2 minute read

Sam Sheppard

Independence Day

On July 3, Sam Sheppard returned home from an emergency call to enjoy a late dinner with his wife and several guests before falling asleep on the couch in the living room. Marilyn, who was four months pregnant, went upstairs to bed around midnight after saying goodbye to their guests. Four hours later, in the early morning hours of July 4, Marilyn Sheppard was beaten to death while her husband slept downstairs.

Sam heard Marilyn calling him and ran upstairs to the dimly lit room where he saw a bushy-haired form in light clothing standing next to his wife's bed. He wrestled with the intruder before being knocked unconscious. When Sam awoke he found his wife dead and then went to his seven-year-old son's room to find him sleeping soundly. Sheppard went downstairs when he heard noises and chased the killer down to the lakefront before being knocked out a second time. When Sam stumbled back to his home he called for help and the Bay Village police responded.

The Bay Village police department had never investigated a murder in their quiet community. They called in the Cleveland police as well as the county coroner to help. The coroner arrived before 8:00 A.M. and cleared the home of friends and neighbors before securing the crime scene. Early in its investigation the police concluded the murderer had been very familiar with Sheppard's property and home.

By mid-afternoon the coroner and one of the detectives accused Sheppard of murdering his wife and began searching for his motive. Although Sheppard had no history of violent behavior and was well-liked in his community, officials focused their investigation on him from the beginning.

Marilyn Sheppard, the murdered wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard. Dr. Sheppard was wrongly convicted of her death but later released. (AP/Wide World Photos)

The morning after Marilyn Sheppard died all three Cleveland newspapers published headlines about the murder. By mid-morning, lines of cars drove slowly past the Sheppard home with passengers leaning out of windows to snap photographs. Some parked their vehicles and walked into the yard for a closer look. For the next month the Sheppard murder case was closely followed with daily news reports that started out sympathetic to Dr. Sam but evolved into accusations.

By the end of July front page editorials claimed investigators were inept and that Sheppard's social standing was shielding him from justice. He was arrested on murder charges the evening of July 30 and taken to Bay Village City Hall. Hundreds of people, including newscasters, photographers, and reporters, were there awaiting his arrival.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawSam Sheppard - A Promising Future, Independence Day, Character Assassination, F. Lee Bailey, An Acquittal