Finding Uncle William

When I started researching the family history, I managed to figure out the basics of all of Dad’s siblings except for his brother William. He was Grandfather and Grandmother Sheehan’s second child, born in Worcester in 1904. The only other fact I knew in the beginning was that our cousin Rusty was his daughter. Rusty’s real name was Eleanor, (probably named after Grandfather’s sister Ellen) and we used to see her and her husband George Brunt when we’d visit Florida. I remember being confused when Mom told me Rusty was my cousin, because she seemed to be close to Mom’s age (she was born in 1928). To me that made her an aunt, not a cousin!

William married Helen Gaffney sometime in the early 1920’s. In addition to Rusty, they had another daughter, Mary, born in 1926. In later years, Mary lived in Grafton, and I remember visiting her house with Mom and Dad when I was younger. There was also a son, Thomas, born in 1929, who became a very successful lawyer and insurance executive. The family appear in the 1930 census, living in Worcester. William was 25, and worked as an office clerk at a “loom works”, probably Crompton & Knowles. That was the last record I could find prior to the 1940 census being released in 2012. When I asked Mom about William, she said that he had died sometime before she and Dad got married, and that she thought she remembered going to the wake.

mysteryxmasphotoThe 1940 census showed William living at Grandfather Sheehan’s house on Main South in Worcester. There was no Helen, but there were four new children, all born since 1930, and all, according to the Worcester City Clerk’s records, William and Helen’s kids. This photo that Kerry found appears to show a Christmas gathering in the 1940’s at Grandfather’s house- I think it’s pretty likely that the children in that photo are William and Helen’s. The four boys seated at lower left in the foreground are probably William’s sons John (aged 13 in 1945), Thomas (16), William Jr. (15), and Francis (11). Next is Rusty, and then Dad. Seated on the couch are Grandfather, Aunt May, Grandmother, and, I think, William’s daughter Mary. Aunts Kathleen and Helen are in the back, along with two young men whose identity I don’t know. Two of William and Helen’s children are missing from the photo- their two youngest children, Ann (9), and David (7), both of whom, were, I believe, living in Florida with Uncle Frank’s family by this time.

HelenGaffneyDeathCertSo what became of William and Helen? I didn’t really have any idea until recently, when I came across some newly digitized vital records indexes, and found entries for both of them. It turns out that Helen passed away in 1938, a victim of pyelonephritis, a disease of the kidneys- she was just 30 years old.

I found William’s death certificate, too, but there was a surprise- while checking the indexes, I also came across an additional marriage record for a William N. Sheehan, in Oxford, in 1941. I called the Oxford Town Clerk, and confirmed that it was our uncle William- the names of the groom’s parents are Nicholas Sheehan and Mary Casey.

SheehanRaidyMarriageCertSo apparently William remarried, to a divorcee named Esther (St Germain) Raidy. According to the marriage certificate, they were married by a Methodist clergyman, Emory S. Buck, at 12 Charlton Street in Oxford, on June 6, 1941. That address was at one time the Methodist parsonage.

According to the certificate, William was living in Oxford at the time, and working as an upholsterer. Esther also lived in Oxford, where she had been born in 1900. At the time of their marriage, Esther and William had 13 children between them. I don’t know anything further about their marriage, except for the fact that it didn’t last long. On January 29, 1944, William died of cardiac decompensation, a form of heart failure, and hypertension. He was 39 years old.

WilliamSheehanDeathNoticeWilliam’s death notice in the Worcester Telegram was very brief- not a full obituary. It did, however, provide two interesting pieces of information: at the time of his death William was living at 50 Marsh Ave. in Worcester, the house near Green Hill Park that Grandfather Sheehan bought in 1942 (and where I believe the Christmas photo mentioned above was taken). The other significant detail is that the death notice doesn’t mention Esther- it identifies William as the “husband of the late Helen (Gaffney) Sheehan”. William was buried in St John’s Cemetery- but not, however, in the same plot as Helen. She was interred in a plot containing the graves of members of the Gaffney family. According to the staff at St John’s, William is the only occupant of a four grave plot that was purchased by his parents, Grandfather and Grandmother Sheehan. There is no gravestone.

What happened to Esther? She eventually reunited with her first husband, Ernest. The 1945 Worcester City Directory shows Ernest living at 727 Main Street in Worcester. There is also a “Mrs. Esther L Raidy”, living at 12 South Ward Street- the home of Esther’s daughter Irene and her husband Peter Putis. By 1951, Esther and Ernest were apparently back together, living at 727 Main St.

In June 1951, tragedy struck Esther’s family. Esther and Ernest’s son Ernest Jr. was married in Worcester on June 23 1951. After a reception at a Shrewsbury restaurant, the bride and groom left for their honeymoon, and the rest of the immediate family returned to 727 Main to continue celebrating. That group included Esther and Ernest, their daughter Irene and husband Peter Putis, and their daughter Eleanor Saulenas. Eleanor’s husband Julius Saulenas did not attend- their marriage was on the rocks, and Eleanor had recently filed for divorce.

At about 9:15 PM, Julius Saulenas arrived unexpectedly at the back door of the apartment, and walked into the kitchen brandishing a revolver. Esther was there, along with Irene and Eleanor. Saulenas said “Well, so you’re having a nice time”, and fired the gun at Esther, hitting her in the hand. Irene’s husband Peter Putis, who had been in the living room talking to his father-in-law, entered the kitchen after hearing the gunshot. Saulenas fired again, at point blank range, hitting Putis in the face.

Saulenas, who by his own admission had been drinking since early that morning, next tried to locate his wife, but was unable to, and fled the apartment. Meanwhile an ambulance carried Peter Putis to City Hospital, where he was declared dead on arrival.

RaidyPutisSaulenasSaulenas next made his way to Shrewsbury, to the restaurant where the wedding reception had been held, apparently thinking his wife might be there. He left when the restaurant closed for the night, and shortly thereafter was spotted by Shrewsbury police as he tried to cross Route 9. He was arrested without incident, and brought back to Worcester.

In August, Saulenas, who had refused counsel, pleaded guilty to second degree murder in Putis’s death, and “murderous assault” in the shooting of his mother-in-law. Not long afterwards Saulenas had a change of heart- he acquired a lawyer, and in November changed his plea to not guilty. Three months later, in February 1952, a jury found Saulenas guilty of second degree murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

But the story doesn’t end there- less than two years later, Saulenas’s sentence was commuted from life to 25 years by outgoing Governor Paul Dever. The commutation, which had been bitterly opposed by Esther and her family, meant that Saulenas was immediately eligible for parole.

Despite the family’s fears, there is no indication that Saulenas ever attempted to make good on his threats against his wife and mother-in-law. He died in 1981 at the age of 60- his death notice in the Telegram makes no mention of family or a final resting spot, saying only that he “died yesterday in University of Massachusetts Hospital”.

Esther passed away in 1962, coincidentally from the same kidney ailment that ended the life of Helen Sheehan 24 years earlier. She was 62. The paper identified her as the “wife of Ernest J. Raidy”.

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