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 Arrest and Confession

Immediately following the attack on Sheedy, word of the assault spread across Lincoln's demimonde. Officer James Malone and Marshal Samuel Melick interrogated residents and patrons of the area in search of witnesses and information. After the coroner's inquest, they continued to comb the O Street and P Street dives.

Within hours they found witnesses, who, like Mary Sheedy herself, claimed to have seen a black man of middle height and build near the Sheedy house about the time of the murder. To the "boys" of P Street, the description fit Monday McFarland, a barber at Crampton's Barber Shop below stairs at 930 P Street and a popular patron of the area's bars and clubs.

Later that day McFarland was said to have been seen on an "extended spree" ("Local News—Monday," Lincoln Weekly News January 22, 1891) on P Street and a group of rowdy white men went in search of him, apparently with the intent of taking the law into their own hands. Their search was unsuccessful, but three days later Melick and Malone tracked down McFarland. Malone found him at his work place on P Street on Saturday evening January 16, 1891, at about 7:30 p.m.

As Malone noted, he took McFarland into a doorway and asked him whether he had purchased a cane that they had found near the murder scene—and that they now identified as the murder weapon—from Hyman Goldwater's pawnshop. ("The Morning Session," Lincoln Weekly News May 21, 1891) Goldwater recognized the cane as the one he received from the policeman and jailor W. W. Carder. When McFarland did not reply, they "took him to the station" or the "loathsome" city jail on the southeast corner of Haymarket Square for further questioning "without a warrant." ("Still a Work," Lincoln Weekly News February 5, 1891)

There they continued questioning McFarland, and when he confirmed he bought the cane and had been around Sheedy's the night of the murder, "they locked him up" on suspicion of murder.

Soon afterwards, McFarland was locked in a dark, airless "sweatbox." They brought him out occasionally to see if he was willing to talk. This form of interrogation—with officer Kinney present—lasted for hours. Finally, around 4:00 a.m., after Malone apparently threatened McFarland that there was a mob forming outside, Monday McFarland confessed to John Sheedy's murder.

Monday's Confession

("Monday's Confession Goes," Semi Weekly State Journal ) Delivered first to Malone and Kinney, then the next morning to a larger group in Mayor Graham's office that included Marshall Melick, Mayor Robert B. Graham, Police Officer Kinney, Dr. Holyoke, the coroner, and a stenographer, Myron Wheeler, McFarland's confession implicated Mary Sheedy as the instigator in the murder plot.

He claimed that after approximately a year of serving, at her husband's request, as Mary's personal hairdresser, the two had become friendly and that Mary had taken McFarland, a handsome, personable man, into her confidence.

During one of McFarland's weekly visits Mary seemed particularly distraught and blurted out to him that her eight-year marriage was a sham. She then proceeded to tell him about her tumultuous past, starting with her arrival in Lincoln from central Illinois in 1879.

Then she was known as "Mollie" Merrill and was married to her second husband, George Merrill, a carpenter and teamster. They patronized the dance halls, saloons, and gaming establishments on P Street, including the notorious "gambling den" at Tenth and P streets operated by John Sheedy.

Records of the Merrills' divorce hearing in 1882 do not make it clear whether Mary had met Sheedy before she and Merrill separated in November 1880, but about that time Merrill was said to have seized Mary "in an angry manner," exclaiming that he would "not live with such a damned whore."

He locked her out of the house, sold the furniture, and returned to Illinois, leaving her "uncared for in the city." She went to work "as a servant girl at the Arlington Hotel" and was "dependent" on the charity of neighbors. (Merrill vs Merrill) (Merrill vs Merrill) (Merrill vs Merill) (Merrill vs Merrill) (Merrill vs Merrill) (Merrill vs Merrill) (Merrill vs Merrill) (Merrill vs Merrill)

In 1881, Merrill returned, and after a brief "cohabitation" with Mary, during which he apparently spent all his money on gambling and provided her no support, he left her again. He briefly moved in with a "woman of ill repute," then left Lincoln for good.

Again thrown upon her own resources, Mary continued working at the Arlington and patronizing the P Street saloons. Around this time, she became acquainted with John Sheedy who boarded at the elegant new Arlington. Swept away by Sheedy's flamboyant style, popularity, and power, Mary took up residence with him, first at the Arlington and then in an apartment over Quick's saloon next to Sheedy's casino. In February of 1882, she sued Merrill for a divorce which she was granted later that year.

Mary and John tried to present a respectable front for their relationship, and moved into a small house at 132 North Tenth Street where they lived for two years. In 1884 John built a house for them at 1211 P Street where they lived briefly as an unmarried couple before going on an extended vacation to New Orleans in 1885. During the trip Mary demanded that John marry her, so they wed before their return to Lincoln later that year.

Nevertheless, Mary told McFarland, marriage suited neither of them. John was increasingly involved in gambling in his casino, resumed life as an "all-around sport" and a "sporting man" and had a series of liaisons with other women. Mary complained about his absences. One time she even asked her friend Harry Walstrom to keep a look out for her husband at two houses of prostitution down in the tenderloin where she was convinced he met his lover. John Sheedy was unwilling to brook any criticism, and they often quarreled.

McFarland told police that in the intimacy created by Mary's lurid tale, they embraced and their friendship deepened.

Mary's tale continued, however, and McFarland learned that in August of 1890, while she was being treated for a "disease peculiar to women," in Buffalo, New York, the Sheedy's had a particularly angry quarrel and John returned to Lincoln alone.

In search of solace, Mary fell in love with a "young dude," a machinist and traveling salesman named Andrew (Harry) Walstrom, who followed her back to Nebraska where he lived first at a downtown hotel and then in an apartment in the new Heater Block at Fifteenth and O streets.

Other witnesses told Melick and Malone that Mary visited Walstrom, sometimes disguised as a man, but later behaving more like a "Cyprian" than a middle-class woman. She also was observed taking him gifts, including a diamond ring, staying at his residences for considerable periods, and openly strolling with him in public.

As the alleged affair continued, Mary talked of divorce, and John, thrown into a jealous rage, allegedly "treated her badly," threatened to kill her, and placed her under surveillance, nearly imprisoning her in their house.

Mary continued telling McFarland about her ongoing affair with Walstrom and complaining about her husband. At some point, when McFarland again comforted the distraught woman, their embrace led to kisses and sexual intimacy.

He showed police a locket containing a lock of her hair as evidence of their relationship, but claimed he had been reluctant to engage in such a "criminal" affair. He was unable, however, to fend off her advances, and the liaison went on for months, even as she continued her increasingly reckless relationship with Walstrom.

Eventually, McFarland said, Mary formulated a plan for him to murder her husband, offering to pay him $15,000 from Sheedy's estate, which she said was worth $200,000. He balked, but when she threatened to tell her husband and the police of their affair if he refused—a threat whose implications he clearly understood in the racialized environment of the 1890s—, McFarland agreed to cooperate.

He made two attempts to kill Sheedy, but failed both times; Mary decided to ensure the success of the third attempt, he claimed, by slipping poison into her stricken husband's coffee.

Sheedy's body was exhumed, and an additional autopsy indicated internal bleeding and the presence of poison, apparently confirming McFarland's story. Mary was arrested and held at Melick's residence at Twenty-fifth and P streets because there were no facilities for women at the county jail. Harry Walstrom was arrested as an accessory to murder and held under guard at the Capital Hotel at Eleventh and P streets.

A coroner's jury concluded that the case against Mary Sheedy, McFarland, and Walstrom was sufficient to bring charges against them. On January 26, 1891, Mary and McFarland were arraigned and charged to be held on three counts each of first degree murder and one count each of accessory to murder. Walstrom was charged with four counts of accessory to murder. Later, however, the charges against him were dropped for lack of evidence. (State vs Monday McFarland and Mary Sheedy) (State vs Monday McFarland and Mary Sheedy) (State vs Monday McFarland and Mary Sheedy)

Graham, Robert B. [Brief Biography]
Holyoke, Edgar L. [Brief Biography]
Malone, James [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
McFarland, Monday [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Melick, Samuel M. [Brief Biography]
Merrill, George [Brief Biography]
Quick, Tunis P. [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, John [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, Mary [Narrative] [Brief Biography]

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