Sam Sheppard was a neurosurgeon at Bay View Hospital, a medical establishment he owned with his father and two brothers. Unknown to his wife Marilyn, for 15 months Sheppard had been having an affair with Susan Hayes, 21, a colleague. The Sheppards had been high school sweethearts and had married in 1945. On 3 July 1954 they invited friends to dinner at their home overlooking Lake Erie for an Independence Day party.
The dinner party broke up not long after midnight and Marilyn, who was four months pregnant, went straight to bed while Sheppard remained downstairs and fell asleep on a settee. He woke up when he heard screams and ran up the stairs where he saw his wife lying on the bed. A bushy-haired intruder ran past him knocking him over. Sheppard chased the intruder and they fought by the lakeside. Sheppard was knocked out. When he came to, after two hours, and went back into the house he found his wife dead, her head caved in by 27 blows.
Rumours began to circulate that Sheppard was responsible for his wife’s death and he was arrested on 30 July. He went on trial —then the longest-running in American history — on 18 October and at 4.25pm on 21 December he was convicted of second-degree murder, despite the murder weapon not being found and there being no physical evidence to link Sheppard to the crime.
As with many cases, it was the character of the accused that did for him rather than any evidence. Sheppard spent 12 years in prison until he won a retrial on 6 June 1966. At his second trial, which began on 24 October 1966, F. Lee Bailey represented Sheppard and had the earlier verdict overturned, freeing the doctor on 16 November.
28944, Lake Road, Bay Village, Ohio, USA
Sunday 4 July 1954
Sam Sheppard found it difficult to come to terms with life outside prison and was not helped by the whispering campaign by people who still thought he was responsible for Marilyn’s death. He became a professional wrestler (under the name “Killer” Sheppard) and married twice more but divorced twice. He turned to drugs and alcohol for solace and died on 6 April 1970, aged 46, of liver disease.
In 1997 Sam Sheppard’s body was exhumed and a sample of DNA taken, which finally exonerated him of murdering his wife. In November 2001 a book on the case named Richard Eberling, the family handyman, as the “bushy haired intruder” who murdered Mrs Sheppard. Eberling died in 1998 while in prison for the rape and murder of a 90-year-old lady.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The Sheppard case was the inspiration for the television series The Fugitive starring David Janssen as a man wrongly accused of murdering his wife.