From the very beginning of this case– from the first hour that the murder became known to the authorities by a telephone call from the husband to the town mayor– from that moment on and including this, the case has been one of the worst in local crime history.
Cleveland Press, July 20, 1954, p. 1.
In the early morning of July 4, 1954, Sam Sheppard (30), woke up to his wife Marilyn screaming his name. He had fallen asleep in the living room after a night of entertaining guests at his home on Lake Erie. His wife must have left him there to sleep in their bedroom. Sam hurried to the room expecting to find that his wife was experiencing troubles with her pregnancy like she had before. Instead, he found that she was being attacked by a “bushy-haired intruder.” Sam scuffled some with the intruder before he was hit over the head and knocked unconscious. When he came-to, Sam checked his wife’s pulse and upon determining that she had passed, ran to his son’s room to find that his son was peacefully asleep. A noise downstairs led Sam chasing the intruder outside into another scuffle before he was hit over the head again and knocked unconscious a second time.
Unfortunately, Sam Sheppard was tried and convicted for the murder of his wife Marilyn. It is said that the extensive, biased media coverage had a major influence on Sam’s conviction, most notably the Cleveland Press. Headlines reading, “Do it Now, Dr. Gerber” and “Quit Stalling and Bring Him In!” lead to both the inquest and the arrest of Sheppard. Jurors were not sequestered, allowing for the influence of broadcasts and newspaper stories.
(21:39) “This is like the messiest, most biased thing I’ve ever heard.”
Many appeals and 10 years of jail time later, Sheppard was released on bond and a retrial was ordered. On November 16, 1966 after a 12-hour deliberation of the (now-sequestered) jury, Sheppard was found not guilty in the murder of Marilyn Sheppard.
Sheppard, a former doctor, returned to surgical practice, yet resigned after wrongful death suits were filed against him. It is reported that Sheppard had become an alcoholic and was drinking as much as two fifths of liquor a day. Sheppard also tried his hand in professional wrestling, adopting the name “Killer” and creating the hold, “the mandible claw.” Sam Sheppard died on April 6, 1970. Official cause of death was Wernicke’s encephalopathy.
Despite being found not guilty in his retrial, Sam Sheppard’s reputation was ruined. Sam and Marilyn’s son, Chip, spent his life working to clear his dad’s name. Chip, along with the help of DNA testing, was able to prove once and for all that his father was not guilty.
So, who killed Marilyn Sheppard? Listen as Skye and Courtney from The Cult of Domesticity Podcast discuss possible suspects, the crime scene, and other juicy details (did someone say affair?) about the life of Sam Sheppard.
Sources for this episode include Wikipedia and others to be updated at a later time.