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THE SHEFFIELD-RILEY SHOOTING

On the evening of May 10, 1930, 8th Ward Alderman J. Russell Sheffield was shot by Mrs Marie Riley, at her home. Sheffield's account of the incident, as reported in the May 15 number of the Minneapolis Journal, ran as follows.

Sheffield and Marie attended a party at 1727 LaSalle Avenue. After a few drinks, he and Marie Riley went to her house. Marie went into the backyard. When Sheffield stepped out, too, she pointed a gun at him. "You'd better say your prayers," she warned. As he moved back into the house, Marie shot Sheffield. He fell into the kitchen, knocking the phone down. Sheffield called an ambulance. The family, alerted by Sheffield's cry, rushed downstairs, asked what had happened, and where Marie was, and carried her into the house.

The story created quite a stir, and many urged for Sheffield to resign. He attended no Council meetings for a few weeks, while in recovering from the effects of the shooting. Meanwhile, his colleagues in the City Council drew up a scheme to redistrict the city's wards, effective July 7, 1930. Amazingly, the plan put Sheffield's house in the 5th Ward. Since aldermen had to live in their wards to serve, this plan forced Sheffield off the Council.

When he returned to his duties in late June, Sheffield stated that he would move into the newly configured 5th Ward in order to keep his seat.

By early July, the grand jury determined to hear Sheffield's testimony, and issued a subpoena. Servers looked in vain for the missing 8th Ward Alderman. Mail piled up outside his house; no one knew his whereabouts. On July 15, the day after the grand jury's subpoena expired, Sheffield walked into the Hennepin County Sheriff's office. He explained that he had gone on vacation in the North Woods on July 1, and hadn't known about the subpoena.

At the end of the month, the grand jury sought Marie Riley's version of the evening's events. She in her turn mysteriously disappeared. Sheffield amplified his account of the shooting for the newspapers on August 5. Sheffield related that he and the widow Riley went to a boxing match on the evening of May 10. Afterward, they dropped by the party on LaSalle Avenue and had a few drinks. Marie felt poorly, out of sorts. When they arrived back at her house, Marie walked upstairs, then back down again and out the front door. She called to Sheffield from the back yard, saying, "I'm sorry to have to do this; I can't go on any longer." Sheffield ran out to grab the gun, and it fired by accident, he said,

On August 5, Marie was indicted on a charge of First Degree Assault. She was scheduled to appear before the grand jury on August 11. Sheffield called her indictment "perfect nonsense" and politically motivated. He maintained that she was blue and tried to shoot herself.

Marie appeared in court, as expected, on August 11. She pleaded Not Guilty. She explained her absence of the previous 7 weeks as due to rest at a northern Minnesota camp. Under doctor's orders. Her trial was set to begin on September 22.

No record of a trial exists, in Hennepin County's records or in the newspapers of the day. J. Russell Sheffield lost his bid for a full term in June 1931.

— Neal Baxter

Highwood Press — Minneapolis, MN — (612) 872-9156

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