After dinner guests left for the evening, and his pregnant wife had gone to bed, Dr. Sam Sheppard told police, he watched a movie. He said he eventually fell asleep and woke very early on the morning of July 4, 1954, having heard a noise upstairs. A moment later his wife, Marilyn, screamed and called his name. This was followed by more noises. Dr. Sheppard said he immediately thought his wife might be having painful convulsions (she'd had them before during her first pregnancy).
The home was dark, but there was a light in the upstairs dressing room. Dr. Sheppard ran upstairs to the master bedroom, where he said he saw a "white form" over his wife and next to the bed.
Dr. Sheppard claimed he wrestled with the figure, not knowing if it was a man or a woman, and was struck from behind and knocked unconscious.
When he regained consciousness, he saw that his wife was lying in a pool of blood on the bed; she had been beaten.
Dr. Sheppard said he found no pulse and ran to his son's room. The son was still sound asleep, and he decided not to disturb him yet.
There were more noises coming from downstairs, and Dr. Sheppard went to investigate and said he saw a man outside the screen door. He chased him down the back steps and onto the beach. Though it was still dark, Dr. Sheppard said he could make out a "large, powerfully built man with a good- sized head and bushy hair."
Dr. Sheppard said he lunged at the man, but ended up knocked unconscious again. When he came to, his legs were in the water and his head was on the sand. He returned to the house, went back to the bedroom, and called Spencer Houk—his friend and neighbor who was also mayor of their suburb, Bay Village.
Houk and his wife came to the house shortly before 6:00 a.m., and together they called the police.
Sheppard repeated his story to the police, Houk, and later to an expert from the Scientific Investigation Unit of the Cleveland police.
The next day, local newspapers ran Sheppard's story, applauding him for trying to catch the man who killed his wife.
Their support would soon evaporate.
SAM SHEPPARD'S BACKSTORY
The youngest of three sons, Sam was born in 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio, and later attended Cleveland Heights High School, where he served as class president three years. During his senior year he was recognized for his accomplishments in football, basketball, and track, and his senior class voted him "The Man Most Likely to Succeed."
He considered becoming a professional athlete and could have chosen one of several athletic scholarships offered by small colleges, but instead he followed in the footsteps of his father and older brothers and pursued osteopathic medicine.
During World War II, Sam decided to enlist in the army but was talked out of it by his father. Instead he enrolled at Hanover College in Indiana for preosteopathic courses. (In the summer, he studied at Western Reserve University in Cleveland.)
While he was at Hanover, Sam gave Marilyn his fraternity pin, which signaled their engagement. He'd first been introduced to her in high school, when she'd dated one of his brothers. Marilyn attended Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, while Sam continued his studies, graduating from the Los Angeles Osteopathic School of Physicians. In September 1945, he asked her to move to California with him. She agreed and they were quickly married. Marilyn wanted to start a family right away. Her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage but, in early 1947, she gave birth to Samuel Reese, who was quickly nicknamed Chip.
Sam graduated from medical school, finished his internship, and became a resident in neurosurgery at the Los Angeles County Hospital; however, at the urging of family, Sam, Marilyn, and Chip returned to Ohio in 1951, where Sam joined his father's hospital and family practices.
Their first house was a two- level Dutch Colonial in a Cleveland suburb. It was poised on a cliff above Lake Erie and close to Bay View Hospital.
While Sam worked, Marilyn stayed at home and tended the house. She taught Bible classes at the Methodist church. The Sheppards summered on the lake and co- owned an aluminum boat with neighbors J. Spencer and Esther Houk.
Sheppard reportedly had one affair during their marriage, which he said Marilyn knew about.
He said in the months before her death that their marriage had been improving.
Marilyn was four months pregnant on the night she was killed.
Cleveland police and a detective from the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department investigated the scene, their efforts complicated by a house already filled with news reporters.
Sheppard, meanwhile, had been taken to the hospital and sedated.
As neighborhood boys helped search for evidence, the mayor's son soon found Sheppard's medical bag in the weeds near the beach.
This bag, along with other pieces of evidence, went through many different hands before the authorities tested for fingerprints.
The coroner arrived at 8:00 a.m. He estimated that Sheppard's wife had been killed between 3:00 and 4:00 A.M. The coroner determined she had nearly three dozen wounds on her head, and he noted that her watch had stopped at 3:15.
Meanwhile, investigators interviewed Sheppard at the hospital, even though he was still under the influence of the sedatives.
As police questioned Sheppard about his affair with a Bay View Hospital nurse, it was clear that they were skeptical that he had been knocked unconscious twice by a mystery man. They wondered why Sheppard's son had not woken up and if the family dog had barked during the struggle and at the noises Sheppard said he had heard. The police had found no obvious signs of a break- in in their preliminary investigation.
Though one of the investigators acknowledged that he suspected Sheppard had killed his wife, there was no arrest for a few weeks.
Sheppard posted a $10,000 reward for the capture of his wife's murderer, but it was left unclaimed.
In the media there was speculation that Sheppard was receiving special consideration from the mayor and police chief. Perhaps in response to these favoritism claims, the coroner soon announced an inquest into Marilyn Sheppard's death—more than two weeks after her body had been discovered.
Sheppard was extensively questioned during the proceedings, which his attorney was not allowed to attend, as it was not an official court action.
As questions continued to swirl around Sheppard's affair and the matter of the shakiness of his marriage, the nurse he'd had the affair with testified to sexual encounters that had gone on for years. The media reported the entire sordid story.
THE ARREST AND THE FIRST TRIAL
Twenty- five days after the murder, Sheppard was arrested.
On October 18, 1954, the trial began. It would last until just before Christmas of that year.
The prosecutor was John Mahon, assisted by Saul Danaceau and Thomas Parrino. Sheppard's attorney was William J. Corrigan, assisted by Fred Garmore, William Corrigan Jr., and Arthur Petersilge, the longtime Sheppard family lawyer.
The defense requested a change of venue. It was denied.
The names of prospective jurors had been published the month prior to the trial, and prospective jurors admitted receiving phone calls and threats, and were frequently questioned by the press. According to news reports, only one prospective juror said he had not read or heard about the case.
It took seventeen days to select the jury, and the panel was never sequestered during the trial.
The trial was a media circus from the first day. The jurors were bused to the Sheppard house to view the scene of the crime. The media had been notified ahead of time, and reporters waited at the property to take pictures and freely interview the jurors.
During the court proceedings, deputy coroner Lester Adelson described the autopsy and showed pictures of Marilyn Sheppard. He admitted to a lack of thoroughness at the autopsy, as they did not examine the contents of her stomach and did not test for rape . . . even though from the appearance of the body it certainly looked like she had been sexually assaulted.
Spencer and Esther Houk confirmed Sheppard's frantic call telling them his wife had been murdered, but Esther also cast some doubt on his story when she reported that the Sheppards had been known to argue.
Cuyahoga County coroner Sam Gerber testified to the gruesome condition of Marilyn's body, claiming: "In this bloodstain I could make out the impression of a surgical instrument." He further testified that she had been killed by blows to her head that had been made with a twin-bladed surgical instrument or something similar.
A physician who had treated Sheppard the afternoon of the murder testified that Sheppard's injuries were minor and primarily consisted of a black eye and cheekbone temple swelling, nothing serious enough to support the claim that he'd been knocked unconscious twice.
The prosecution also called Susan Hayes (the nurse with whom Sheppard had had an affair), who testified about her various rendezvous in Sheppard's car, in the clinic, and in her parents' house. She said she once received a watch from him, and said he had talked about getting a divorce so he co...