"BAT" SHEA’S END!
HE FACED HIS DEATH RESIGNEDLY AND FIRMLY,
Bringing to a Close One of the
Most Celebrated Criminal Cases
In the History of the State—A Remarkable Funeral.
The wild winds of a keen winter’s day sweep
around the gloomy walls of Clinton State prison, Dannemora. The ground
is covered deep with snow and as the winds descend from the encircling
hills the air is darkened with flying particles that sting the face like
the pricks of needles and blind the vision. Nature is in one of her
terrible moods and merciless, indeed, is her winter manifestation in
this mountain-girdled village of the Adirondacks.
Through the raging storm a party is laboring up-hill
from the Chateaugay Railroad depot toward the frowning prison. They have
assembled from various parts of the State to witness the most supreme
act of the law or of man—for a human life is to be sacrificed, man
thereby destroying that which he cannot restore.
Meantime, within the prison, what are the feelings of
him whom a little later the law is to deprive of life and to which the
witnesses are to attest? For him on this earth there is to be little
more of storm or of sunshine. The day, the hour, almost the moment of
his death have been determined on, nor will any human influence enter to
defer the hour or modify the sentence. He must die! For over a year and
a half his mind has been tortured with this thought. His life has been
like a flickering fire, now freshened by hope, now blackened by despair.
But now hope, despair, anxiety—that painful worm that mercilessly
gnaws the heart—are to cease forever; the only thing certain now and
certain, immediately, is the tomb. For this he has prepared under
spiritual guidance and while nature is wild without; his heart has been
softened under the influence of religion and calmly, almost confidently,
he awaits the supreme end. The man is Bartholomew Shea, convicted of the
murder of Robert Ross, in Troy, and the time Tuesday.
IN THE DEATH CHAMBER.
A little before 10 o’clock Tuesday forenoon the 27
witnesses whom the law allows to be present at an electrocution and whom
Warden Thayer had invited to the legal tragedy, filed from the hotel
into the prison grounds and after passing keeper after keeper were
admitted to a reception room on the west side of the building. Here, as
their names were called, they passed solemnly into another compartment
and thence into the death chamber where they took seats in the western
end of the room. Before them as they were seated stood the electric
chair of death and back of it the machinery for the transmission of the
current. Electric bulbs shone resplendently upon the dramatic scene, so
solemn and soon to be so tragic. Amid intense silence Warden Thayer
announced what was expected of the witnesses and then State Electrician
Davis turned on the current for its final test. On the chair a row of
bulbs were fixed to receive the current that Shea would soon feel, and
as the current was transmitted the bulbs shone with intense brilliancy.
The connection was then broken, the bulbs removed and Warden Thayer
disappeared to notify Shea that the last grains in his life-glass were
A moment of intense anxiety, of a nameless dread,
ensued and as noiselessly as shadows Warden Thayer and Principal Keeper
Edward McKenna entered the death chamber, taking up their positions near
Dr. Ransom, the physician in charge and Electrician Davis. Immediately
behind came Vicar General J.J. Swift, of Troy, and Rev. Father Belanger,
the spiritual advisers of Shea, and between them, though somewhat to the
rear walked the condemned man. The rear of the procession was made up of
TURNING ON THE CURRENT.
It was a solemn moment and a solemn occasion—as
trying almost to the spectators as to the doomed man himself. In a low
tone the officiating priests read the ritual for the dying, continuing
their recitations until Shea was officially pronounced dead. The latter
walked firmly to the chair in which he seated himself and throwing back
his head gazed at the witnesses as though looking for a familiar face.
Rapidly the strapping of the victim and the fitting of the appliances
were effected, but just before the adjustment of the helmet Shea looked
toward the spectators and toward the little barred window in the western
end of the room. It was his last look at light and life! Everything
being in readiness, Dr. Ransom notified Electrician Davis to signal for
the turning on of the current and almost immediately a voltage of 1,800
passed through Shea’s body. Responsive to the powerful current the
body shot upward against the binding straps, which creaked with the
force thus suddenly directed against them, but no other sound or
movement was manifest. The current was then reduced to 200 volts and the
body sank to its original position in the chair. Twice this was repeated
and after examination by Dr. Ransom and other physicians Bartholomew
Shea was officially pronounced dead. His body was then removed and an
She’s tenacity of life was very great and hence the
powerful current used. His death was apparently painless and according
to Dr. Ransom life was extinct in less than four seconds. The entire
time consumed between the first turning of the current and the official
pronouncement of death was one minute and 26 seconds. In every
particular the execution was most successful and was absolutely
unattended with even a shade of sensationalism.
HE FORGAVE ALL.
Shea’s life in prison was a model one. Since he
entered the insitution in July, 1894, whether elated by hope or
depressed by anxiety and hopelessness he conducted himself uniformly
well. He has as a constant visitor Father Belanger, the Catholic priest
of the village, who has acted as spiritual solacer on many other sad
occasions and who conducts services in the prison chapel the first
Sunday of each month. Toward the end he expressed a desire for the
presence of Very Rev. J.J. Swift, who had been Shea’s pastor in Troy
and who had known him since he was a child. He left behind a letter
wherein he maintains his innocence and criticised some of those who
testified against him. In it he says that his trial was unfair and
brought about by extraordinary means. A second letter he addressed to a
friend in Troy requesting him to advise his brother against the dangers
of bad company.
Shea was cheerful toward the end and on the eve of
his execution smoked cigars and chatted pleasantly. He expressed himself
satisfied that the next day would see the end of his earthly career. The
only time when the strain was too great to bear was on Saturday when he
took his last farewell of his sorrowful mother and sister. For their
sakes he bore up in their presence, but when they had gone the
inevitable reaction set in and the floodgates of feeling and sorrow were
One of the revelations of the autopsy conducted on
his remains was that he was in the initial stages of consumption and
that he would not have lived more than a year or two.
"BAT" SHEA’S FUNERAL.
Over 10,000 People Turned Out in Sympathy for the Dead.
"Bat" Shea’s funeral was one of the most
impressive ever held in Troy and perhaps the largest. There are many
people in Troy who believe Shea to have been innocent of the killing of
Robert Ross, and there are others in Troy and vicinity who, realizing
that the slaying of Ross took place in a free fight in which many
participated, believe that the end of justice would have been attained
if Shea had been imprisoned for life instead of electrocuted. These
reasons had much to do with the remarkable demonstration at the funeral,
and perhaps another contributive cause was to make the funeral of Shea
as impressive as was that of Robert Ross. Whatever the reason, the
funeral was one that will long be remembered.
Immediately after the autopsy in Dannemora the
remains of Shea were placed in a handsome quartered oak casket by
Undertaker Burns, of Troy, whom Shea himself had designated, and were
conveyed to the family home in that city. The casket was enclosed in a
rought pine box and at Plattsburg, while this box remained on the
platform of the depot of the depot awaiting the 9:10 P.M. train for
Troy, it was viewed by hundreds of people. When the train arrived in
Troy at 2:30 Wednesday morning an immense concourse of people were
assembled to receive the remains. As the door of the car swung open and
the box was taken out a subdued cry arose from hundreds of lips—and
expression of sympathy for the dead. The weird cry, the heads of the
crowd showing like silhouettes in the sputtering electric light, and the
tragic rough box formed a scene impressive and solemn. From the depot
the remains were transferred to the family residence, at River street,
where friends and relatives of the family were in waiting to gaze upon
the calm, pale face of the dead.
All day Wednesday people flocked to the Shea home to express their
sympathy or satisfy their curiosity. But toward night the throngs
deepened and one continuous procession wended its way toward the place
and as the people arrived they were directed to enter the front door of
the residence, view the remains and then pass out through the rear door.
Until midnight a steady stream of people passed thus through the Shea
house, many of them shedding tears as they gazed on the body.
Next morning, long before the time appointed for the funeral, people
commenced again to flock toward the house of death. Soon the street in
the vicinity was blockaded, rendering traffic almost an impossibility,
and again policemen were stationed at the place, their duties consisting
in preventing an absolute blockade of the thoroughfare. Among those
attending the funeral were large crowds of factory girls, whose
sympathies very generally have been enlisted in Shea’s behalf since
the fatal day in March, 1894. Wednesday these girls raised subscriptions
in their various places of employment and fully $600 was expended in
buying flowers for the funeral. One of the floral pieces was molded
after the chair in which Shea suffered death and bore in letters of
immortelles the one word "Innocent." "Rest,"
"Not Guilty" and "Murdered" were some of the other
inscriptions on the numerous floral pieces. It took three wagons to
carry the latter, and policemen had to interfere to prevent the curious
and the sympathetic from carrying away the flowers piecemeal.
THE FUNERAL PROCESSION.
When the funeral procession started from the house
for St. Patrick’s Church the streets were densely packed with people,
fully 10,000 persons having turned out to witness the solemn sight. In
front of the church the street was blockaded and street car traffic was
suspended for two hours. The funeral procession was headed with two
wagons containing flowers and then came the hearse, followed by a long
line of vehicles and thousands of people on foot trudging through the
snow. In the church the services were impressive, Vicar General Swift
officiating in solemn high mass. During the ceremonies, which lasted two
hours, the crowds lined the streets near the church, not only not
diminishing in number but steadily growing and heedless of the raging
storm. At the termination of the services Father Swift addressed the
vast congregation, saying in substance:
FATHER SWIFT’S ADDRESS.
"The circumstances of this caser are well-known
to a majority of the people here, but I think they demand a few words
from me. The remains of our departed brother are brought into the church
not for the purpose of doing him special honor. We did not consider him
during life as representing the sentiment of the church, and in his
latter days he was far from being faithful to the rules of the church
and the laws of God. The church was established for the salvation of
men. It is a Christian church, established by Christ, and Christian is
her name. She tells the relatives of the deceased that they have a right
to bring him into the church, in order to have the benefit of prayers
for the repose of the soul, when he returns in sincerity and repents of
whatever may have been his transgressions or even crimes. He has paid
the debt of human justice.
"Whether innocent or guilty of the death which
occurred I know not, neither do I believe he knew. I do not want to be
misunderstood. I do not know and neither did he. He forgave all for the
part they took in the tragedy, as he expected to be forgiven, and his
last request was that his life was not one I would advise young
Catholics to follow, and all his trouble was due to his failure to
remember the instructions of his church. It should be a lesson to young
men. We are a law-abiding community. Human justice has been satisfied.
Let us unite and pray that eternal justice may be satisfied and that the
deceased may find eternal rest."
THE MARCH TO THE CEMETERY.
After the religious services the remains were
transferred to the hearse and the spectators struggled among themselves
to touch the casket. Slowly, then, the procession proceeded to St. Peter’s
Cemetery, 5,000 people joining in the march and some of them at times
impeding the progress of the procession. At the open grave a last prayer
was said over the remains, the men all uncovering their heads and many
of them, with thousands of women, kneeling in the snow to say a last
prayer for the soul of Bartholomew Shea.
The bearers whom Shea had designated were Thomas H.
Halligan, John Wells, William Otis, J.W. Connolly, Andrew Cleary and
John Cain, of Troy, and James Walsh and Terrence Meehan, of New York. At
first it had been decided to have held the funeral Friday, and had this
been carried out the number present would have been greater, as people
from the surrounding towns and from Albany would have poured into Troy.
And the Remarkable Fight That Was Made to Save His Life.
The crime for which Bartholomew Shea, familiarly
known as "Bat" Shea, suffered death was the shooting of Rober
Ross in Troy, Tuesday, March 6, 1894. The affair grew out of politics
and occurred during an election riot. At about the noon hour a crowd of
repeaters, among them Shea and John McGough, a pal of Shea and now
serving a 20 years’ sentence, appeared at the polling booth of the
third district of the Thirteenth Ward. There William and Robert Ross,
brothers, were present as watchers, and another brother, John C. Ross,
was on the scene. The Rosses and their friends were armed with clubs, a
row evidently having been expected owing to a dispute at a caucus a
short time before. The row started when one of the Shea gang sought to
vote upon another citizen’s name and in a twinkling clubs and
revolvers were flourished. Many shots were fired and when the fight
closed it was found that Robert Ross had been fatally shot, that his
brother, William, and received a bullet in the neck and that Shea and
McGough, who fled from the scene, had each been slightly wounded.
On information given to the authorities John H.
Boland, who had figured in the fight, was arrested for the murder of
Ross, and Shea and McGough were also arrested. The day following the
riot a meeting of citizens was held in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian
Church and a Committee of Safety formed to prosecute the murderer of
Ross. Muarch 14 the coroner’s jury held its first session and a week
later concluded its labors, discharging Boland from custody and fixing
the crime on Shea. For the trial of the case and extraordinarly term of
court was ordered by Gov. Flower and Hon. Parcon C. Williams was
designated to preside. George Raines, of Rochester, was appointed as an
aide to Assistant District Attorney Fagan. Shea had for counsel John T.
Norton, of Troy, and Galen R. [text missing]. . . . . tion of the A.P.A.
figuring in it to a great extent. It began May 28, 1894, and not until
244 venire men had been examined were the necessary 12 jurors selected.
Thirty-seven days later, or on July 4, the jury returned a verdict of
guilty against Shea and July 10 Justice Williams sentenced him to be
electrocuted during the week beginning August 21.
A REMARKABLE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE.
And then began a remarkable fight to save Shea’s
life. The case was taken to the Court of Appeals and after almost a year’s
delay the verdict of the inferior court was sustained and Shea was
brought from Dannemora to Troy and again sentenced to death. Justice
Edwards pronounced the sentence and the penalty was to be paid during
Christmas week, 1895. A petition was got up and was very generally
signed praying Gov. Morton to spare Shea’s life until after the
holidays, and responsive to this the Governor granted a respite until
January 7, 1896.
Meantime another petition had been circulated asking
the Governor to commute Shea’s sentence to imprisonment for life. It
was extensively signed and considerable pressure was brought to bear to
induce signatures. The Governor, however, refused to be influenced by
it. And then came that which was most unexpected of all—a confession
by John McGough that he and not Shea had shot Robert Ross. McGough had
been placed on trial immediately after that of Shea and had been found
guilty and sentenced to Dannemora prison for 20 years for shooting
William Ross. His confession created a genuine sensation and to allow of
a critical examination into it the Governor . . . Shea until . . .
February 4. Meantime Shea’s counsel applied to Judge Mayham for
A NEW TRIAL
on the ground of newly discovered evidence and
arguments for and against were heard at Schoharie, Norton & Hitt
pleading for the motion and Fagan & Raines opposing it. The papers
submitted were voluminous and to allow Judge Mayham ample time to
examine them a further respite was granted Shea until February 11—Tuesday
last. Judge Mayham denied the motion last week Friday and the last hope
of Shea had fallen to the ground. His counsel, however, made a still
further effort Monday, Mr. Hitt calling upon the Governor and Mr. Norton
seeking an appeal form the decision of Judge Mayham. Both efforts to
obtain interference with the carrying out of the sentence failed, and
Tuesday the curtain dropped upon one of the most sensational cases in
the criminal history of the State.
In this connection, however, it is interesting to
note that on the day of Shea’s execution McGough, after hearing that
the end had come, confirmed his first confession, reiterating that he
and not Shea was the slayer of Robert Ross.
This was a contemporary
newspaper account, believed to be from Albany, New York.