Jack Shea Finally Does Time
On August 11, 1896, a train arrived in St. Louis, Missouri around 7:30 am. Three figures exited the train. Two healthy looking policeman were escorting John D. “Jack” Shea, who killed St. Louis Police Officer Patrick Doran on November 7, 1881.
The gaunt and sickly Shea was no longer the young thug, who executed Doran during a chase after his second escape from the St. Louis Jail. Shea was only 38 years old but 15 years on the run and several stints in prison clearly left their mark on Shea.
When the pale Shea was escorted in to see St. Louis Police Chief Harrigan, Shea told Harrigan, “Well, Chief, I’ve been playing a losing game. Now I’m soaked for 50 years.” Shea escaped the St. Louis Jail four times. It was during his second escape that he killed Officer Doran.
In October 1881, Shea and his close confederate Frank Fone broke out of the St. Louis Jail for the first time. Committing a series of thefts and burglaries, they were captured in early November 1881.
On November 7, 1881, they escaped again and shot Officer Patrick Doran during a pursuit through Downtown St. Louis. Shea was captured and returned to jail.
Within a month, Shea and Fone again escaped the St. Louis Jail. While Shea was dangerous, Fone was crafty and planned most of the escapes. Shea avoided arrest until 1887, when he was recaptured and brought back to St. Louis.
Authorities closely guarded him for the four years he was in St. Louis Jail. Tried twice for killing Officer Patrick Doran, he was sentenced to hang in the first trial. However, Shea successfully appealed. His second trial ended in a sentence of 50 years.
On October 2, 1891, an iron gate at the jail was left open and ten hardened criminals ,including Shea, made their escape. Authorities believe a guard was bribed to leave the door open. For the next five years, Shea bounced in and out of prisons in Pennsylvania and Ohio under his alias John Sullivan.
Shea might have continued to elude capture but a former confederate named Conroy arrived in the Ohio penitentiary near the end of Shea’s sentence for burglary. Conroy told prison authorities who they really had. A telegram was sent to St. Louis.
Detectives Jim Tracey and Denny Viehle arrived and took Shea back to St. Louis. Before they arrived and despite his weakened condition, Shea found an opportunity to stab Conroy in the side. Guards stopped him before he could kill Conroy, which Shea admitted was his intent.
Tracey and Viehle took no chances with Shea. They kept him in handcuffs even when he was eating. When they had to stop over in a town between Ohio and Missouri, they locked Shea in the local jail until it was time for the train to leave.
Tracey and Viehle were wise to take their precautions. While Shea was visibly weakened, escape never was far from his mind. When a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter asked him if he would rather be executed than serve a 50 year-term, Shea responded, “Why, of course not. Haven’t I got a chance to escape from there?”
Shea was indeed transported to the Missouri penitentiary, where he drops from sight altogether. Shea likely died before 1910 in the Missouri penitentiary. After 15 years, he finally served his sentence.
Sources: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 11, 1896 edition, p. 3