Marilyn Sheppard was the wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard, an osteopath who practiced in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1950's. Dr. Sheppard, his pregnant wife of four months Marilyn, and their young son Sam, known as ‘Chips’ lived in a two-story house near a lake in a Cleveland suburb.
It had been a hot, sunny Saturday in the quiet Cleveland suburb of Bay Village perfect for picnics, boating, skiing, and swimming, an ideal spot for the three-day holiday weekend. Tomorrow, the Fourth of July 1954 and Monday, the legal holiday, promised more beautiful mid-summer days, for the family, to look forward too.
However for Dr Sheppard and his family it was the beginning of a nightmare because on this particular July 4, 1954, Marilyn Sheppard was beaten to death in her bedroom whilst her husband slept downstairs on the couch.
At the start of their investigation, the police were suspicious of Dr. Sheppard's story. The house had been ransacked as if a burglar had entered the premises; however, the police noticed that it was a tidy ransacked house. Most burglars remove a dresser drawer then dump its contents onto the floor. In the Sheppard house, the dresser drawers had been pulled open and had the appearance that someone had gone through them. However, they had not been emptied onto the floor. The police found no sign of forced entry which also accompanies most burglaries.
Revelations also came to light that Dr Sheppard had more than one affair during his marriage to Marilyn, including a relationship with Susan Hayes, a California lab technician, which he originally denied at Coroner Gerber's 1954 inquest. He also had an affair with Bay Village resident Julie Lossman shortly before the murder. At least some of his relationships were known to Marilyn, who clearly resented them, but divorce was definitely out of the question.
As the winter of 1954 was approaching, Dr. Sam Sheppard went on trial for the murder of his wife Marilyn Sheppard. The prosecution's evidence proved to be too great. On December 21, 1954, the jury found Dr. Sheppard guilty of murder in the second degree. Dr. Sheppard was sent to prison for the rest of his life.
In November of 1959, the Sheppard murder case again attracted the public's attention. A man by the name of Richard Eberling was arrested for burglary in the Cleveland area. Found in his possession was a ring that had belonged to Marilyn Sheppard. Eberling stated he stole the ring from the home of Dr. Sheppard's brother, Richard Sheppard denying he killed Marilyn Sheppard.
During his interview with the police he made a startling statement. He claimed he was in Dr. Sheppard's house several days before Marilyn was murdered. Eberling said he had been hired to wash the windows in the Sheppard house. While removing a storm window, Eberling said he cut his finger and dripped blood in the house. Some people questioned why Eberling would account for his blood being in the house. This new information raised the possibility that Dr. Sheppard may be innocent and perhaps this window-washer was responsible for Marilyn Sheppard's death. The police and prosecutors however felt they had convicted the right man; therefore, Dr. Sheppard remained in prison.
The Sheppard family believed the doctor did not kill his wife. Dr. Sheppard's brothers, Steven and Richard, were especially convinced of his innocence. It was through their efforts that in the early 1960's the family hired a young attorney to file an appeal of Dr. Sheppard's conviction. The attorney's name was F. Lee Bailey. Bailey argued that Dr. Sheppard did not receive a fair trial due to the pre-trial publicity.
Sam Sheppard With His Brother and Sister-in-Law After being Released From Prison
The prosecution convinced that Dr. Sheppard was the killer prepared for a new trial.
The second trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard began in October 1966. The charge was second degree murder. After winning him a new trial, F. Lee Bailey stayed with the case as Dr. Sheppard's defense attorney. Bailey revisited some evidence that was brought out during the first trial which appeared to exonerate his client.
Major Spencer Houk with his wife Esther
Bailey then released a bomb when a witness testified Marilyn Sheppard gave a house key to her friend, Mayor Spencer Houk. Mrs. Sheppard allegedly told the Mayor not to tell Sam. Bailey suggested that Marilyn Sheppard was having an affair with the Mayor. The Mayor's wife found out about it, and the Mayor's wife killed Marilyn Sheppard! There weren't many people who gave this theory much credence, but it did create a reasonable doubt in the juror's minds as to the guiltiness of Dr. Sheppard.
The second jury found him not guilty.
Now a completely free man, Dr. Sheppard still had his problems. The ten years he spent in prison had taken its toll, and his health was declining. In 1970, at the age of 46, he died from liver failure. Though he was exonerated, many people then and today still believe Dr. Sam Sheppard killed his wife. His case has been memorialized with the television series and the movie "The Fugitive" which was loosely based on this murder.
In 1995 Sam Reese Sheppard was still out to prove his father's innocence and he together with Cynthia L. Cooper wrote a book titled Mockery of Justice: The True Story of the Sheppard Murder Case. In his book, Sam Reese Sheppard names window-washer Richard Eberling as the prime suspect in the death of his mother. In 1989, Eberling was convicted of murdering an elderly woman in 1984 and was sent to prison.
In 1997, Sam Reese ("Chip") Sheppard, Sam's son, filed a civil suit against Cuyahoga County on behalf of his father for wrongful imprisonment. Pursuant to a judge's order, both the bodies of Marilyn Sheppard and Sam Sheppard were exhumed for DNA and forensic analysis.
DNA testing was done on vaginal smears taken from Marilyn Sheppard's body at the autopsy. The test results showed there was a mixture of DNA. This proved Marilyn Sheppard had sex with someone other than her husband. So, was she having an affair? As Dr Sheppard’s defense attorney suggested or, was she raped?
In 2000, in an eight-week trial, a civil jury reconsidered the evidence of Sam Sheppard's guilt. Sheppard's legal team argued Eberling was the actual killer. They suggested that the murder followed an attempted sexual assault, which Marilyn fiercely resisted. Lawyers for the county argued that the 1954 jury got it right, pointing to blood evidence that they said cleared Eberling.
Also in the trial, a new potential murder weapon emerged, as Cuyahoga County's attorneys presented evidence that a lamp that had rested on a nightstand between the single beds of Marilyn and Sam was the instrument of death. A neighbor who repaired the lamp and placed it on the table testified, as did officers who told jurors that no such lamp could be found in the bedroom when they investigated the murder on July 4, 1954. Sheppard's lawyers argued that a dented flashlight found in Lake Erie after the crime was the more likely murder wearpon, and that blood splatter evidence undercut key evidence against Sam.
After ten weeks of trial, 76 witnesses, and hundreds of exhibits, the case went to the eight-person civil jury. The jury deliberated just three hours on April 12, 2000, before returning a unanimous verdict that Samuel Reese Sheppard had failed to prove that his father had been wrongfully imprisoned.
On February 22, 2002, the Eighth District Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the civil case should not have gone to the jury, as a wrongful imprisonment claim could be made only by the person actually imprisoned, and not by a family member such as Sam Reese Sheppard. Legal standing to bring such a claim, the court of appeals found, died with the person who had been imprisoned. In August 2002, the Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed the appeals court's decision.
The Sheppard case continues to be highly controversial in the greater Cleveland area