The evening of January 11, 1891, John Sheedy stepped out of the front door of his Lincoln, Nebraska home and was attacked by a man charging from the shadows. Sheedy was struck three times in the side of the head with a leather-covered steel cane. A powerful but controversial man, John Sheedy owned an illegal gambling casino, and had enemies on both sides of the law. But when it was learned that the assailant may have been paid by Sheedy’s wife who delivered the death blow herself by poisoning his coffee, the unfolding tale of adultery, miscegenation, conspiracy, extortion, and murder threatened to undermine the social decorum and moral order of Lincoln.
Date: January 11, 1891
Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
Victim: John Sheedy
Cause of Death: Clubbing, possible poisoning
Accused: William "Monday" McFarland & Mary Sheedy
John Sheedy was a real estate developer who owned a gambling casino on the second floor of Gus Sandler’s saloon on the corner of Tenth and P streets in Lincoln Nebraska’s notorious “Uptown district.” Though illegal, the casino had a prominent clientele that included Mayor Carlos C. Burr and other members of Lincoln’s elite.
There were two groups interested closing Sheedy’s casino. The first were competing gambling establishments jealous of his success. Sheedy maintained a virtual monopoly by intimidating competitors and by paying a monthly “rent” to the police to guarantee that his casino would not be raided while others would. The other group fighting Sheedy, was a growing faction of reformers angered by Sheedy openly flaunting the gambling laws.
While the casino was still his most profitable enterprise Sheedy was also growing as a real estate developer. In the mid 1880s he erected a three story commercial building— The Sheedy Building— on P Street. He also built a home for himself and his wife Mary on the corner of P and Twelfth Streets.
Soon after moving into the Twelfth Street house, John and Mary took a vacation to New Orleans. There Mary gave him an ultimatum; either he marry her or she would stay in New Orleans. They returned to Lincoln as husband and wife and began living a respectable middleclass life.
Trouble between them surfaced in 1890 when they took a trip to Buffalo, New York where Mary was treated for a “disease peculiar to women.” They had a fight and John returned to Lincoln, leaving Mary in Buffalo. While alone there she met and fell in love with Andrew “Harry” Walstrom, a machinist and travelling salesman. Mary returned to Lincoln and reconciled with John. Walstrom also moved to Lincoln.
On January 11, 1891, just before eight p.m., John Sheedy left his house heading for the casino. A man sprang from the shadows and struck him on the side of the head with a leather-covered steel cane. Sheedy pulled out a pistol and to shoot the assailant who dropped the cane and disappeared down Twelfth Street. Mary helped John into the house and sent for a doctor and the police. One of the neighbors, also a doctor, came by to help. The two doctors bandaged the head wound and gave Sheedy a pain reliever. They did not think the injury was fatal. Later Mary Sheedy gave her husband some sleeping powder in a cup of coffee. In the middle of the night Sheedy was stricken with paralysis and fell into a coma. He never regained consciousness and died about ten o’clock the following night.
At nine o’clock the next morning, in a jury room overflowing with reporters, policemen, lawyers and politicians an inquest began. The coroner’s jury decided to meet in secret, requesting that all the observers leave. The reporters were furious and began to question the legitimacy of the jury and suspected a cover-up. The inquest concluded that Sheedy had been murdered, death resulting from internal bleeding caused by a blow to the head. Some, including some of the jurymen, doubted that the blows could have caused Sheedy’s death, saying the symptoms more closely resembled morphine poisoning.
McFarland made two failed attempts to shoot John Sheedy before finally succeeding to club him with his cane. However, McFarland said, it was Mary who actually killed him by putting poison in his coffee.
Mary Sheedy and Andrew Walstrom were arrested and charged with murder.