Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Case of Dr. Samuel Sheppard


The definitive history of the Sheppard case has yet to be written, largely because it is the Energizer Bunny of murders. Five of the books which have been written are by people who were involved on the Sheppard family's side — Sam, his brother, his son (with an investigator his son employed), his lawyer (one chapter of a book) and a reporter who became an investigator for the Sheppards.

The Sheppard Murder Case by Paul Holmes (1961) is a straightforward account of the first trial (Holmes did not arrive in Cleveland until the trial) followed by Holmes' own observations, which led to his later becoming personally involved in the Sheppard team. Indexed.

My Brother's Keeper by Stephen Sheppard (1964) is Dr. Steve's account (with Holmes' help) of Sam's — and his relatives' — ordeal. Judge Weinman's District Court ruling reversing the verdict came in time for a three-page epilogue. No notes or index.

Retrial: Murder and Dr. Sam Sheppard (1966) is Paul Holmes' sequel. It suffers from being rushed into print within weeks of the verdict. Only 88 of the 240 pages (in the small hard cover edition) are devoted to the trial, and 50 of those are transcripts of testimony by Mary Cowan and Paul Kirk which had already been summarized; apparently they were added to fill the book. No notes or index. The book is hard to find.

Endure and Conquer: My 12-Year Fight for Vindication by Dr. Sam Sheppard (1996) is the defendant's own story (written, according to his son's book, by ``a ghostwriter with Dr. Sam's notes''). Includes his prison experiences. No notes or index.

The Defense Never Rests by F. Lee Bailey with Harvey Aronson (1971) includes, with four other cases, seven chapters and an epilogue on ``The Exoneration of Sam Sheppard.'' No notes or index.

Dr. Sam: an American Tragedy by Jack Harrison Pollack (1972) is by a writer who became interested in the case when he wrote a sympathetic article about Sheppard shortly before Sheppard was freed. Nevertheless, it is a straightforward, basically objective account of a story which appeared to be over after 18 years. The book has 16 pages of photographs and an index. It served as the basis of a 1976 television movie called Guilty or Innocent? The Sam Sheppard Case starring George Peppard. The movie was released on video in the late 1980s but is virtually impossible to find in video stores.

Mockery of Justice: The True Story of the Sheppard Murder Case by Cynthia L. Cooper and Sam Reese Sheppard (1995) is, while naturally written from the family's viewpoint, the most comprehensive summary so far, with 328 pages of text, 21 illustrations, 40 pages of end notes and a 15-page index. Its frequent flashbacks and flashforwards and switches between past and past perfect tenses make it difficult to follow, and the passion that the younger Sheppard obviously felt fails to come through the third-person references of his collaborator.

Chapter 26 of The Years Were Good by Louis B. Seltzer (1956) is devoted to the Sheppard murder case and the Cleveland Press editor's reasons for his series of editorials about the case. Index, no notes.

Crime and Science: The New Frontier in Criminology by Jurgen Thorwald, translated by Richard and Clara Winston (1967) devotes five of its 63 chapters to the Sheppard case and Dr. Kirk's investigation. The author, a German writer specializing in medical subjects, maintains that Dr. Gerber was incompetent and quotes Sheppard as saying things Sheppard did not mention in his own book, but he does not give sources for them. The author gives no indication that he visited the U.S. in researching the book. Index and bibliography, but no notes.

Murder One by Dorothy Kilgallen (1967) describes six murder trials the veteran reporter covered, with "When Justice Took the Day Off" as the last and longest chapter. The book, published shortly after her death, is a more colorful and readable account than Holmes'. She calls the case "the most extraordinary murder trial of the century" and offers her opinion that the decision of the jury was "incomprehensible...I was aghast." No index or notes.

The Wrong Man: the final verdict on the Dr. Sam Sheppard murder case by James Neff (2001) is the latest — and very likely last — book on the case. Neff, a former Plain Dealer reporter, had worked on the book for years, but was outrun by events, notably the civil trial, that kept postponing its publication. He reconstructs the crime readably, points out the weaknesses in the case against Sheppard, dismisses the Houks as suspects out of hand and settles on Eberling as the killer. He bases this on substantially the same evidence as in Mockery of Justice and on an interview with a dying and possibly delirious Eberling. His coverage of the civil trial scants the state's case: His report on the testimony of Gregg McCrary, the key state witness, is almost entirely devoted to disputing McCrary's statements, and he does not mention the videotaped testimony of Susan Hayes, whose absence from the 1966 trial left the jury puzzled as to a possible motive.

Dr. Sam Sheppard on Trial: The Prosecutors and the Marilyn Sheppard Murder, by Jack P. DeSario and William D. Mason (2003), is — after 49 years — the first book to argue that Sam Sheppard was guilty. Mason is the Cuyahoga County prosecutor who defended the state against the 2000 civil suit to declare Sheppard innocent. DeSario is a political science professor at Mount Union College. Note to the squeamish: The book includes photos of Marilyn's battered, bloody body and a color autopsy photo of her head that were too gory for newspapers to use. Three quarters of the book's 327 pages are a chronological account of the trial, much of it in Q and A that keeps readers turning the page. It is reasonably balanced, at least until the last two witnesses. Among tidbits: Sam Reese Sheppard's comment on AMSEC's supposedly jimmied door — the "smoking gun" that showed a break-in -"Ah, yes, it appears we were incorrect about that point." The prosecutors thought they had lost when the jury came in after only a few hours, especially since Sheppard and his attorney were all smiles. Jurors said they were especially influenced by the testimony of FBI veteran McCrary and neurologist White and by the fact that the Sheppards' dog, Koko, didn't bark. Two of the eight would have given Sheppard the death penalty. Nine appendices, index, no notes.

A Question of Evidence: The Casebook of Great Forensic Controversies from Napoleon to O.J. by Colin Evans (2003 edition) has a chapter on "Medical Malpractice and Dr. Sam." The case is "a story of two Dr. Sams," Evans says. As to the guilt or innocence of Sam Sheppard, "The short answer is: Nobody knows." But he has a verdict on Sam Gerber. Apparently drawing on previous books, he reports that the "tetchy coroner" was a "venomous and vindictive" man who "from all accounts hated the Sheppard family" and "had been spearheading an anti-Sheppard witch-hunt of quite appalling savagery. He filled acres of newsprint and sold thousands of extra copies with his lurid speculations." As Evans describes the civil trial in 2000, the attempt to implicate Richard Eberling fell apart — "What looked good on paper backfired horribly in the courtroom. ... Few doubted which way the jury would jump." Despite the "appropriately ambiguous verdict," Evans concludes, "there wasn't a scintilla of hard evidence in 1954 to prove that Sam Sheppard killed his wife. There still isn't."


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