Sam Sheppard, an osteopathic physician, was convicted of killing his pregnant wife in their home in the early morning hours of July 4, 1954. The trial was a national sensation. Found guilty of the murder, Sheppard spent nearly a decade in the Ohio Penitentiary before a retrial was ordered. That retrial, in 1966, culminated in his exoneration and acquittal.
Sheppard was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the youngest of three brothers. He attended Cleveland Heights High School and was a model student who was active in football, basketball, and track. He was also president of his class for three years. After graduation, Sheppard passed up scholarship offers from several small Ohio colleges to follow in the footsteps of his father and older brothers to pursue a career in osteopathic medicine.
Along the way he met and married Marilyn Reese in Hollywood, California. They returned to Ohio and Sheppard joined his father's prospering medical practice. The Sheppards' lake front home (long since demolished) was in a suburb of Cleveland, just west of the city. The property itself was on the shore of Lake Erie.
Murder and Trial
Sheppard faced trial in the autumn of 1954. The case generated enormous publicity and was widely criticized for its "carnival atmosphere". In terms of sensationalistic press coverage and lurid publicity it was the O.J. Simpson trial of its day.
From the start, Sheppard claimed that a bushy-haired man had entered his home in the dead of night, killed his wife, and attacked him twice, knocking him unconscious in the process.
But newspapers and other Ohio media were hostile to Sheppard, labeling him the only likely suspect. In its coverage of the case, The Cleveland Press carried the following headline over one of its stories: "Why Isn't Sam Sheppard in Jail?"
During their investigation of the case, prosecutors learned of and revealed at trial that Sheppard had been involved in a three-year-long extramarital affair with a nurse at the hospital where he worked. This, the prosecution said, was his motive.
Sheppard's attorney argued that in addition to killing his wife, the killer had inflicted severe injuries on Sheppard. Noted neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Elkins, who examined Sheppard, said he suffered from a cervical concussion, nerve injury, was afflicted by absent or weak reflexes (particularly on his left side) and injury to the back of his neck. According to Elkins, it was impossible for such injuries to be faked.
The defense also contended that although the crime scene was bloody, Shepard himself was strikingly free of blood — except for a small blood spot on his trousers, the only blood on Sheppard was so-called "transfer bloodstains" on his watch.