Sam Sheppard biography
American physician and homicide suspect Sam Sheppard was born on December 29, 1923 in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1954, Sheppard’s wife Marilyn was found killed in their home. A jury convicted him of murder and sentenced him to life in prison. Sheppard proclaimed his innocence, and in 1964 he was released from prison. The courts reinstated his conviction, and a re-trial in 1965 found Sheppard not guilty. Afterwards, Sheppard turned to alcohol and died of liver failure on April 6, 1970. The Fugitive TV series in 1963 and movie in 1993 are supposedly based on Sheppard’s case.
Early Life and Marriage
Homicide suspect and doctor Sam Sheppard was born in 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio. Sheppard married his high school sweetheart, Marilyn. The couple lived what appeared to be a charmed life in a wealthy Cleveland suburb until Marilyn was found bludgeoned to death in the couple's bedroom in 1954. The murder would launch one of the longest-running court cases in United States history.
During the 1954 trial, Sheppard claimed that after he discovered his wife’s body, he was hit on the head twice and knocked out by a bushy haired assailant. But after police failed to find evidence of a break-in and Sheppard’s extramarital affair was exposed, he became the investigation’s prime suspect. After a much-publicized trial and lengthy deliberation, a jury found Sheppard guilty of murder in the second degree, and he was sentenced to life in prison.
Though Sheppard’s attorney argued that prejudicial publicity had made a fair trial impossible, his appeal was denied. But in 1964, after an aggressive attorney named F. Lee Bailey took up the fight, Sheppard was released from prison. A federal appeals court soon reinstated his conviction, and Shepard was faced with another trial. This time without cameras and with few reporters, the jury found Sheppard not guilty, due in large part to the mishandling of the first trial, on November 16, 1965.
Upon his release, Sheppard soon turned to alcohol to ease his suffering, and his life quickly headed downhill. He died on April 6, 1970 from liver failure. After his death, his outraged son, also named Sam, was determined to find the real killer. His focus turned to Richard Eberling, the Sheppard’s window washer at the time of the murder. Eberling was in prison and began writing letters to Sam, claiming that Marilyn Sheppard had been killed by Esther Houk, who had discovered Marilyn was having an affair with her husband.
Despite these claims, Eberling himself became a suspect when modern testing of DNA from the crime scene pointed to him. Sam brought a civil suit against the state to declare his father innocent, rather than merely not guilty, but on January 31, 2000, the jury found the elder Sheppard not innocent. To this day, the crime remains unsolved.
In 1963, an adventure series called The Fugitive featured a man on the run from the law after being wrongly convicted of his wife's murder. Though the creator insisted it wasn’t based on the Sheppard case, it’s been argued that the show helped turn public opinion in Sheppard’s favor during the second trial. In 1993, The Fugitive was made into a hit movie starring Harrison Ford.