Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

CRIME SCENE ANALYSIS OF THE MARILYN SHEPPARD MURDER

The Assignment Part 2

Marilyn Sheppard (AP)
Marilyn Sheppard (AP)

Marilyn Sheppard was murdered on or about July 4, 1954 in her bedroom. There are secondary crime scenes in and around her residence. It is important to note that this crime and crime scene have many elements of staging. Staging can be defined as the purposeful alteration of the crime and crime scene by the offender. Staging is a conscious effort by the offender to mask the true motive for the crime by altering the crime scene to suggest false motives. The offender's goal in staging a crime scene is to misdirect the investigation and conceal his involvement in the crime.

Non-criminals who stage crime scenes do so in a criminally unsophisticated manner. They typically do not know what real crime scenes look like as their knowledge of crimes and crime scenes is limited to what they have read in books, seen on television or in the movies. The false motives that are staged by criminally unsophisticated offenders are discernable because they are inconsistent with much of the forensic and behavioral evidence present in the crime and crime scene.

There is evidence that the killer staged this crime scene in an attempt to suggest at least three false motives for this crime; (1) a for-profit burglary; (2) a drug-related burglary and (3) a sexually motivated attack. The preponderance of the evidence does not support any of these motives. In this case it was the victim, not money or goods, that was the primary focus of the crime.

A "for-profit" or "drug-related" Burglary:

The crime scene photographs and initial police reports indicate that the killer made a feeble attempt to make the crime scene appear to be a "for profit" burglary, possibly with a drug-related motive.

The initial police reports indicate that the officers observed a doctor's medical bag on its end with the contents spilled on to the floor. The bag was in front of the door on the right of the entrance hall that led to the study. A desk appeared to be ransacked. Three drawers were pulled out but not removed or disturbed to a great extent. Envelopes, tax stamps and other items were lying on the floor directly in front of the desk. In the study a large desk had all of its drawers removed except one. The drawers were on the floor and appeared to have been ransacked, although the contents remained in the drawers. On the floor behind the desk there was a strong box, some tolls, and Marilyn Sheppard's bloody watch. Crime scene photographs No. 20 (K-53-54); No. 22 (K-43); No. 23 (K-45); No. 25 (K-49); No. 26 (K-48); No. 27 (K-46) No. 28 (K-47) and No. 29 (no "K" number) are among the crime scene photographs that depict the staged burglary. The only visible damage appears to be broken trophies.

The minimal amount of property damage done while "ransacking" the house is noteworthy because of its inconsistency with the homicide. The offender engaged in overkill in his assault on Marilyn Sheppard, but appeared to be generally careful in handling the property of his victims. This type of care is consistent with someone who had an overriding proprietary interest in these items. Another key indicator that contradicts the hypothesis that this was a "for-profit" burglary is that nothing of any great value has been taken from the scene. The only evidence of anything being taken from the property is Dr. Sheppard's report of thirty to fifty dollars allegedly missing from his wallet.

Another false motive provided by the offender is an attempt to suggest that this may have been a drug-related burglary. The only evidence that would support a drug-related motive is Dr. Sheppard's testimony that there were ampules of morphine missing from his medical bag. This bag was found standing on end inside the house with its contents appearing to have simply tumbled out of the bag and onto the floor. The implication being that the offender searched this bag at the scene.

Burglars rarely take the time to stack some drawers, selectively dump the contents of other drawers or search a wallet at a crime scene as was done at this scene. The reason is that it is too high risk an environment, especially when the crime scene is a murder scene. The same is true for the alleged search of Dr. Sheppard's medical bag. It is unlikely that after committing a homicide and being interrupted by the husband of the victim that a homicidally crazed drug-addict would either take the time or have the ability to selectively identify morphine ampules and demerol among the contents of a medical bag. It is more likely that an offender motivated to commit a for-profit or drug-related burglary would have taken Dr. Sheppard's wallet and medical bag from the scene and searched them later, when he could do so safely and thoroughly.

F. Lee Bailey, who represented Dr. Sheppard during his second trial, concurred that the scene was a staged burglary. In a letter to the Chief of the Bay Village Police Department dated November 23, 1966 Mr. Bailey stated that, "The dishevelment of the house appears to be more a cover than a quest for valuables, as the worthless things taken tend to indicate. No burglar would hit a woman 25-35 times. He would run away."

A sexually motivated attack:

The body of Marilyn Sheppard was found on her bed in the early morning hours of July 4, 1954. Subsequent investigation revealed that her pajama top had been unbuttoned and pushed up exposing her breasts and that one pant leg of her pajama bottoms had been pulled off of her leg. The victim's knees were at the foot of the bed with her lower legs hanging vertically from the end of the bed. Her legs were slightly spread. Blood smears on her ankles along with the blood pattern higher on the bed sheet suggest that the killer pulled her down toward the foot the bed and into that position. Crime scene photographs No. 36; 37 (K-95); No. 38 and 38A; No 39 (K-96); No. 40 (K-unmarked); Pg. 41 (K-97) are among the crime scene photos that depict the victim's body on her bed.

The body of Marilyn Sheppard on her bed (AP)
The body of Marilyn Sheppard on her bed
(AP)

With her breasts exposed, one pant leg removed, her legs slightly spread and hanging off the foot of the bed, one would have to consider the potential that this was a sexually motivated crime. However, the evidence does not support this hypothesis. Having manipulated the victim as described above, the offender positioned her so that a large horizontal wooden bed post is over her pelvic and vaginal area thus presenting a physical obstruction which would prevent anyone from sexually assaulting the victim in that position. In fact the evidence shows that the victim was not sexually assaulted.

Dr. Thomas Dozier examined the victim's body at the crime scene and found no gross abnormalities of the pelvic area. The autopsy examination conducted by Dr. Lester Adelson revealed that the victim sustained no vaginal or anal trauma. An examination of the vaginal smears taken from the victim during the autopsy found no spermatozoa present. There is no forensic or physical evidence of a sexual assault on Marilyn Sheppard. The behavioral evidence is consistent with this finding and suggests that the offender had no sexual interest in Marilyn Sheppard, but staged the crime scene to imply a sexual motive.

Photographs No. 38 and 38A reveal blood smearing on the body of the victim. The most likely explanation for this smearing is that it occurred as the offender pushed up the victim's pajama top with his bloody hands to reveal her breasts. In a sex crime the offender exposes the victim's breasts so that he may physically fondle and manipulate them. The presence of blood on her torso, but the lack of blood on her breasts reveals an offender who only wanted to expose her breasts, but not touch, fondle or manipulate them.

There is also inconsistent behavioral evidence in that if this was a sexually violent offender who engaged in overkill to subdue his victim it is most likely that the sexually violent behavior would have continued unabated and he would have ripped the victim's clothing off, and brutally raped her leaving clear evidence of vaginal and anal trauma. This did not occur. The offender took the time to unbutton the victim's blouse and remove one pant leg of her pajama bottom without ripping or tearing the clothing. There was no vaginal or anal trauma as the killer did not sexually assault his victim.

The physical, forensic and behavioral evidence is consistent with an offender who had no interest in sexually assaulting the victim, but had a great desire to kill the victim. It was also of importance to the killer to display the victim and stage the crime scene to imply a sexual motivation for the crime.

 

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