Fear, or how a man shot his best friend

Sandy Vasko

    The depression, which occurred in the 1870's in this country, produced a nation of transients and tramps. Men traveled around the country, hopping the rails, looking for work. When they found none, some were not above robbing the defenseless.  
    Women went indoors when the sun went down. Doors were locked and bolted. If you were leaving town, you did not tell anyone, because chances were that you would return home to find your valuables missing.
    On Sunday, November 19, 1878 this atmosphere of fear lead to the accidental shooting of the Braidwood town marshal.
    The editor of the Wilmington Advocate was not one to repeat baseless rumor, and so when it was learned that Father McGuire, pastor of the Catholic Church at Braidwood had shot the town marshal, Patrick Muldowney he tried to get just the facts.
    He found that the editors of the Braidwood papers were having a field day, printing every rumor they heard, including one that held there was a romantic triangle involving the priest, his housekeeper, and the marshal.
    Being above that, he printed an account of the article printed originally in the Chicago Times. The following is that account.
    “Father McGuire was quite ill and indisposed on Sunday last-so much so that no high mass was celebrated; that his sexton and usher, Muldowney, spent the day with him from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.
    “Muldowney then went away, presumably home, and Father McGuire went upstairs and retired. Between 8 and 9 p.m. Muldowney returned, unexpected by the priest, and Mr. Muldowney took it upon himself to lock the door leading to the housekeeper's apartment and put out the lights- a strange proceeding to say the least.
    “The noise made by Muldowney awakened the priest, who found himself in darkness and imagined the time to be near midnight. With his fears wrought up somewhat, he grasped a revolver and approached his bedroom door, and in a distinct voice asked, 'Who is there?' No reply was given; yet approaching footsteps were heard on the dark stairway, when the affrightened priest said: 'If you are a friend of mine, give your name or I'll shoot you!'  No reply coming, he fired.  
    At the instant of the first shot Muldowney had reached the top of the stairs; Muldowney then rushed to the bedroom door, 20 feet distant from the landing, and during the rush, three more shots were fired before Muldowney made himself known. 'Father, you've shot me-you've killed me,' he exclaimed.
    “Oh my God, Pat, have I killed my best friend?” replied the priest.
    The housekeeper came immediately after the shooting and was dispatched for Dr. LeCaron who lives but a block distant. The doctor arrived almost instantly, and found the priest embracing the wounded man and giving way to excessive grief, almost approaching a state of frenzy.
    Upon examination it was found that two bullets out of the four had taken effect- one in the shoulder and one in the abdomen- two or three inches to the right of the navel.
    Father McGuire declared his intention of at once going to Chicago and laying the case before his bishop, when his filing of bonds was suggested. A warrant was accordingly issued at the instance of Dan Lawlor and a son of the wounded man. Bail was readily furnished in the sum of $50 and Father McGuire repaired to Chicago, saw his spiritual superior, and returned with an eminent surgeon to the bedside of the wounded man. Contrary to expectation, the surgeon expressed an opinion favorable to Muldowney's recovery, although the wound in the abdomen was of a very serious character.”
    After printing the above description of the event, the editor of the Wilmington paper came in for some heat himself.
    The two Braidwood newspapers rallied against him, saying he was taking up for the priest, and wanting to know why he didn't publish the testimony of two supposed witnesses. Editor Conley replied that the two witnesses were “Orangemen; and come to think of it, one other of them was a jackass!”
    The Joliet News accused editor Conley of “attempting to aid Father McGuire and like all persons who set up a defense before accusations are made, he does an injury to the cause.”
    But editor Conley, a Civil Way veteran, just said that he knew precisely what he was writing and did it in a just cause.
    Unfortunately, Patrick Muldowney did not survive a week. His funeral was one of the largest ever witnessed in this area. The service was held at the Catholic Church, with Rev. Father Hennessy of Chicago celebrating the mass.  He was buried in a cemetery just south of the city. The funeral procession was huge. First came the Mayor, council, and municipal officers of Braidwood, followed by the officials of the township of Reed, all wearing crepe.
    Then came the hearse, with pallbearers in single file on either side, and next followed some 93 carriages and other vehicles. Mr. Muldowney left a family of six children; the youngest was only one year old, and a heart broken wife.    
    Father McGuire was immediately put on trial for homicide. The housekeeper testified at the trial. She was described as being unpretending, unattractive, and about 25 years of age. She gave the same account as we have printed.
    The dead man's son testified that his father had told him, that if he were to die he did not blame the priest, for the Father had mistook him for a tramp. He said he had not replied to the priest calling out, because he thought that Father McGuire was joking with him.”
    Lastly Father McGuire took the stand. He testified that since the strike in Braidwood, that brought so many strange people to the town, burglaries became more frequent.
    And he became so apprehensive that he could not sleep at night. It was by Muldowney's advice that he bought the revolver for protection. His nervous condition grew worse. Once or twice thieves tried his house and once they actually got in, but were frightened away by his watchdog.
    He then put it in his mind, that he would not allow them to reach the top of the stairway. When he heard the footsteps on the stair, he called out for the intruder to identify himself.
    When the footsteps got to the top of the stairs, he shot.  He then recognized the voice of his best friend, and they rushed into each other's arms.
    The case was given to a jury and after an hour they came back with a verdict of justifiable homicide.