Remembering Seamus

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Every day, Seamus O’Neill wore a golden crucifix around his neck.

And every St. Patrick’s Day, he wore a tuxedo.

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Seamus O’Neill was murdered in 2008. These days his fiancée, Bonnie Graham Stratton, wears the golden cross as a daily reminder of the man she loved. And last weekend, many of O’Neill’s friends and family wore T-shirts — printed with a tuxedo pattern — as a St. Patrick’s Day tribute to him.

ldquo;He was an Irishman, so (on St. Patrick’s Day) he always wore a tux . . . he just wore it one year and it stuck, everybody picked up on it,” Graham Stratton said during a March 16 interview at My Blue Heaven, the pub at Richmond and Pacific streets where O’Neill used to tend bar. “Seamus was loved. He was a sweet guy, you were just drawn to him.”

The story of O’Neill’s slaying rocked the community when his body, wrapped in a tarp, was found in the basement of McWhitey’s, a bar on Venango Street, near Mercer Street, on Jan. 3, 2008.

More than four years later — on March 5 — John McLaughlin, the owner of McWhitey’s, was sentenced to life in prison for O’Neill’s murder.

“We were victorious . . . he messed with the wrong one this time. Seamus had too many friends and family looking for him,” Graham Stratton said, referring to a neighborhood search for O’Neill at the time. “We still have so many unanswered questions, but at least we have closure.”

O’Neill and his longtime fiancée had never planned a wedding. “We knew we were going to be together forever . . . that was enough,” Graham Stratton said. And with the trial over, she still has no idea why O’Neill had to die.

He was an affable, loving man who was quick to tell a joke or perform magic tricks at the bar, she said. Prior to a quarrel with McLaughlin at his tavern, she added, O’Neill had no real enemies.

“We don’t know why Seamus went there that night,” she said, referring to McLaughlin’s bar. “We don’t know what was said . . . some people said it was over some Irish thing. I just know they had an argument.”

According to reports at the time, police believe that McLaughlin beat O’Neill to death with an aluminum baseball bat and, with the help of McWhitey’s employee Sammy Toy, who also was found guilty earlier this month for hindering apprehension and obstruction of administrative law, wrapped O’Neill’s body in a blue tarp.

During the trial, jurors learned that McLaughlin frantically phoned friends — one a funeral director, another the owner of a waste-management company — to help dispose of the body.

Graham Stratton and Lisa Mosiniak, manager at My Blue Heaven, said they knew something wasn’t right that evening. O’Neill hadn’t come home and he never showed up for his shift at the bar.

“I thought that maybe he got into a card game and just lost track of time,” Mosiniak said. “He’d never miss a day of work. He was very dependable.”

Graham Stratton received help from friends and family members who searched for O’Neill’s car. It was found outside McWhitey’s. She remembers vividly how she and Hugh O’Neill, Seamus’ brother, knocked on the lockeddoor of the bar to see if he was there.

When the door was answered, they were told the bar was closed. The two pointed out O’Neill’s car and demanded to be let inside.

“I found him,” said Graham Stratton. “I was looking through everything . . . freezers, closets, everything.”

During the search, she and O’Neill’s brother found a covered floor entrance to the basement. Graham Stratton headed down; her eyes noticed the very thing she’d been dreading, she recalled.

“As I turned, I saw the tarp. I saw it, right there, like it was wrapped and ready for transport,” she said. “I just started screaming ‘call 9–1–1!’”

In the years since the slaying, McWhitey’s has closed and is shuttered. Graham Stratton said Seamus O’Neill’s friends and family would like to see the space converted to something beneficial for the community. They’d also like to place a plaque there in O’Neill’s memory.

“We’d love to see it as a police substation or something,” Graham Stratton said. “Something where we can put up a plaque. We don’t want to see that as a bar again.”

Now, Graham Stratton sleeps with a container of O’Neill’s ashes next to her bed. She wears his golden crucifix to keep him with her at all times.

“I have his ashes next to my bed. I kiss him goodnight every night,” she said. “I miss the hell out of him.”

Graham Stratton said that the sales of tuxedo T-shirts at My Blue Heaven will be used for a scholarship in O’Neill’s memory. She’d like it to help some young soccer player at Roman Catholic High school.

“He loved soccer . . . so it should be for a soccer player. Also, if they are Irish, that’s a plus,” she joked. ••

To purchase a shirt in support of the scholarship being established in O’Neill’s memory, visit My Blue Heaven, Richmond and Pacific streets, or call 215–634–9478.

Managing editor Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com

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