The Doctor is In and Out and In

yDr. Sam Sheppard, Doctor of Osteopathy, was a respected doctor married to a beautiful woman, Marilyn Sheppard.  The doctor was also a man many believed to be a murderous fiend. He gained a rather ambiguous reputation for beating his wife to death in their home.  No one asked him to make a house call after the fateful night, July 4, 1954.

Sheppard and Marilyn met in high school and married after Sam graduated from the Los Angeles Osteopathic School of Physicians in September 1945. Sam joined his brothers and father in Ohio in the summer of 1951, in the family practice. Nepotism.  Nice.   By now the young couple had a four-year old son, Samuel Resse Sheppard (Chip…but not off the old block one hopes). Their home sat on a high cliff overlooking Lake Erie shore in Bay Village, a semi-elite suburb of Cleveland. Marilyn was a perfect mother, homemaker, and Sunday School teacher, who taught Bible classes at their Methodist Church. The couple, both sports enthusiasts, played golf, waterskied, and had friends over for parties. Sam and Marilyn’s marriage seemed perfect, but the marriage was suffering due to Sam’s infidelities. Sam’s latest affair was with a Bay View nurse named Susan Hayes. However, Sheppard later insisted Marilyn, the long-suffering wife, was undaunted and divorce was never whispered between them.  They worked to revitalize their marriage. Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?

On the night of the murder, Sheppard retired to the couch to sleep after a party, and Marilyn, who was 4 months pregnant with their second child, went to bed alone. The doctor swore at this time that he was awakened by what he thought was his wife calling his name. He ran to their bedroom and saw someone who he described later as a bushy haired man” fighting with his wife. The old bushy-haired man defence is a popular one, by the way.  Diane Downs knows all about that one. Sheppard moved to pull the attacker off Marilyn, but of course he was immediately struck on the head, rendering him unconscious. Here is the weird part.  Sheppard woke up with what we assume was a nasty headache.  He immediately recalled the assault on his wife and when he saw her battered corpse, he calmly checked her pulse before walking down the hall to check on Chip.  The little boy was unharmed. That scenario is weird for two reasons:  Sheppard knew precisely what had happened to him and Marilyn as soon as he regained consciousness.  In reality, people do not remember any events leading up to an attack of that intensity. 

The second reason is that hearing noises coming from the downstairs, Sheppard ran down and discovered the back door opened. He ran outside and could see someone moving toward the lake. As Sheppard caught up with him, the two began to fight. Sheppard was struck again and lost consciousness. For months after, Sam would describe what happened over and over – but few believed him and with good reason.  Since Sheppard was unconscious during his wife’s murder, it would be safe to assume that by the time he awoke, the killer was long gone. Few killers stick around when there is a live family member not only in the same house, but the very bedroom where the assault is taking place. 

Rapists, in fact, are cowards.  None would enter a home to rape a woman when her husband is in full view on the couch and her son is asleep down the hall. When police finally arrived on scene, they found poor Marilyn was so badly beaten around the head and face as to be unrecognizable. Mrs. Sheppard was partially nude, spread-eagled and her legs, ironically, had been pulled through the footboard.  All that ruckus, yet while he slept downstairs, Sheppard never heard a thing until his wife was attacked? Police also believed the unfortunate woman had been raped and bludgeoned, although strangely, this would not turn out to be the case. The position of the body made a rape impossible: Mrs. Sheppard’s legs were pulled entirely through the footboard.  How a rapist could debauch the woman in this position is a mystery.  This meant the murderer staged the scene to suggest rape, but he didn’t do a very good job (especially for a doctor).

Sam Sheppard was arrested for the murder of his wife on July 29, 1954. On December 21, 1954, he was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. What cooked his goose with the public was denying having an affair with Susan Hayes, then having Susan Hayes fly home from Los Angeles, with flash bulbs popping, to say they had an affair and he spoke of divorcing his wife and marrying her.A pre-trial media blitz, a biased judge and police that focused only on one suspect – Sam Sheppard, resulted in a “wrongful conviction” that would take years to overturn. Frankly I find it incredible that Sheppard was found guilty of second degree murder. Soon after the trial, on January 7, Sam’s mother committed suicide. Within two weeks, Sam’s father, Dr. Richard Allen Sheppard, was dead from a gastric ulcer that hemorrhaged, possibly from stress and grief, if such a thing can happen.  Unwittingly, Sheppard’s incredibly brutal attack against his wife ended not one, but three lives.
 
After the death of Sheppard’s lawyer, F. Lee Bailey was hired by the family to take over Sam’s appeals. On July 16, 1964, Judge Weinman freed Sheppard after finding five violations of Sheppards’ constitutional rights during his trial. The judge said the trial was a mockery of justice. While in prison, Sheppard corresponded with Ariane Tebbenjohanns, a wealthy, beautiful, blond from Germany. You might say Sheppard rebounded effortlessly from his wife’s murder and his own imprisonment.The two married the day after his release from prison. By May 1965, a federal appeals court voted to reinstate his conviction. On Nov. 1, 1966,  a second trial began, but this time with special attention given to insure that Sheppard’s constitutional rights were protected.  
After 16 days of testimony the jury found Sam Sheppard not guilty. Once free Sam returned to work in medicine, but he also started drinking heavily and using drugs. His life quickly dissolved after he was sued for malpractice after one of his patients died. In 1968 Ariane divorced him stating that he had stolen money from her, threatened her physically, and was abusing alcohol and drugs. For a short time, Sheppard got into the world of pro wrestling. He used his neurological background to promote a “nerve hold” he used in competition, not a very sensible “move” when you think about it.
 
In 1969 he married Colleen Strickland,  his wrestling manager’s 20-year-old daughter,although records of the May-December marriage have never been located.On April 6, 1970, Sam Sheppard died of liver failure as a result of heavy drinking, hardly a surprise. By the end of his life, Sheppard was reportedly prone to drinking “as much as two fifths of liquor a day.” He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Columbus, Ohio. At his time of death he was an insolvent and broken man. His son, Samuel Reese Sheppard has devoted his life to clearing his father’s name. In a 1996 civil trial, it was suggested that Richard Eberling, an occasional handyman and window washer at the Sheppard home, was the likeliest suspect in Marilyn’s murder.  Eberling was found to have a ring that had belonged to Marilyn Sheppard, however it was soon proven that the ring had initially been given to Marilyn’s sister, and Eberling stole it from her. During a 2000 trial, prosecutors argued that:
 
  1. Sheppard had not welcomed the news of his wife’s pregnancy
  2. wanted to continue his affairs with Susan Hayes and with other women
  3. was concerned about the social stigma that a divorce might create
  4. killed Marilyn to get out of his marriage 
To this day, controversy surrounds the mysterious case of Sam and Marilyn Sheppard.
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2 Responses to The Doctor is In and Out and In

  1. John Cox says:

    I am afraid that your attempt to criticise the defence is flawed. You suggest that the attacker would not hang around, and would have gone long before Sam awoke. That assumes that he was unconscious for a long period. You say that he would have been awoken earlier by his wife being violently attacked. Yet his evidence was that his saw his wife struggling. So she was killed after he was knocked out. Legs being pulled through the floor do not preclude rape. A husband rarely rapes his wife when killing her. You say that “All that ruckus, yet while he slept downstairs, Sheppard never heard a thing until his wife was attacked”. Yet the ruckus only occurred after he was knocked out. People who are knocked out do not automatically fail to remember what happened to them – you say that his remembering is weird for two reasons. That is not logical. And so it goes. He might be innocent, to judge from how poor your attacks on his defence are.

    • marilyn4ever says:

      Actually remaining clear in your memory after being knocked unconscious doesn’t happen. A sharp knock like that to the head tends to erase most or all of what went before it. Sam testified not that he was knocked when the intruder entered the house and attacked his wife, but that he was asleep. That’s his defense. He ran upstairs to the bedroom and was then knocked out (so says he). When he came to his wife was dead, but he ran outside anyway and just happened to find the killer still hanging around. Does that sound right to you? When a person has been knocked unconscious and regains consciousness s/he seldom recalls what happened in the minutes before the assault. In fact, some people cannot recall hours before the assault because the concussion has caused a degree of brain damage. If you “woke up” from being knocked unconscious and found your dead wife who probably had been raped, wouldn’t you dive on the phone and call police? Wouldn’t you be holding her in your arms, unable to believe what you are seeing? That sounds more like an innocent person finding the body of his wife in his bedroom. Legs being pulled through the floor doesn’t make sense – it was through the footboard of their bed. A husband is indeed known to commit violent sexual assault against his wife before killing her – sometimes the murder, however, is unintentional. His defense is quite poor, not my attack, if I may say so.

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