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


In the Sheedy Murder Case
Begun Today.

County Attorney Snell Ad-
monishes the Jury Regard-
ing the Confession.


On Their Duty, Law and Evidence
and "a Reasonable Doubt" in
Effective Style.

Talking "Peers"

A little more than the usual throng congregated at the district court room this morning when the Sheedy murder case was resumed, the arguments of the counsel being the order of work.

At 9 o'clock Mrs. Sheedy and her sisters came into court and occupied their accustomed positions before the judge, McFarland preceding them a few feet accompanied by his sister and other relatives. Both the accused seemed in better spirits than at any time during the trial.

The jury, after being penned up since Saturday noon appeared much relieved in being brought to the box again, where they were afforded some pleasure at least in gazing upon many a pretty face to be seen in the audience.

At 9:20 the judge directed that arguments be proceeded with and COUNTY ATTORNEY SNELL of the prosecution opened them by recalling to the jury the crime of January 11 last, when darkness settled over Lincoln, dwelling upon a careful description of the Sheedy premises and the prominence of the owner. Referring to the rumors then prevalent he stated that suspicion began gradually to point its finger at McFarland and Mary Sheedy as the perpetrators of the deed. "We believe," said the speaker, "the evidence in this case early in the proceedings was sufficient to satisfy your minds that they are the guilty parties." He then referred to the confession and to the testimony of Minnie Coil, who often saw McFarland standing at Thirteenth and P streets, waiting for Mrs. Sheedy, and maintained that he was waiting there with murder in his heart.

Comparing the testimony with the confession of McFarland, Mr. Snell said: "Take the evidence of Mr. Chinn, another colored man. Does he not say McFarland was at his place on the day of the assault up to about 5 o'clock; then he excused himself saying he had an engagement. After ten o'clock that night he came to Chinn's place again and staid until after midnight and then they together went to lunch and McFarland when limping away said he had lost his cane. Does his confession not say that he fell immediately after striking the fatal blow and does it not say also that he dropped his cane?

"In all cases of murder there is something of an inducement. This is no exception. Monday McFarland was induced to commit this deed by the co-respondent in this case—Mrs. Sheedy. When the learned counsel on the other side opened their remarks at the beginning of this case Mrs. Sheedy was referred to as the 'sad-faced defendant.' Far better had he said the nervy little woman who planned one of the most heinous crimes in the history of Lincoln!

"Not one scintilla of evidence has been brought forth by the defense to show where Monday McFarland was on Sunday night, Jan. 11. Nor have they produced anything going to show Mrs. Sheedy is not a conspirator. The fact that neither of these defendants have been placed upon the stand to give testimony speaks volumes. And what has been the burden of the evidence given by the defence? Simply that Mr. and Mrs. Sheedy had lived happily together. But what does the testimony of the state show. Does not Mrs. Swift know haw [sic] happily they got along? Did not Johnnie Klausener tell you he had seen Mrs. Sheedy weeping, and did she not tell him she was going to get a divorce? Has it not been stated also that Sheedy threatened her, that she had her trunk backed once, that once she stated that she had 'rather live with a laboring man who made his money day by day than with such a man as Sheedy.' All this trouble has arisen, gentlemen of the jury, since Mrs. Sheedy's return from Buffalo."

Mr. Snell then reviewed all the evidence pertaining to the escapades of A.H. Walstrom and Mrs. Sheedy and the object of it all, the purchase of hose, shirts, neckties, etc., for Walstrom, and the sending of chicken, porter, etc., to his room, ending by saying it all shows that Mrs. Sheedy was guilty of illicit relations with Walstrom—transferred her affections from Sheedy to Harry Walstrom.

The attorney then considered the confession at length, characterizing it as gospel truth in every sense and a document not from the brain of some weird novelist, holding it to be too true in its every detail, and that no novelist of today, no many in all Lincoln, was able to write the history of a crime with more accuracy and in keeping with all evidence adduced. "How would Monday McFarland know all this," asked the speaker, "if this woman be innocent and know nothing of the arrangements of this murder?"

Mr. Snell recalled the life of John Sheedy and held that Mrs. Sheedy knew that he was a gambler when she married him and married him because he was a gambler, able to support her in idleness.

Mr. Snell maintained that the object of the murder was the freedom of Mrs. Sheedy from her husband, that she might be with Walstrom, whom she loved to distraction, reviewing in support the evidence relative to her statements about her "sweetheart" to several of the witnesses.

As to her relation with Monday McFarland, Mr. Snell said it was nothing strange that she should be guilty of adultery with a darkey, since she had murder in her heart; with such motive uppermost she would halt at notning [sic] . He again touched upon her career prior to her marriage with Sheedy.

After giving some attention to the evidence given by the defense, particularly to the cane and the testimony of Mr. and Mrs. Hosman relative to the first assault, and the testimony of the two boys, Mr. Snell closed his argument, pleading with the jury to remember and weigh well the confession of McFarland.

As to whether the poison or the blow produced death was also considered, the speaker referring to expert testimony. "Four of these," he said, "tell you John Sheedy's death was caused by poison. They found no clots of blood on the brain, as in compression, and hence they believe poison was used. The defense didn't seem inclined to put doctors on the stand to attest that the blow caused death. In all probability the testimony of all physicians would be the same. Whether or not, however, it was found that the blow or poison produce death, both of these defendants go hand in hand and stand guilty—one as an accessory, the other as a principal. Do you believe that any man would go there, stand there and lay in wait to assassinate John Sheedy, on one of the best traveled streets in town unless someone was there to tell him when to strike—unless he had an accessory on the inside?"

During the speech of Mr. Snell it was noticed Mrs. Sheedy used her 'kerchief considerably, as well as her sisters, but McFarland sat stolid and immovable.

JUDGE WEIR, of the defense, followed Mr. Snell, beginning in that easy, careful, smooth way which is betokened by his general bearing. After making a few preliminary remarks the speaker said:

"We have under consideration the lives of two human beings, and these lives must be disposed of by the consideration of this jury. It is one of the greatest responsibilities ever conferred upon this body of men and it gave me pleasure to read in your faces during the trial that you fully realized the responsibility."

He then drifted into the reason of coming here, and of true work of the officers of the law, complimenting the prosecution for the work done, pausing long enough to define the line between persecution and prosecution.

The first thing to which he called the attention of the jury was: the law, the facts. The jury, he said, were the exclusive judges of the facts; the judge, the exclusive judge of the law, and when it comes to final consideration they should be guided by the definitions given them by the judge of the law. Thus the judge instructs that the defendants are presumed to be entirely innocent until PROVEN guilty and the attention of the jury should not be diverted from this. "It is often," he continued, "that our zeal as lawyers, our zeal to gain victory, cause us to o'erstep the bounds and case misleading statements. Let this be watched, gentlemen of the jury, and when such things are done banish it from your mind. When you enter into the jury room let it be uppermost in your minds that it was and is the duty of the prosecution to sweep away from your mind by evidence, all lurking suspicions, every vestige of that presumption of the innocence of these two defendants. The law requires you to use that reasonable doubt in the interest of the accused. Some of this testimony looks one way and some of it the other, but when you cannot under such circumstances decide, then the law requires the reasonable doubt to be exercised in the interest of the accused. It is divine law that ninety and nine guilty ones should escape rather than one innocent be punished."

At 2 o'clock Judge Weir, picking up the thread of discourse where two hours before he dropped it, said, in substance, that to all crimes there is a motive and the prosecutions in this case ingeniously sets forth as the motive for this that John Sheedy and his wife lived in great discord and she wanted to get a divorce, that while in Buffalo she met and fell in love with one A.H. Walstrom, and this led her to imbue her hands in the blood of her kind. This is the motive the prosecution offers. "And," continued he, "with all the able counsel, with all the efforts of experienced detectives the prosecution has failed utterly to bring out any substantial evidence—only the most remote circumstantial evidenc [sic] . It is important we should know the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence. It is a great principle in law that if the great chain of circumstantial evidence any chain is lacking the entire is of no effect; it must be one and continuous—every link in its proper place.

"John Sheedy was in common language a gambler. A peer to any in his profession in this city. His successes appalled them and caused a jealousy to wrankle in their bosom. He was struck at his own door, and is it not quite as probably that someone other than his own loving wife was the cause of the fatal blow? Was it not Mr. Courtnay who testified that only a few days prior to the assault that Sheedy received a letter which threatened his life unless he stopped 'running the town.'

"Suspicion shortly after the crime fell upon Monday McFarland and his arrest followed. Then it was an opportunity was offered the combination of detectives and officers to make money.

"You will remember he was arrested on Saturday evening, and if Marshal Melick is to be believed offers of immunity were immediately made him. He told him if others were implicated by disclosing it he would get off easier. He was put in a cell, but I will not stop to detail the shameful conduct there. Jim Malone was there. He is the man who is looked to when evidence is wanted. He is a many of experience, it seems. And he is a man schooled in inquity [sic] . He made this poor man believe there was a mob in waiting for him. He piled him with this statement until the poor man was well nigh crazed, and under this great stress of mind this sonfession [sic] was made. This poor colored man appealed to Capt. Carder to save him from this mob. There he was; pressed on all sides; scared to death, and the question then arose how am I to save myself? and under this condition told this doleful tale. And then on Sunday, about 11 o'clock, the mayor and officer [aut] him under this crucial test again."

The judge was still addressing the jury at 3:15, when THE CALL forms closed.

Courtnay, Dominick G. [Brief Biography]
Malone, James [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
McFarland, Monday [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, John [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, Mary [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Snell, Novia Z. [Brief Biography]
Weir, H.W. [Brief Biography]

"The Arguments," Lincoln Daily Call May 25, 1891

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