Crime-writer Neff (Unfinished Murder, 1995) chronicles the famous 1950s murder case with impressive depth and comes up with a convincing alternative to Dr. Sam Sheppard as the killer.
In the last hours of darkness on the morning of July 4, 1954, Marilyn Sheppard was brutally murdered in her northern Ohio home. Suspicion centered on the victim’s osteopath husband: handsome, wealthy, tight with the local mayor, and regarded with a mixture of envy and admiration by others. In detail, with pace and clarity, the author reconstructs the confusion of investigators and family who were at the scene after the body’s discovery. Short on hard evidence, the original investigators handed the matter over to the jurisdiction of the Cleveland police and coroner; by then the crime (mistakenly credited as the inspiration for The Fugitive television series) had galvanized the country, and widespread unfavorable media commentary made it impossible for Sam Sheppard to get a fair trial. Neff draws vivid major and minor characters and lucidly narrates the complex chain of events that allowed the coroner’s office and the prosecution to marshal circumstantial evidence while local pundits manipulated public opinion. Sheppard was charged and arraigned some four weeks after the crime and convicted of second-degree murder later that year. When Sheppard’s defense attorney had the evidence independently examined by a California expert on crime-scene analysis, he set in motion a series of appeals that led through the US Supreme Court to a 1966 retrial and acquittal for Sheppard. Neff’s own investigation persuasively identifies the actual killer and permits a plausible reconstruction of Marilyn’s final moments. The author works hard to maintain the drama in his carefully structured exposition, delivered in superior prose. There aren’t many heroes in the crowded cast, but Neff’s careful attention to character and detail is exemplary.
A multilayered treat for crime buffs.