People have often said this notorious case out of an idyllic Cleveland suburb was the inspiration for the popular 1960’s television series turned feature film, The Fugitive. It was in the early morning hours of July 4th, 1954 when Marilyn Sheppard, the wife of prominent Ohio neurosurgeon Sam Sheppard was bludgeoned to death in the bedroom of their Bay Village, Ohio home. She was four months pregnant.
Sam Sheppard claimed he had fallen asleep in the lving room downstairs and was awakened by his wife’s screams, running upstairs toward the bedroom he claimed to see a shadowy figure and at that moment was immediately knocked to the floor. Upon regaining consciousness Sam reported seeing a “bushy-haired man” whom he would chase out of the home, it was at this point Sam would suffer yet another blow in the couple’s front yard, rendering him unconscious a second time. Upon awakening around 5:40am, Sam would make his first phone call to his neighbor, the Mayor of Bay Village. Shortly after that he would contact his brother, who suggested he seek medical treatment. He did, leaving the tragic scene to the coroner and police investigators.
As days passed, Sheppard would refuse to answer any questions from police saying it was on his doctor’s orders. It seems the doctor he was referring to was also his older brother, Stephen. It was not long before rumors of Sam Sheppard’s infidelity hit the press alongside details of his wife’s murder, it was alleged he was involved with a former lab technician named Susan Hayes. Sam would deny the affair.
Approximately two weeks after Marilyn’s murder, a front-page editorial that ran in the Cleveland Press would demand a public inquest which actually took place at a local high school in order to accommodate the crowds A media circus ensued and for the next three nights witnesses were interrogated about Sheppard’s life and marriage. A week after the inquest had finished, Sheppard was arrested and officially charged with his wife’s murder. After several judicial stops and starts it was in 1955 when Dr. Sam (as he was often called in newspaper articles of the time) would be convicted of his wife’s murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Eleven years later, prominent attorney F. Lee Bailey was hired to appeal Dr. Sam’s conviction. Bailey succesfully defended Sheppard and on November 16, 1966 his conviction was overturned, due in large part to the mishandling of the first trial. The Court went as far as stating his original trial had a “carnival atmosphere.”
His newfound freedom would be short lived as Dr. Sam would die just four years later, always insisting he was innocent. It was said that Sam was drinking copious amounts of hard liquor leading up to his death and intial news reports stated he died from liver failure, however the official cause of death was listed as Wernicke’s encephalopathy.
As the years passed Dr. Sam’s only child,
a son he had with wife Marilyn, would work tirelessly to clear his fathers name. Alongside lifelong friend Allan Davis, administrator of his Father’s estate, the junior Sheppard went as far as suing the State of Ohio for his Father’s unlawful imprisonment in the late 1990’s. I’ll be going down the rabbit hole with this case all day featuring evidentiary analysis and arguments that elude to both Sam Sheppard’s guilt and innocence, as well as details on his son’s attempt to clear his fathers name. Stay tuned!
Body of Sam Sheppard’s wife exhumed in Ohio. CNN.com. October 5, 1999. Archived from the original on September 19, 2004
DeSario, Jack; Mason, William D. (2003). Dr. Sam Sheppard on Trial: The Prosecutors and the Marilyn Sheppard Murder. Kent State University Press
Cooper, Cynthia L.; Sam Reese Sheppard (1995). Mockery of justice: the true story of the Sheppard murder case.