Saturday, April 5, 2014

Murderous Yet Lovely Bay Village Ohio


Jim and I will be returning to Bay Village on Monday to get my next gel shots into my knees.  We then go to Moosewood for our perch lunch. Lovely, affluent Bay Village is also where Huntington Beach on Lake Erie is located, one of my very favorite places. Ever watch The Fugitive on tv when you were a kid or its movie counterpart with Harrison Ford? For that too is Bay Village and the utterly notorious Doctor Sam Sheppard murder case.


On July 4, 1954, Dr. Sam, an osteopath from a family of osteopaths, was asleep on a daybed in the early morning hours at the family's lakeside home in Bay Village. He came awake to his pregnant wife Marilyn's screams from upstairs and then a bushy haired stranger running down from her bedroom, the stairs and past him.  He followed the stranger down to the beach behind the home but the stranger knocked him out.  This is verbatim as to what is used in The Fugitive.


Forensic science was rather pitiful in 1954. There was a hell of a fight that had taken place in the bedroom with Marilyn fighting back hugely. Dr. Sam had only one tiny bloodspot on him yet the bedroom was covered in blood. Worst of all, the coroner halted the collecting of forensic evidence because he was convinced Dr. Sam was guilty and that he personally had seen enough. (In today's forensic world, the case would not even make it to trial with such an action taken by the forensic chief.)

The case had everything lurid going for it and this was conservative 1954. Dr. Sam was a serial philanderer and many suspected he killed his wife to be with his girlfriend, a nurse.  But he had plenty of girlfriends and his commitment to any one of them was pure speculation. He was also an arrogant, glib and smug personality who hung with a crowd much like himself. The Bay Village lifestyle was filled with affluent professionals many of whom were indulging in extra marital hijinks. Marilyn Sheppard herself was supposed to be carrying on an affair with the mayor.


No one believed Dr. Sam as to the bushy haired stranger. He was ultimately tried for her murder and convicted. One of the reasons for his conviction though was that he was tried also in the local press, which thought he was guilty, while the trial itself was ongoing. It was ultimately referred to as a carnival atmosphere which pervaded his trial. He made things worse by taking the witness stand and testifying for three days, arrogant and glib throughout as per usual.

The local aspect of this case is what is so important too because it is how the case was handled by the locals which eventually caused the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn his conviction and free him. He was tried here in the press while his trial was going on in the courtroom, causing a media circus, which influenced the conviction. For decades thereafter, cameras of any sort were not allowed in courtrooms. Artists' sketches were all that were allowed instead.



It was F. Lee Bailey who took up his case while Dr. Sam was ten years into his prison sentence. The case was tried again after the overturning by the Supreme Court. This time Bailey wisely kept Dr. Sam off the stand. Bailey also offered the jury a likely alternative murderer. He said it was the mayor's wife because Marilyn Sheppard was having an affair with the mayor. He also ripped into the forensic evidence, showing that there was another person's blood in the murder room which did not match Marilyn's or Sam's. Bailey won the case, made his career with it, and Dr. Sam was free.

Dr. Sam died at 46 while he was working as a wrestler in 1970. (His third wife's father had gotten him into wrestling and dubbed him The Killer for the ring. Dr. Sam was a huge draw.) Marilyn's body had been cremated at the time of her death. Thus, after 1970, there were severe impediments to solving the case which his son and others tried to do for a very long time in the ensuing decades.

Not that this made much difference to anyone hereabouts. I never met one person who was an adult during his first trial who lived here who wasn't absolutely convinced of his guilt. That is only proof to me of what a thorough job the press did of convicting him in the court of public opinion. Everyone also knew someone who had the inside story. Jim's Mom said one of the relatives lived at our condo community for years. She said that relative told everyone she just knew he was guilty. This is, of course, what anyone in Greater Cleveland said. Now that all the people who were adults when it happened are gone though, there are none of us left here who really know anything more than has ever been known about the case. However, I have reasonable doubt about Dr. Sam's guilt and could never return a guilty verdict if I were a juror on his case, even if I disliked him intensely over three days of his arrogant testifying.


But the Sheppard murder case is not Bay Village's only unsolved murder case. Amy Mihaljevic, a ten year old girl, was abducted from there in 1989 with her body later discovered in a field in Ashland, Ohio. A man had called a number of girls saying that their mothers had a recent promotion at work and he wanted to meet the girl(s) at the mall to help buy a present for the mother.


Amy was the one who accepted his invitation and was never seen alive again. There was blood found in her underwear on the body leading to rape and sexual assault theories. The murderer kept souvenirs which included her turquoise earrings. There were witnesses who had seen him with her but their sketches proved worthless in finding anyone. Both police and FBI have never given up on the case. Just about 25 years later, it too remains an unsolved murder case.


So is Bay Village a bad neighborhood? Far from it.  It is picked regularly as the top suburb in Cleveland and one of the top ones in America.  It remains prosperous, educated, beautiful and in almost all ways ideal. The one flaw it has is that murderers seem to be able to hide there in plain sight and never be uncovered.  We can assume that Marilyn Sheppard's murderer is dead by now but Amy's could still be enjoying Huntington Beach, right along with us as we stroll along it.

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