An Omission of Epic Proportions — Sherlock Holmes Investigates the Murder of Mrs. Marilyn Sheppard

This much we know for certain:  Mrs. Marilyn Sheppard was found bludgeoned to death in her bed on July 4, 1954.  Her husband, Dr. Sam Sheppard, a young osteopathic neurosurgeon, told a wild tale of a bushy-haired intruder.  He never wavered from his story of events and always maintained his innocence, but he was accused, tried and convicted.  A second trial 10 years later set him free, but the truth of this unsolved murder has never been proven.

In this intriguing mystery, a time warp enables Dr. Watson to bring Sherlock Holmes together with Paul Leland Kirk, the expert criminalist who first conducted an unbiased investigation of the Sheppard murder in 1955.  Holmes is skeptical — after all, Dr. Sheppard’s story of a bushy-haired intruder seems preposterous — until Holmes is presented with physical evidence that was repressed or considered insignificant during the trial. The evidence points to three other suspects, a window washer, an Air Force major, and an outraged neighbor, all of whom had opportunity and motivation for a sexual assault upon the victim.

The author of this novel, niece of Marilyn and Sam Sheppard, builds her story on authentic scientific research and expert analysis documented in an unpublished manuscript authored by a master criminalist. Readers can follow Sherlock Holmes’ deductive reasoning and use their own logic to review the unvarnished facts of the case and decide for themselves who murdered Mrs. Marilyn Sheppard.

Murder’s Living Victims

When murder is committed, not all its victims are killed.

Surviving victims of a murder are those family members who are forever impacted by the intrusion of violence into their lives.  The psychological stress of such a sudden and violent loss is long lasting.  The horror is made worse by the loss of dignity in death for their loved one and by the invasion of family privacy by the news-hungry media. Too often, a family’s private tragedy is turned into a public soap opera.

Murder’s living victims also include family members of the person accused of the crime.  Relatives of the accused, whether guilty or innocent, are condemned by the public due to their common name.  Complete strangers treat them as if they were involved in the crime by mere association. These victims also suffer at the hands of news people and the witch-hunting public. They are subjected to cruel actions perpetrated by the sick of our society:  mailboxes are filled with hate mail; crank callers snarl over the telephone at all hours of the day and night; dead animals are left on their doorsteps; blood is smeared on their front doors.  And over-zealous media people surround their homes and camp out on their lawns for days at a time, barraging family members with rude questions and sticking microphones in their faces the minute they leave the refuge of their homes.  Here too, the psychological impacts cut deep, and the scars can remain for a lifetime.

Once a family’s private lives are exposed, usually through personal tragedy, to the public eye, they are no longer seen as individuals “just like you and me.” They become unwilling celebrities and are treated like public property. As the infamy grows, the public no longer identifies with these people as one of their own. They never grasp the fact that such a tragedy could happen to their own family at any time! Their mutual vulnerability is completely lost as the newly premiered tragedy and its characters are removed from real life and plunged into the category of entertainment.  People no longer need to examine their own behavior when they can be more easily entertained by watching someone else squirm under the public microscope, judged by complete strangers who are fed incomplete and erroneous “facts” through television news and daily newspapers.

familyIn July 1954 the Sheppard family was completely naive concerning the criminal justice system. They believed what all of us are taught:  that a man is considered innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.  They believed that criminal investigations were carried out in an objective manner, where suspects were named only after all evidence had been considered and where truth was the primary objective. They believed that the authorities would help them find who had murdered Marilyn.

When Cleveland Police Detectives Schottke and Gareau — on the afternoon of July 4th 1954 before a thorough investigation even had been initiated — accused Sam Sheppard of murdering his wife, the family didn’t know what to do.  Sam’s brothers and father called their long-time family lawyer, Arthur Petersilge.  Petersilge explained that his expertise was in corporate law and advised them to call his colleague, William J. Corrigan. The Sheppards, immersed in the practice of medicine their entire lives, had never heard of Corrigan. But they needed help, so they met with him that evening in the Bay View Hospital dining room.

In retrospect, the family did the only thing possible given their circumstances and their complete lack of experience with the criminal justice system.  Sam had been accused of murder by Cleveland Police detectives, so his family consulted a capable lawyer in response to that accusation. None of them were sophisticated in matters of crime investigation, so they were unable to ignore that early accusation and merely to assume it was a commonly used police tactic.

Unfortunately (ironic but true) the lawyer the family hired was one of the foremost criminal lawyers in the Cleveland area.  Many people, including some with the coroner’s investigative team, insist to this day: “We knew Sam Sheppard was guilty as soon as the family hired William J. Corrigan on the day of the murder.”

It’s been 61 years! Why bring it up now?!

Yes, it happened back in 1954, and it has haunted me ever since.  My aunt was murdered.  My uncle was blamed.  This murder has never been resolved. That is why I bring it up.

Murder requires objective, unbiased examination.  Conclusions and accusations must be based on clear analysis of the physical evidence; even the smallest detail must be taken into account. The facts of this case were never considered with that kind of unbiased clarity.  I wanted it re-examined, and this time with open-minded, deductive objectivity!

I knew exactly who I needed:  Sherlock Holmes, the world’s most famous criminalist.  And I got him!

It happened when an unexplained time warp enabled Sherlock Holmes to collaborate with Dr. Paul Leland Kirk —  Holmes’ equally-talented, 20th-century counterpart — to review the critical physical evidence tossed aside as “irrelevant” by the Cleveland Police and prosecutors of Dr. Sam Sheppard back in 1954.

I take no credit myself.  Dr. Watson made all the arrangements — and he is the one to tell you the story.