The Marilyn Sheppard Murder
Marilyn Sheppard was the wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard, an osteopath who practiced in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1950's. Dr. Sheppard, his wife Marilyn and their young son Sam lived in a two-story house near a lake in a Cleveland suburb. On July 4, 1954, Marilyn Sheppard was beaten to death in her bedroom while her husband slept downstairs on the couch. Dr. Sheppard was awaken by the cries of his wife. He immediately ran upstairs to their bedroom. As he entered the bedroom, he saw what he described as a "form" in the room. Before he knew what was going on, he was struck from behind and fell to the floor unconscious. When he regained his senses he heard some commotion downstairs. Dr. Sheppard quickly ran downstairs and saw a "form" going out the backdoor of his house. Dr. Sheppard ran outside and chased the "form" which he would later describe as a bushy-haired man. Dr. Sheppard chased the man through the backyard and down to the lake located behind his house. On the shores of the lake, he struggled with the intruder. During the altercation, Dr. Sheppard received several blows which left him unconscious on the beach.
At the start of their investigation, the police were suspicious of Dr. Sheppard's story. The house had been ransacked as if a burglar had entered the premises. What the police noticed is that it was a tidy ransacked house. Many burglars will remove a dresser drawer and dump its contents onto the floor. In the Sheppard house, the dresser drawers had been pulled open and had the appearance that someone had gone through them. However, they had not been emptied onto the floor. The police found no sign of forced entry which accompanies most burglaries. As the winter of 1954 was approaching, Dr. Sam Sheppard went on trial for the murder of his wife Marilyn Sheppard. The prosecution's evidence proved to be too great. On December 21, 1954, the jury found Dr. Sheppard guilty of murder in the second degree. Dr. Sheppard was sent to prison for the rest of his life.
In November of 1959, the Sheppard murder case again attracted the public's attention. A man by the name of Richard Eberling was arrested for burglary in the Cleveland area. Found in his possession was a ring that had belonged to Marilyn Sheppard. Eberling stated he stole the ring from the home of Dr. Sheppard's brother, Richard Sheppard. Eberling denied he killed Marilyn Sheppard. During his interview with the police he made a startling statement. He claimed he was in Dr. Sheppard's house several days before Marilyn was murdered. Eberling said he had been hired to wash the windows in the Sheppard house. While removing a storm window, Eberling said he cut his finger and dripped blood in the house. Some people questioned why Eberling would account for his blood being in the house. This new information raised the possibility that Dr. Sheppard may be innocent and perhaps this window-washer was responsible for Marilyn Sheppard's death. The police and prosecutors felt they had convicted the right man. Dr. Sheppard remained in prison.
The Sheppard family believed the doctor did not kill his wife. Dr. Sheppard's brothers, Steven and Richard, were especially convinced of his innocence. It was through their efforts that in the early 1960's the family hired a young attorney to file an appeal of Dr. Sheppard's conviction. The attorney's name was F. Lee Bailey. Bailey argued that Dr. Sheppard did not receive a fair trial due to the pre-trial publicity. There was a considerable amount of media attention not only in the Cleveland area but throughout the country. The defense had asked for a change of venue, but the judge did not grant one. Bailey pointed out that the trial judge never instructed the jury not to read any news articles concerning the trial. The judge also did not sequester the jury. The press in the courtroom was allowed to get within several feet of the jurors who were seated in the jury box. The jurors could overhear any comments the press would make. Based on his arguments, a federal judge found that Dr. Sheppard did not receive a fair trial. In 1964, Dr. Sam Sheppard was released from prison. The prosecution, convinced that Dr. Sheppard was the killer prepared for a new trial.
The second trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard began in October 1966. The charge was second degree murder. After winning him a new trial, F. Lee Bailey stayed with the case as Dr. Sheppard's defense attorney. Bailey revisited some evidence that was brought out during the first trial which appeared to exonerate his client. However, Bailey's newest evidence for his client's innocence was quite clever and shocking. Mrs. Sheppard had received about 35 blows, mainly to the head area, with an unknown instrument. Bailey pointed out that none of these blows individually were fatal. He argued the reason the killer had struck Marilyn Sheppard so many times was because the killer was a weak person. Dr. Sheppard was a large and strong man. If he was the killer, it would only have taken one or two blows from him to end Marilyn's life. Bailey proffered that the killer may have been a woman. Bailey then released a bomb when a witness testified Marilyn Sheppard gave a house key to her friend, mayor Spencer Houk. Mrs. Sheppard allegedly told the mayor not to tell Sam. Bailey suggested that Marilyn Sheppard was having an affair with the mayor. The mayor's wife found out about it, and the mayor's wife killed Marilyn Sheppard! There weren't many people who gave this theory much credence, but it did create a reasonable doubt in the juror's minds as to the guiltiness of Dr. Sheppard. The second jury found him not guilty.
Now a completely free man, Dr. Sheppard still had his problems. The ten years he spent in prison had taken its toll, and his health was declining. In 1970, at the age of 46, he died from liver failure. Though he was exonerated, many people then and today still believe Dr. Sam Sheppard killed his wife. His case has been memorialized with the television series and the movie "The Fugitive" which was loosely based on this murder. Today his son, Sam Reese Sheppard, is out to prove his father's innocence. In 1995, Sam Reese Sheppard along with Cynthia L. Cooper wrote a book titled Mockery of Justice: The True Story of the Sheppard Murder Case. In his book, Sam Reese Sheppard names window-washer Richard Eberling as the prime suspect in the death of his mother. In 1989, Eberling was convicted of murdering an elderly woman in 1984 and was sent to prison. Over the years Eberling has granted several interviews from prison. In October 1997, "The Learning Channel" broadcasted an interview in which Eberling was questioned about Marilyn Sheppard's death. In part of his response he said,
"It's a very distasteful subject and I would like to move on. It's not true. Never was and I had no intention. I've never killed anybody. That's not my nature."
In the first sentence, Eberling tells us he does not want to talk about the murder of Marilyn Sheppard. His reason for not wanting to talk about it is because, "It's a very distasteful subject." Distasteful means unpleasant. We have to ask ourselves, why is this subject unpleasant for him? There is no indication that he and Marilyn were close friends, or that her murder has created a loss in his life. If he didn't kill her, then he should be willing to talk about it and tell us he didn't do it. The murder of Marilyn Sheppard was a horrible crime. However, it should only be distasteful to a person who has a link to the victim. What is Richard Eberling's link to Marilyn Sheppard? Guilty people don't want to talk about the crimes they have committed and would rather, "move on."
Eberling goes on to say, "It's not true. Never was and I had no intention. I've never killed anybody. That's not my nature." Although Eberling tells us he has never killed anyone, in 1989 he was convicted of killing a woman. Our main focus on this part of his statement is the word "intention." When someone says he has no intention, he is telling us he has no plans. When used in the present tense, the person is telling us he doesn't want to do something. "I have no intention of going shopping with my wife." In this statement, the person is telling us he probably will not go shopping with his spouse. He is not telling us he won't go, but is telling us he is not planning on going. When the word "intention" is used in the past tense, the person is telling us he did something. "I had no intention of going shopping with my wife" tells us the husband went shopping even though he didn't want to go. Eberling uses the word "intention" in the past tense which tells us he did something even though he may not have planned to do it. He doesn't tell us what his intention was because he didn't finish his sentence.
Since the interview with Eberling dealt with the murder of Marilyn Sheppard, we can conclude his intention had something to do with Mrs. Sheppard. Therefore, we can complete the sentence for him with the following possibilities:
"I had no intention of going to the Sheppard's house."
"I had no intention of witnessing Marilyn Sheppard's murder."
"I had no intention of killing Marilyn Sheppard."
Eberling's entire statement is an attempt to deny he killed Marilyn Sheppard, "It's not true. Never was." "I've never killed anybody. That's not my nature." Therefore, we can conclude his "intention" also had to do with Marilyn's death. "I had no intention of killing Marilyn Sheppard." By saying he had no intention of killing her, he is telling us he did kill her. Why did the killer inflict so many blows to Marilyn Sheppard? F. Lee Bailey wanted the jury to believe the killer was a weak person perhaps a woman. Eberling is telling us it took approximately 35 blows because it was not his intention to kill Marilyn Sheppard.
The crime scene did have the appearance of a sexual assault. In 1997, DNA testing was done on vaginal smears taken from Marilyn Sheppard's body at the autopsy. The test results showed there was a mixture of DNA. This means Marilyn Sheppard had sex with someone other than her husband. Was she having an affair or was she raped?
In September 1997, the NBC show "Dateline" interviewed Richard Eberling. When asked about his involvement with Marilyn Sheppard's murder, Eberling responded,
"I did not - you don't know that I killed anyone."
Again we have Eberling not finishing a sentence. "I did not" is a denial but of what? He does not tell us what he did not do. He did not say, "I did not kill Marilyn Sheppard" which would have been a good answer. Richard Eberling could not say he did not kill Marilyn Sheppard.
"You don't know that I killed anyone" is not a denial that he has never killed anyone. We know he was convicted of murder in 1989. What Eberling is telling us is we do not have firsthand knowledge he has ever killed anyone. This is a true statement since the interviewer was not present at any of his killings. Eberling's statements only give the appearance he did not commit this murder. Even though he has the opportunity, Richard Eberling does not tell us he did not kill Marilyn Sheppard.
With the acquittal of Dr. Sam Sheppard at the second trial, the murder of Marilyn Sheppard remains officially open and unsolved. In 1997, DNA testing was done on the blood found in Marilyn's bedroom. The test results showed a third person was in Marilyn's room the night she was murdered. DNA testing of Richard Eberling's blood, to see if there is a match with the blood found at the murder scene, showed he could not be excluded as a suspect. In 1998, Eberling died in prison not having confessed to Marilyn's murder. Based on Eberling's statements and lack of denials, there is a high probability he was involved in the death of Marilyn Sheppard.