The Tragic Life and Murder Case of Dr. Sam Sheppard

A Case of Wrongful Conviction and American Justice Denied

Sam Sheppard and Ariane Sheppard interviewed

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Marilyn Sheppard was brutally murdered while her husband, Dr. Sam Sheppard, slept downstairs. Dr. Sheppard was sentenced to life in prison for the murder. He was eventually freed from prison, but the scars of the injustices he had to endure were permanent. Attorney F. Lee Bailey fought for Sheppard's freedom, and won.

Sam and Marilyn Sheppard

Sam Sheppard was voted the man "Most Likely to Succeed" by his senior high school class. He was athletic, smart, good looking, and came from a good family. Marilyn Sheppard was attractive, with hazel eyes and long brown hair. The two began dating while in high school and eventually married after Sam graduated from the Los Angeles Osteopathic School of Physicians in September 1945.

After he had graduated from medical school, Sam continued his studies and received his Doctor of Osteopathy degree. He went to work at the Los Angeles County Hospital. His father, Dr. Richard Sheppard, and his two older brothers Richard and Stephen also doctors, were running a family hospital and convinced Sam to return to Ohio in the summer of 1951 to work in the family practice.

By this point, the young couple had a four-year-old son, Samuel Reese Sheppard (Chip), and with a loan from Sam's father, they purchased their first home. The home sat on a high cliff overlooking Lake Erie shore in Bay Village, a semi-elite suburb of Cleveland. Marilyn settled into the life of being married to a physician. She was a mother, homemaker, and taught Bible classes at their Methodist Church.

A Marriage in Trouble

The couple, both sports enthusiasts, spent their leisure time playing golf, water skiing, and having friends over for parties. To most, Sam and Marilyn's marriage seemed free of problems, but in truth, the marriage was suffering due to Sam's infidelities. Marilyn knew about Sam's affair with a former Bay View nurse named Susan Hayes. According to Sam Sheppard, although the couple experienced problems, divorce was never discussed as they worked to revitalize their marriage. Then tragedy struck.

A Bushy Haired Intruder

On the night of July 4, 1954, Marilyn, who was four months pregnant, and Sam entertained neighbors until midnight. After the neighbors left, Sam fell asleep on the couch and Marilyn went to bed. According to Sam Sheppard, he was awakened by what he thought was his wife calling his name. He ran to their bedroom and saw someone who he described later as a "bushy haired man" fighting with his wife but was immediately struck on the head, rendering him unconscious.

When Sheppard awoke, he checked the pulse of his blood-covered wife and determined she was dead. He then went to check on his son and found him unharmed. Hearing noises coming from downstairs, he ran down and discovered the back door open. He ran outside and could see someone moving toward the lake and as he caught up with him, the two began to fight. Sheppard was struck again and lost consciousness. For months, Sam would describe what happened over and over—but few believed him.

Sam Sheppard Is Arrested

Sam Sheppard was arrested for the murder of his wife on July 29, 1954. On Dec. 21, 1954, he was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. A pre-trial media blitz, a biased judge, and police that focused only on one suspect, Sam Sheppard, resulted in a wrongful conviction that would take years to overturn.

Soon after the trial, Sam's mother committed suicide on Jan. 7, 1955. Within two weeks, Sam's father was dead from a gastric ulcer that hemorrhaged.

F. Lee Bailey Fights for Sheppard

After the death of Sheppard's lawyer, F. Lee Bailey was hired by the family to take over Sam's appeals. On July 16, 1964, Judge Weinman freed Sheppard after finding five violations of Sheppards' constitutional rights during his trial. The judge said the trial was a mockery of justice.

While in prison, Sheppard corresponded with Ariane Tebbenjohanns, a wealthy and beautiful blond woman from Germany. The two married the day after his release from prison.

Back to Court

In May 1965, a federal appeals court voted to reinstate his conviction. On Nov. 1, 1966, a second trial began, but this time with special attention given to ensuring that Sheppard's constitutional rights were protected.

After 16 days of testimony, the jury found Sam Sheppard not guilty. Once free, Sam returned to work in medicine, but he also started drinking heavily and using drugs. His life quickly dissolved when he was sued for malpractice after one of his patients died. In 1968, Ariane divorced him and said he had stolen money from her, threatened her physically, and was abusing alcohol and drugs.

A Life Lost

For a short time, Sheppard got into the world of pro wrestling. He used his neurological background to promote a "nerve hold" he used in competition. In 1969, he married his wrestling manager's 20-year-old daughter—although records of the marriage have never been located.

On April 6, 1970, Sam Sheppard died of liver failure as a result of heavy drinking. At the time of his death, he was an insolvent and broken man. His son, Samuel Reese Sheppard (Chip), has devoted his life to clearing his father's name.

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Montaldo, Charles. "The Tragic Life and Murder Case of Dr. Sam Sheppard." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Montaldo, Charles. (2020, August 28). The Tragic Life and Murder Case of Dr. Sam Sheppard. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "The Tragic Life and Murder Case of Dr. Sam Sheppard." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 6, 2021).