how she only asked him to lay Sheedy upon the bed and she would do the rest with a liquid which had been given her by Dr. Fuller. It told how revolting the proposition was to the narrator, but how the reward overcame his scruples in spite of the fact that he esteemed John Sheedy to be his best friend; how Christmas was fixed upon by her as the limit of time she would give him to do the fatal work; how she coaxed him by her favors and proffers of money and urged him by telling him that if he did not do it another was ready to earn the money; that Walstrom wanted to do it, but she didn't desire to have him do it. It told how threats were resorted to when persecution appeared likely to fail because of the negro's professed lack of nerve; how she even beat and abused him and assured him with drawn revolved that she would kill him and how she induced him to watch one evening near her residence to see her take a walk with the lover who wanted to do the job if Monday failed. It told how she grew more imperious in her demands when Christmas and New Years passed with the deed undone, and how he finally made the first attempt by shooting, which failed. The narrative recited in detail how Mrs. Sheedy subsequently, at her own home, upbraided, abused, beat and threatened to kill him, at the same time permitting him to enjoy her favors and asking him for assurances of his affection. Then it was, the story goes, that she concocted the plan which was to prove more successful than the first. Monday was to secure the cane and strike Sheedy down at his own door, her part being to give the signal that he was coming out by raising the window curtain. It showed how she besought the darkey to inflame his courage with whiskey, and how she even gave him a goblet of it at the back door while the unconscious victim of their plot was in the house. The storey contained a detailed account of how he struck the blow as designed, dropped the cane, fell as he attempted to fly from the porch and ran away thoroughly imbued with the idea that one of his victim's bullets had overtaken him. It relates his subsequent proceedings, just as the officers have since traced them out, and tells how he went to the Sheedy house the next day for his money, but was denied admission by Mr. Courtnay.

The reading of the confession consumed upwards of an hour, during which, it is perhaps superfluous to remark, the most perfect order was observed by the audience. The members of the jury bent forward eagerly and their hands frequently supplemented the lobes of their ears in efforts to corral every word of the salacious recital. The attorneys sat resignedly drinking in every utterance of the rapid reader, although each of them probably had studied them until they had them almost committed to memory.

Throughout the reading of that startling and revolting allegation of her sin and guilt Mrs. Sheedy presented a picture that would have moved the stoutest heart. None could have watched her during that trying ordeal without compassion for her suffering. Outwardly she preserved a remarkable quietude, but her deathly pale face, her aimless stare, her languidly despairing movements and irregular and labored breathing told of the fearful tempest raging in mind and heart. During the greater part of the ordeal her wildly opened eyes were bent in the direction of Court Reporter Mullen, but it could easily be discerned that she did not see him. Later she directed the same wild look toward the jury box, but there was no responsive light in the staring orbs to indicate that she was cognizant of a jury being before her. Two or three times she cast a piteous look at her sister, Mrs. Dean, who sat at her left with her face buried in her handkerchief. The other sisters, Mrs. Morgan and Mrs. Baker, occasionally sought refuge behind their hands, and once it was noticed that Mrs. Morgan was sobbing violently. But not a tear trembled across the lids of the little woman in mourning, and hardly a wink interrupted her contemplation of her own thoughts.

Monday McFarland sank down into his chair and covered half his swarthy features with his right hand as he listened with apparent concern to the reproduction of his story.

As soon as the reading came to an end Monday's sister, Mrs. Middleton, came in and took a seat beside him, and feminine auditors began to come into the room in squads.

McFarland, Monday [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, John [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, Mary [Narrative] [Brief Biography]

"Somewhat Disappointing," The Nebraska State Journal May 15, 1891

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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