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).
- Sheppard had not welcomed the news of his wife’s pregnancy
- wanted to continue his affairs with Susan Hayes and with other women
- was concerned about the social stigma that a divorce might create
- killed Marilyn to get out of his marriage