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Dr. Sam Sheppard

Did Dr. Sam Sheppard kill his wife, or didn't he? This ominous question occupied the minds of Clevelanders for decades, and eludes them to this day. Dr. Samuel Sheppard was one of the most popular doctors at Bay View Hospital, yet he quickly became one of the most notorious people in the city of Cleveland after the events that transpired on the night of July 4, 1954.

Dr. Sheppard was an attractive and well-liked doctor who tended to hundreds of patients throughout his career at Bay View Hospital. Dr. Sheppard's official area of practice was Osteopathic Neurosurgery. Following the murder of his wife Marilyn Sheppard, Bay View Hospital played a vital role in the investigation. The staff members of the hospital were interviewed multiple times in an attempt to gather information that could have potentially given detectives a lead to finding the murderer. The questions the employees were posed covered a variety of different aspects of Dr. Sheppard's life and work, including his family, his overall behavior as an individual and any knowledge of disgruntled former patients or employees of Dr. Sheppard's. Unfortunately, detectives were unable to secure any leads, only concluding that Dr. Sheppard was a well-liked doctor in the community.

In the early morning hours of July 4, 1954 the nightmare began for the Sheppard family and the entire community of Bay Village. The Sheppard's threw a Fourth of July party each year, but this year, after the party ended and the guests had all gone home, Sam stated that he decided to go for a walk alone on the private beach of Lake Erie that was located behind their home. He arrived home shortly after to a gruesome scene, discovering that his wife Marilyn had been brutally murdered in his absence. Mrs. Sheppard was found lying on her bed in their master bedroom in a provocative manner. She had been "chopped 25 times in the head and chest." The attack on Marilyn Sheppard was atrocious, and her lifeless body was left in a horrific state.

There was never any hard evidence found that directly tied Dr. Sam Sheppard to the death of his wife, Marilyn. Despite this fact, on July 30, 1954, the Bay Village police arrested Sheppard on the charge of murder. The result of the ensuing murder trial was a guilty verdict. The once respected and admired doctor was now labeled a murderer. Throughout his trial and following his conviction, he continued to profess his innocence. Dr. Sam Sheppard spent ten years in prison before the state of Ohio granted his appeal and awarded him a new trial. The murder conviction was overturned on June 6, 1966 due to a lack of evidence. Dr. Sam Sheppard was a free man from that time until he passed away on April 6, 1970 of liver failure. The unique and notorious murder case was so influential in American society that it is widely believed to have served as the inspiration for the popular 1960s television series and 1993 film, The Fugitive.

Images

Dr. Sam Sheppard, 1954 This photo of Dr. Sam Sheppard was captured in 1954. Sheppard was a prominent osteopathic neurosurgeon at Bay View Hospital in Bay Village, Ohio. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Dr. Sam & Marilyn Sheppard Pictured here are Sam and Marilyn Sheppard, a young and seemingly happy couple. The two wed on February 21, 1945 and had one child together, Sam Reese Sheppard. Marilyn was pregnant with her second child at the time of her murder. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Dr. Sheppard Injured Following the Murder Dr. Sheppard proclaimed his innocence to police, accounting a story of a bushy haired man who had been inside the house at the time of the murder. Sheppard stated that he chased the man down the beach as he was fleeing his home, and hurt his neck in a scuffle with the suspected criminal. Pictured here shortly after the crime, Sheppard is wearing a neck brace as a result of his injuries. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Sheppard's Attorneys Outside the Courthouse, 1954 Sheppard's attorney, William Corrigan, argued that Sheppard's injuries and the fact that there was little blood present on his clothing were surely signs of his innocence. Despite this defense, Sheppard was found guilty of second-degree murder on December 21, 1954, and was sentenced to life in prison. In Sheppard's second trial in 1966, his more well-known attorney, F. Lee Bailey, elicited a not guilty verdict, freeing Sheppard from prison. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Sam Sheppard Questioned Dr. Sheppard was questioned about the events on the night of the murder on numerous occasions, and he repeatedly proclaimed his innocence in each instance. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Dr. Sheppard Escorted from his Prison Cell Dr. Sam Sheppard was arrested for the murder of his wife Marilyn on July 30, 1954. After being found guilty of second-degree murder, he served time in prison up until his second trial in 1966. In the 1966 trial, Sheppard was quickly found not guilty, and was subsequently released from prison. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

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Metadata

Victoria Smith , “Dr. Sam Sheppard,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 15, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/590.