We Liked True Crime Before it was Cool
Today is about a totally new facet of our fucked-upedness. Is that a word? Whatever, it is now.
Much has been written about how interest in true crime has gone way up in recent years, which makes people like me feel like somewhat less of a weirdo. But what started us down this road of a twisted hobby? What was that defining moment?
I was the very anxious child of an even more anxious mother. She was convinced, and made sure to repeatedly emphasize to me, that the world was filled with danger. Monsters lurked around every corner, waiting to snatch me up. One of the things we did every night was watch the news. This was in the 80s before the 24 hour news cycle, so this consisted of turning on one of the three local channels at 6 PM.
There were plenty of stories to feed our fears, and then in late 1989, Amy Mihaljevic was abducted in Bay Village, Ohio. This was a girl close to my age, taken away less than half an hour from where I sat. Back then, the only information you got was what the newspaper and evening news told you. I was consumed with the need to know what was happening, with very few avenues to get it.
As time went on, her body was found, and then it felt like pretty much nothing happened. I had no way of knowing what was really going on, I just knew according to the news, a kid who could have been me was gone, and the police didn’t fix it. Which confused and frightened me, after all, I had been taught the police were omnipotent gods, so why wasn’t her killer in jail?
Around that time I discovered Unsolved Mysteries, and learned there were a lot of things out there that didn’t have answers, because police were human beings like the rest of us. When Forensic Files came out in 1996, I dove in and the rest is history.
Now I turn things over to my beloved co-blogger, Dissy.
I really want to put one of those smarmy smiling Ted Bundy pictures right between Barb’s segment and my own, but Bundy was not the beginning, for me. He’s just been my most interesting case study (I’ll probably still do it anyhow, so now you know why he’s there).
When I was young, I loved reading the newspaper and watching the news. My parents never instilled the same kinds of fears in me that Barb’s mom did, nor did they ever seem particularly concerned with my mission to stay informed. At one time, I considered the news (including print news) the end-all-be-all, unimpeachable source of information (I get how ridiculous this sounds if you know me now).
Then I learned of Dr. Sam Sheppard. On a warm summer night in 1954, Dr. Sheppard’s wife, Marilyn, was brutally beaten and murdered in the bedroom of the couple’s Bay Village, Ohio home. Dr. Sam, as he was known in the Bay Village community (hey, that’s funny that Barb and I have stories that began in Bay Village), had been sleeping on a daybed in the couple’s living room after working a shift at his family’s hospital.
Dr. Sheppard was jolted awake at some point by his wife crying out to him for help. He ran upstairs, where he encountered a “bushy-haired stranger” who knocked him unconscious.
When he came to, Dr. Sheppard discovered his wife’s mutilated body on her bed (in typical 1950s fashion, the couple had separate twin beds).
An intense prejudice against Dr. Sam and his family (his father and brothers were all doctors as well (they all practiced Osteopathic medicine and weren’t MDs)), and a vicious media campaign rallied the community at large against Dr. Sheppard. He was found guilty and sentenced to death for both the murder of Marilyn Sheppard and their unborn child.
Years later, Dr. Sheppard’s conviction was overturned by the United States Supreme Court due to the circus-type environment of his first trial and the gross negligence of the media bias. Dr. Sheppard was re-tried for his wife’s murder. This second time, he was acquitted and set free. It was, however, too late for Dr. Sam. He was never able to re-establish himself in the community he had loved doing the work that he had loved.
Years later, (unfortunately, after the untimely death of Dr. Sheppard) a man already in prison for committing a murder eerily similar to Mrs. Sheppard’s, confessed to the crime. Richard Ebberling, who had a window washing service (and was, by all accounts, pretty much a psychopath) that Marilyn used, was caught stealing in the Sheppard home.
Dr. and Mrs. Sheppard’s story has bred, in me, a massive distrust in pretty much every existing media outlet, an intense interest in true crime stories (Dr. Sam, so far, is the only one I’ve championed. The rest? Guilty as fuck), and a soft spot for the underdog.
Currently? I’m reading about the torso murders in Cleveland back in the 1930s. It’s worth mentioning, also, that I was horrified to learn the neighborhood I moved to on the west side is super close to where Ariel Castro kept three women captive for over 10 years. Given that he’s dead, I’m not sure why that scared me. Plus? I’m not really any criminal’s type, unless there’s a sudden run on frigid old women.
I also often wonder if I’d ever succumb to Stockholm Syndrome. You know, if I wasn’t murdered right out of the gate. Okay… I’ve got to go now before I say that one thing that’s “too much,” and everyone knows exactly how weird I am. Yeah, well… whatevs.
See y’all tomorrow. It’s my turn to fly solo.
xoxo – Dissy