Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The Art of Criminal Analysis

What is Behavioral Criminology International?

That's my consulting business, and I testify as an expert witness in both criminal and civil litigation that typically involves violent crimes. I also work as an independent contractor on workplace violence for another group, the Threat Assessment Group, Inc. (TAG) in Newport Beach, California, which is run by Dr. Park Dietz. TAG has trained 150 or more of the Fortune 500 companies in workplace violence prevention and a number of them are fulltime clients.

Can you tell us about a case where you provided expertise?

About a year ago, I testified in one of the more interesting cases I've had since retiring from the FBI. It was the old Sam Sheppard homicide case. I conducted a criminal investigative analysis of the crime and crime scene. The State of Ohio was being sued civilly; the complaint being that Sam Sheppard had been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. The plaintiff offered an affirmative defense, claiming that Richard Eberling, a local handyman and window washer, had murdered Marilyn Sheppard. Before my involvement in the case, I had heard something about a handyman's DNA being found at the scene that exonerated Sam Sheppard as the murderer, so if I was biased in any way going into the case, it was in the belief that Sam Sheppard was innocent. Once I had the opportunity to objectively analyze the crime, crime scene, related pertinent documents, and forensic evidence, my opinion changed.

So what did you think?

Dr. Sam Sheppard (AP)
Dr. Sam Sheppard

In my opinion, the murder of Marilyn Sheppard is a classic example of a staged domestic homicide. Based upon the evidence I reviewed, I believe that Sam Sheppard killed his wife, Marilyn, and then tried to stage the crime scene to look as though an intruder had entered the premises and attacked her. Sam Sheppard was an undeniably intelligent man, but like a lot of otherwise intelligent people who attempt to stage a crime scene, he was criminally unsophisticated and he didn't know what a real crime scene looked like. With people who do this, their frame of reference regarding crime scenes is typically limited to the books they have read, the movies they have seen, and news reports they've heard. The only reason an offender stages a crime scene is because, without the staging, he would become the immediate suspect. This is where experience plays an invaluable role. After examining hundreds, perhaps thousands, of actual crime scenes, it's clear to me that a staged scene-even one presented by an otherwise intelligent offender-leaps out as being staged.

Sam Sheppard made the mistakes a lot of criminally unsophisticated people make; he tried to stage it to look like three different types of crimes:

  1. He tried to make it look like a sexual crime, in that Marilyn's body was on the bed, partially naked, legs spread in a sexually provocative position. However, she was not sexually assaulted. This is a phenomenon we find common to husbands or intimates who kill the woman and want to stage it to look like a sexual homicide. She's never actually sexually assaulted. The killer doesn't want to have sex with her; he just wants to kill her, for whatever reason. This particular homicide was very brutal. She was bludgeoned badly and if it had been a sex crime, the sex would have been brutal as well, with a lot of vaginal and probably anal trauma. There was none of that.
  2. He also attempted to stage it to look like a for-profit burglary. Many desk and dresser drawers were pulled out and sometime the contents were dumped on the floor, which could be consistent with an actual for-profit burglary. Yet the most significant indicator of staging in such crime scenes is the overall sense of proprietary interest evidenced by the 'burglar.' In other words, the offender doesn't seriously damage much of anything because it is his property. Drawers were pulled out but the contents were carefully dumped on the floor, as opposed to someone who's really ransacking the place and doesn't give a damn about the property. The other significant indicator of staging was that nothing of value was missing from the crime scene. For example, Marilyn Sheppard's watch was taken from her wrist but left at the scene. Sam Sheppard's watch was also alleged to have been taken, but it was recovered outside of the house. If the offender were committing a 'for-profit' burglary, then it's more likely than not that having gone to the trouble of removing the watches from his victims, he would have taken them from the scene.
  3. Then there appeared to be a drug-related crime. This was evidenced by Dr. Sheppard's medicine bag found standing on end and with some of its contents gently spilling onto the floor, while two other compartments were closed and apparently undisturbed. Dr. Sheppard claimed that there were ampoules of morphine missing from the bag. Yet a true drug-related crime would likely appear much different, as the offender would probably have taken the entire bag and quickly left in order to put as much time and distance between himself and the murder scene as possible. None of that happened.

Another issue was the disparity between the injuries that Sam received and the injuries to Marilyn. His story was that he was asleep on a daybed at the foot of the stairs and he heard Marilyn yelling, "Sam! Sam!"and I think she probably was yelling that-and that he ran upstairs and interrupted this offender (or offenders, depending on which version of his story we choose to accept). This offender was in a homicidal rage, had a heavy blunt object, and was repeatedly and brutally bludgeoning Marilyn. To buy Sam's version, we have to believe that the offender's homicidal rage immediately subsided, he dropped the weapon, and just hit Sam with his fist. Sam says he was knocked unconscious. His wife has sustained approximately 35 injuries with over 20 of them being potentially fatal and the only undisputed injuries Sam Sheppard had were a bruise under his eye and a chipped tooth. There was a report that he sustained a fractured vertebra, but the validity of that injury is in dispute.

One of the indicators of a staged homicide occurs when the individual who presents the biggest threat to an intruder sustains non-fatal or minimal injuries while less threatening individual(s) are murdered. If Sam actually interrupted an offender who was clearly in a homicidal rage, it's more likely than not that the offender would simply have turned on Sam and beat him just as he had Marilyn. But that didn't happen. Sam's injuries were not at all similar to the injuries sustained by Marilyn.

What else did you notice about the crime?

Sam then claims to regain consciousness, checks Marilyn's pulse and determines she is dead. He hears the offender rummaging around downstairs, apparently committing this alleged burglary. Sam runs downstairs and chases this guy out and down onto the beach, where the two of them get into another struggle. Sam is knocked out a second time, this time apparently also being choked. His story is that he comes to with the waves of Lake Erie lapping at his legs, so he runs up to the house and checks Marilyn's pulse again, and she's still dead. He claims that he wandered around the house trying to figure out what to do and then called for help. Interestingly, he didn't call for the police or for an ambulance. He called the mayor.

To a degree, Sam Sheppard outsmarted himself. Whoever bludgeoned Marilyn would have been covered in a lot of blood. There was a lot of castoff blood at the crime scene, all over the doors and walls, with some on the ceiling. So clearly whoever committed this murder would have a lot of blood on him. One of Sam's defenses was that he had no blood on him, so how could he possibly be the killer? Initially that makes some sense. But if you look at his story, you realize that he should have had some blood on him. He claims to have checked his wife's pulse at the neck two or three times, and she's just covered with blood on her face and neck. There'd be no way he could have taken her pulse from that area without getting transfer blood on his hands, yet he had none.

Also, if you believe Sam's story, there was blood where there shouldn't have been. While there should have been blood on his hands and fingers, and there wasn't, there were fine spots of blood on the face of his watch that would be consistent with castoff blood. It certainly appeared that whoever murdered Marilyn Sheppard was wearing Sam's watch when he did it.

I also wrote a report regarding my analysis of this homicide, which, among other things, was used to rebut a forensic psychiatrist who testified that the murder of Marilyn Sheppard was a sexually sadistic homicide. Her murder had nothing even remotely to do with sexual sadism. All of the elements necessary to classify a homicide as a sexually sadistic sexual homicide were absent.

The psychiatrist's report stated that Marilyn Sheppard's homicide was a sexually sadistic homicide committed by Richard Eberling. I concluded in my report that this was a staged domestic homicide committed by Sam Sheppard. I knew that I would not be allowed to testify as to the 'ultimate question,' as that would invade the province of the jury, so as expected, the judge limited some of what I could say. I couldn't say that Sam did it and I couldn't use the word 'staging,' but I was allowed to use the phrase, 'altered crime scene.'

The plaintiff also claimed that they had DNA from blood at the scene that excluded Sam Sheppard as the donor but that could be Richard Eberling's. Their theory was that the offender was cut and bleeding at the scene, based on the fact that Marilyn's teeth were knocked out. They believed that she bit the offender during the assault and when he pulled his arm out of her mouth, he pulled her teeth out of her head. That's a stretch for me. I reasoned that having teeth knocked out of her head was far more consistent with the facial trauma she sustained while being bludgeoned about the head. Anyway, that was their theory and they believed that the offender was dripping blood. Before he died, they got a court order to draw Richard Eberling's blood to compare with some blood from the scene. That was one of the pieces of evidence that they were hanging their hat on.

How did that affect the case?

They had a respected DNA analyst conduct the test, but there had been a fundamental omission in the testing. No one had bothered to type the blood: They didn't do an ABO grouping. This blood they were claiming was Eberling's was type O and Eberling had type A. It doesn't matter how the DNA probes line up, the blood at the scene could not be Eberling's blood as there is no way type O blood can be type A blood. It was a dramatic moment in the trial. They let the plaintiff's expert go through this whole thing with the probes and then hit him with this question about typing the blood sample. In a stunned moment of realization, the expert admitted that they had not typed the blood and in effect had to agree that Richard Eberling could not have been the source of the blood at the scene. Marilyn's blood was type O and it certainly could have been her blood.

So what happened?

The jury found for the defense, the State of Ohio, apparently concurring that this was a staged homicide committed by Sam Sheppard.

We are now using current state-of-the-art technology in forensic and behavioral science to go back and analyze old crimes-in this case, one that is almost 50 years old. If used appropriately, today's techniques can be helpful in analyzing yesterday's crimes.

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