The Marilyn Sheppard Murder Case: An Analysis of the Evidence
Yes, Sam Did It
1. "Sam's confession": the big "Yes"
Sam Sheppard autographed a copy of his book, Endure and Conquer, for Phyllis Moretti, a beauty salon owner. In addition to his autograph on the cover page, Sam scrawled a big "YES" under the heading "DID SAM DO IT?" on the teaser page. A handwriting expert concluded that the "Yes" was Sam's. This seems to be a bold admission of guilt to a good friend.
2.The dog that didn't bark
The Sheppards had a dog, Koko, that one might have expected to have barked at the sight of a nighttime intruder. The barking presumably would have woken Sam in time to prevent the attack on Marilyn. But Sam said he never heard the dog bark.
3. Lack of forced entry
Police discovered no sign of forced entry into the Sheppard home, making the intruder theory implausible.
4. Where's Sam's T-shirt?
Sam said he wore a T-shirt on the night of the murder. Presumably, if he was the killer, the T-shirt would contain many blood spots from the brutal murder. Asked by police about the shirt, Sam said, "Maybe the man I saw needed one. I don't know." His explanation was weak at best.
5. The delay in reporting the murder and inconsistencies in story
Sam's first call after the murder, at 5:40 A.M., was to his friend, Spencer Houk, not the police. Autopsy results put the time of the murder at between 3:00 and 4:00 A.M., and Sam's watch stopped at 4:15. Why the delay in reporting the crime? Sam says he was knocked out by the killer, but the couple of hours between the murder and reporting the crime also could have allowed Sam to clean off blood and fingerprints, hide or destroy his T-shirt, and make the home look like it had been burglarized.
6. Signs of a staged sex crime and robbery
Sheppard's desk as found by police after the murder.
There is evidence that steps were taken to make the crime look like a murder-burglary, when in fact it was only a murder. For example, police found desk drawers pulled open, but evenly and without missing items. Sam's doctor's bag was overturned, but nothing was missing.
7. 27 blows: a sign of passion?
"Twenty-seven times. Is it a burglar or an enraged husband? That's the question...before you."--William Mason, Attorney for the county in civil suit.
8. Sam's infidelity and troubled marriage
Sam Sheppard had more than one affair during his marriage to Marilyn, including his relationship with Susan Hayes, a California lab technician, which he originally denied at Coroner Gerber's 1954 inquest. He also had an affair with Bay Village resident Julie Lossman shortly before the murder. At least some of his relationships were known to Marilyn, who clearly resented them.
9. Sam's thumbprint on the headboard
Sam's thumbprint was discovered on the headboard of his wife's single bed. The thumbprint is in a place one might expect to find it if Sam were there murdering, or getting ready to murder, his wife. No fingerprints of anyone other than Sam or Marilyn were found in the bedroom.
10. Sam's bloody watch
Sam Sheppard's bloody watch (above) was found in a green bag on a bluff above Lake Erie. The watch had stopped at 4:15 (suggesting that it had become waterlogged at that time) and later went forward another 45 minutes before stopping at 5:00. Sam said the water under the crystal got there when he golfed in the rain or "inadvertantly water-skied" with the watch on. He claimed the blood got on his watch when he took his wife's pulse. Sheppard suggested that the murderer took the watch off his wrist when he lay unconscious on the beach, then put it in a bag with a couple of other items (class ring, key chain) and then dropped it or threw it away. Oddly (if the murderer was also a burglar), Sam's wallet was still in his pants pocket. Prosecutors suggest that the blood on the watch came from blood spray at the time of the murder.
11. The missing table lamp?
A witness testified he repaired a metal lamp for the Sheppards and place in on the table next to Marilyn's bed. After the murder, there was no lamp on the table--an obvious place for a lamp. At the civil trial, lawyers for the county argued that the pillow stain is consistent with the U-shaped bow that surrounded the bulb and supported the shade, suggesting that the table lamp might have been the murder weapon. (At the first trial, the coroner described the bloody imprint as resembling "a surgical instrument.")
12. No type A blood
Richard Eberling was found to have type A blood. No type A blood was discovered in any testing of blood stains coming from the Sheppard bedroom.
No, Sam Was Innocent
1. Sam's hard to self-inflict wounds
Dr. William Fallon, the director of a trauma center, described Sheppard's neck and other injuries as serious "and almost impossible to self-inflict."
2. Marilyn on his lap
On the evening before the murder, Sam and Marilyn seemed to be getting along fine. They had a meal with friends, and then watched the movie Strange Holiday on television. As they watched the movie, Marilyn sat on Sam's lap. This affectionate behavior doesn't suggest that of someone seriously thinking about killing his wife.
3. Sam's lack of previous violence
Most husbands that kill their wives have assaulted them at previous times in their marriages. There is no evidence that Sam previously assaulted Marilyn--nor had Sam ever been charged with any other act of violence.
4. The damaged trophies
The police search turned up trophies that seemed to have been scratched or in other ways damaged. There is no reason why Sheppard, proud of his athletic prowess, would have damaged his own trophies. The damage would more plausibly have been caused by a killer who hated the Sheppards and was jealous of Sam's accomplishments.
5. Where's all the blood on his pants?
The pants worn by Sheppard on the morning of July 4, 1954
6. DNA analysis of the closet blood stain
According to DNA expert Dr. Mohammed Tahir, only 1 of out of 42 people have a DNA profile consistent with a large blood stain found on a closet door near Marilyn's bed--and Richard Eberling is one of those rare persons.
7. Sam's apparent lack of motive
The prosecution never really offered a clear motive for the murder. There isn't any. Marilyn knew about Sam's affairs (and seemed resigned to the situation), they had a pleasant evening the night before with friends, they had a young son sleeping in a nearby room, and talk of divorce was sometime in the past. Why would Sam, suddenly in the middle of the night, trot up the stairs from the daybed on which he was sleeping and brutally murder his wife? It doesn't make sense.
8. If he did it, he'd have a better story
Sam was a reasonably smart guy with sometime to come up with a story. Why couldn't he have a more plausible story than the one he gave? Possibly, the very implausiblity of the story--getting knocked out by the killer TWICE, the murderer taking his wallet from his pants and then leaving it in the living room, wrestling with the murderer on the beach, Sam's description of the killer as a "bushy-haired" man--makes it more likely to be true.
9. A forensic expert, after examining blood spatter evidence, concluded the killer was left-handed.
Sam Sheppard is right-handed.
10. The sperm in Marilyn
Dr. Mohammed Tahir, a DNA expert, determined that one small sample of sperm found in Marilyn did not come from Sam.
11. The murder weapon was not, as first alleged, a surgical instrument.
Coroner Gerber, who claimed the bloody imprint on the pillow was made by a "surgical instrument" searched high and low for a surgical instrument that could produce such an imprint. He never found one.
12. A forensic expert concluded the murderer bled from a cut hand.
Dr. Paul Kirk said blood on a blood trail seemed to come from a cut hand and Sam had no cut on his hand when examined after the murder.
13. Sam's refusal to confess
Most criminals, subjected to the gruelling hour-after-hour interrogation that Sam Sheppard faced, might be expected to confess. Sheppard never did. Publicly at least, he maintained his innocence until his death. Even his own lawyers, to whom he might have been expected to confide his guilt, were never told by Sam that he was guilty.
14. Eberling stole Marilyn's ring and admitted bleeding in the Sheppard home
Arrested in 1959 for larceny, Richard Eberling, a former window washer for the Sheppards, was found to be in possession of a cocktail ring owned by Marilyn Sheppard. Questioned about the Sheppard murder by police, Eberling said that he had bled in the house just days before the murder after he accidentally cut himself. He also knew of an obscure basement entrance to the Sheppard home.
15. Eberling's alleged "confessions"
Kathy (Wagner) Dyal, a former nurse's aide to Ethel Durkin, who was murdered by Eberling, testified at the civil trial that Eberling revealed to her that he killed Marilyn Sheppard: "He told me that he had killed her and that he hit her husband on the head with a pail and that 'the bitch bit the hell out of me.'"