Sam Sheppard and the murder case that captivated the country

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CLEVELAND (WJW)– It was one of the most sensationalistic murders in U.S. history with all the elements to keep the public begging for more: A beautiful, pregnant woman beaten to death in her sleep with her husband, a successful doctor who was having an affair, as the prime suspect.

The murder of Marilyn Sheppard on July 4, 1954 ranks among Cleveland’s greatest unsolved mysteries. Sam Sheppard was tried twice, with two different verdicts, and a civil suit after his death did not clear his name.

The Sheppard home

Decades-old photos and sketches show what the Sheppards’ house on Lake Erie and the horrific crime scene looked like.

The day before the murder, Sam and Marilyn Sheppard threw a small party for their neighbors. Sheppard said he fell asleep on the daybed in the living room on the first floor and woke up to his wife’s screams. He said he ran upstairs to their bedroom, just down the hall from where their 7-year-old son slept, and encountered the bushy-haired intruder. The two fought and Sheppard was knocked unconscious, he told police.

He continued his pursuit of Marilyn’s killer down the steps that led to the private beach behind their house, where the two again struggled.

Police found the living room in disarray and blood throughout the home.

Media frenzy

Marilyn Sheppard’s murder dominated the headlines for days and weeks, and drew attention from across the county. Even on the day she was killed, members of the press were allowed to walk through the crime scene.

A mix of media and spectators filled the courtroom during the trial. Judge Edward Blythin, who told journalists he believed Sheppard was guilty, refused to move the trial outside of the Cleveland or sequester the jury. The names and photos of the jurors appeared in newspapers dozens of times.

In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court determined in a landmark case that Sheppard did not get a fair trial because Blythin allowed the media circus and failed to insulate jurors from press coverage.

Life after prison

Just days after his release from prison, Sam Sheppard married Ariane Tebbenjohanns, a German divorcee with whom he exchanged letters while behind bars. The pair divorced after less than four years of marriage. During interviews after his death, Ariane told reporters one of the reasons Sheppard didn’t take the stand during the second trial was his alcohol use.

Sheppard tried to restart his medical career, but was sued for the death of a patient and forced to quit.

He turned to professional wrestling, going by the name “Killer,” and married 20-year-old Colleen Strickland, the daughter of his wrestling manager.

Sheppard died on April 6, 1970 of liver failure.

More stories on Sam Sheppard here

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