The Shooting of Will Sidle
An 1877 Love Story that Turned Deadly
The story of Will Sidle and Kate Noonan began as a 19th-century tale of love that transcended society's social barriers. In the end, it was one of unrequited love and deadly revenge.
Noonan and Sidle were once partners in a budding romantic relationship. Whenever she was around him, she felt special - like she was the most important person in the world. As a couple, they walked, went to bars and restaurants, rode throughout the city, and danced together.
He told her he loved her, and she said she felt the same.
They were out one night when he bought her a drink. The next thing she remembered was waking up next to him in a hotel bed. She had not undressed. Since the couple wasn't married, Noonan was ashamed of her behavior.
Sidle assured her they would one day be married. After that, he committed to taking care of her for the rest of her life. He did for a time — at least until it was no longer in his best interest.
His father was the president of First National Bank and was a wealthy member of high society. As a domestic servant, she was low class. Ultimately, only Sidle could decide how far they would go.
Sadly, it wasn't far at all.
Sidle soon disappeared from Noonan's life, only to reappear months later. He apologized to her and asked for forgiveness. She didn't want to. Sidle told her they could never be together. His father would disown him if he married below his station. She was devastated. Since she shared Sidle's bed, she knew she must leave the area. Her shame kept her from staying in Minneapolis. Noonan needed financial help to move away forever and asked Sidle for 800 dollars. He offered 100.
She refused, and they went their separate ways.
After the incident, Noonan tried to make sense of what had happened. Her pain drove her from hysterical laughter to gushing tears. Even though she had been Catholic her whole life, she stopped attending church. She knew what she had done wrong.
On a chilly December day in 1876, Noonan stood outside the bank Sidle worked at and tried to talk to him. She was planning to kill him and herself, according to witnesses. He met her outside and told her he was through with her and that he hoped she would burn in hell.
Those around her considered her anger at having reached its zenith on February 16, 1877.
Between six and seven that night, Noonan followed Sidle and his brother down Nicollet Avenue. The two young men ignored her, hoping she would leave. As they neared the ladies' entrance of the Nicollet House, a shot rang out from Noonan's Smith & Wesson pistol, striking Sidle in the back of the head. The bullet's force threw him against the building and to the ground.
Noonan dropped the gun and fled.
A few minutes later, she went to the police station to report a shooting on Nicollet Ave. Even though she didn't admit her involvement in the crime, they locked her up, and the authorities left to investigate. They found her pistol at the crime scene. Sidle died at 11:30 PM. Soon after, Noonan was charged with his murder.
Popular opinion before the trial was that Noonan had committed premeditated murder against a member of the city's high society. Sidle was an assistant cashier at the First National Bank, positioned to achieve great things. Even if he was far from a perfect gentleman, naysayers felt it was up to Noonan to guard her virtue.
Noonan pleaded not guilty to murder by reason of insanity on May 10, 1877. She killed Will Sidle, but she wasn't in her right mind when she committed the crime.
The murder trial began on June 1, 1877. The world was against her. Sidle's father, determined to see Noonan convicted of killing his son, hired Minneapolis' best lawyers to assist the district attorney.
Jurors heard witness testimony about seeing Noonan on the street before the shooting. People who encountered her thought she'd gone crazy. There was nothing in her eyes. It was as if she was no longer in her body.
Police Chief Munger remembered meeting Ms. Noonan in November 1876. When they spoke, she told him her plan to kill Will Sidle for his mistreatment. Her hurt over being rejected led Noonan to seek revenge. She wanted to kill Sidle and then herself.
Several former employers spoke about Noonan's character. They considered her an excellent, hard-working employee, but more importantly, they believed she was kind. They felt she wasn't in her right mind when she killed Sidle - it wasn't who she was.
Aside from Noonan's state of mind during the shooting, some questioned whether her shot was guaranteed to cause death. A doctor probed Mr. Sidle's wound to determine the bullet's trajectory. Some believed the invasive probe killed him.
Her parents mentioned that she received sunstroke at age eleven, saying it may have caused temporary insanity. Doctors (remember, it was 1877) believed the trauma associated with sunstroke could have manifested years afterward. Even the prosecution's doctors thought this was possible.
She was diagnosed with "Mania Transitoria" — temporary insanity while committing a criminal act.
A witness remembered Sidle making fun of their group one night in 1874 for not bedding Noonan. He boasted he would do so within two weeks. During a fall visit to a saloon, Sidle may have put something in her drink. Saloonkeeper William Rowell, who ran the bar where Sidle allegedly made his claim, couldn't recall it happening but couldn't say for sure it hadn't.
On June 8, the case was sent to the jury for sentencing. The jury couldn't agree on the verdict four days later, with a vote of 11-1 for acquittal. Officials set the case over to be tried again.
Since the first trial was closed and Noonan wasn't convicted, she lobbied for her release. The court ordered her to be held until her November 1877 trial.
Within a short time, the public opinion of Noonan had significantly changed. Once considered a kind soul with a big heart, Sidle had become a heartless playboy who took advantage of the young girl. Noonan didn't have the right to kill him but deserved sympathy for her actions.
There was only one significant difference between the second trial and the first. A witness offered corroborating testimony of Sidle putting something in Noonan's drink on the night she lost consciousness. He had drugged her.
During the evening of December 21, 1877, the judge gave the case to the jury. On December 25, 1877, jurors acquitted her because of temporary insanity.
Charlotte Van Cleve, a former employer of Noonan's, took her in after the trial. A staunch supporter, she promised to help her once the trials ended. After the ordeal, Van Cleve sent Noonan to a school for young women to learn needlework.
Noonan's caretaker helped her to become a seamstress, a position she held (at least) until Charlotte Van Cleve died in 1907. Publicly, her name was mentioned on subsequent anniversaries of the crime - and whenever a similar crime occurred - but that was it.
- Delegard, Kristen. "Murder and Madness in Minneapolis: Nicollet Avenue in 1877 |." | Making History in Minneapolis. Last modified March 4, 2015. https://historyapolis.com/blog/2015/03/04/murder-madness-minneapolis-nicollet-avenue-1877/.
- Hedin, Douglas. "The Celebrated Kate Noonan Case." The Minnesota Legal History Project, Archive of Articles and Essays on the Legal History of MN. Accessed June 5, 2021. https://www.minnesotalegalhistoryproject.org/index.cfm.
- The Minneapolis Tribune. December 22, 1877, 4. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83016768/1877-12-22/ed-1/seq-4.
- The Minneapolis Tribune. "Crazy." June 6, 1877, 4. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83016768/1877-06-06/ed-1/seq-4.
- The Minneapolis Tribune. "Will Sidle's Death." February 17, 1877, 4. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83016768/1877-02-17/ed-1/seq-4.
- The Minneapolis Tribune. "Kate Noonan." July 26, 1877, 4. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83016768/1877-07-26/ed-1/seq-4.
- Perlman, Tamatha. "Retracing Kate Noonan’s Path Up and Down Nicollet on a Fateful Day in 1877." MinnPost. Last modified February 18, 2015. https://www.minnpost.com/stroll/2015/02/retracing-kate-noonans-path-and-down-nicollet-fateful-day-1877/.
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Historian for The Streets of St. Paul and Minnesota Then. I'm using this platform to share stories about Minnesota history and whatever else (or wherever else) I find interesting at the time.
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