Minneapolis, MN

The Shooting of Will Sidle: An 1877 Love Story that Turned Deadly on the Streets of Minneapolis

Matt Reicher

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The Nicollet House c. 1882MinnPost

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - 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 revenge.

Noonan and Sidle were once partners in a budding romantic relationship. Whenever she was around him, she felt important and 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 felt the same.

They were out one night when he bought her a drink. Next thing she remembered was waking up next to him in a hotel bed. She had not undressed. Since the couple weren’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 to do so.

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 parted 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 hoped she would burn in hell.

Those around her considered her mania to have 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 a Smith & Wesson pistol, striking Sidle in the back of the head. The force of the bullet 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 in the city at the start of 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 get her conviction for killing his son, hired Minneapolis’ best lawyers to assist the district attorney.

He wanted her to pay for what she did.

The jury 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 for killing Will Sidle for his mistreatment. Her hurt over being rejected led Noonan to seek revenge. Her plan was to kill Sidle and then herself.

Several former employers spoke about Noonan’s character. They considered her to be an excellent, hard-working employee, but more importantly, they considered her a kind person. They felt she wasn’t in her right mind when she killed Sidle - it wasn’t who she was.

Aside from the Noonan’s state at the time of the shooting, some questioned whether her shot was guaranteed to cause death. A doctor probed Mr. Sidle’s wound to figure out the trajectory of the bullet. Some believed the probe killed him.

Both her parents mentioned how she received sunstroke at age eleven, saying it may have caused her temporary insanity. Doctors (remember, it was 1877) believed it was possible that the trauma associated with sunstroke could manifest 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 visit to a saloon that fall, Sidle may have put something in her drink. Saloonkeeper William Rowell, who ran the saloon where Sidle allegedly made his claim, couldn’t recall it happening but couldn’t say for certain 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. The case was set 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, public opinion of Noonan had significantly changed. Sidle, once considered a kind soul with a big heart, had become a heartless playboy who took advantage of the young girl. Noonan didn’t have the right to kill Sidle, but deserved sympathy for her actions.

There was only one major 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 case was given to the jury. On December 25, 1877, they acquitted her due to 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 after the trials ended. After the ordeal was over, she 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 her crime - and whenever a similar crime occurred - but that was it.

After 1877, she slipped into a life of obscurity.

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Relatively recent Google Maps view of the location of the former Nicollet House from Nicollet Ave.Google Maps

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Freelance historian writing about Minnesota's beer and brewing history for Minnesota Then.

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