Magazine article Newsweek

This Case Won't Die: Fresh Evidence Fuels a 50-Year Fight to Prove That Dr. Sam Sheppard Was Not the One Who Killed His Wife

Magazine article Newsweek

This Case Won't Die: Fresh Evidence Fuels a 50-Year Fight to Prove That Dr. Sam Sheppard Was Not the One Who Killed His Wife

Article excerpt

Byline: Debra Rosenberg

It's a murder mystery that's gripped the nation for nearly 50 years, rising to cult status through movies and "The Fugitive" television series. In real life, there was no "one-armed man," but a dark, bushy-haired intruder, whom Dr. Sam Sheppard blamed for the brutal beating death of his pregnant wife, Marilyn, on July 4, 1954. At the time, authorities dismissed Sheppard's story as a flimsy alibi, and a jury agreed, convicting him of second-degree murder. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction, saying the trial had been tainted by unfair publicity. When Ohio prosecutors hauled Sheppard back for a second trial, the new jury found him not guilty.

Despite the acquittal, Sheppard never felt vindicated. Since his death in 1970, his relatives have continued the fight to clear his name, using DNA testing to prove that some blood at the crime scene didn't match either Marilyn's or Sam's--evidence that someone else was the killer. Now the Sheppards may have some fresh ammunition. A book out this month proposes a new culprit: former Air Force Maj. James Arlon Call, a war hero who turned to crime after the death of his own wife. In "Tailspin," ex-FBI agent Bernard Conners argues that Call killed Marilyn during a burglary gone bad. Prosecutors should "acknowledge that there is plausible evidence pointing to yet another suspect in the murder of my mother," says Sam Reese Sheppard, the couple's son.

Conners says the crime seemed to fit Call's burglary MO: breaking into a house while the occupants were asleep, rifling through the bedroom and using violence against anyone in his way. Forensic descriptions of the murder weapon--which was never recovered--seem to match a small crowbar later found in Call's possession, says Conners. Marilyn probably bit her assailant; Call showed signs of a deep bite mark on his left index finger. …

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