Richard George Eberling


Richard George Eberling

Born: Richard Lenardic

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 5
Date of murders: 1946 - 1983
Date of birth: December 8, 1929
Victims profile: One man and four women
Method of murder: Several
Location: Ohio/Michigan, USA
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment. Died in prison on July 25, 1998

Richard George Eberling (December 8, 1929 - July 25, 1998) was a petty thief and convicted murderer who allegedly murdered Marilyn Sheppard, wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard. Blood found at the crime scene matched Eberling.

Early life

Richard Eberling was born Richard Lenardic in Cleveland, Ohio to Louise Lenardic, an unmarried woman, who identified the baby's father as George Anderson, a Cleveland Heights, Ohio police officer who was also known as an alcoholic. Despite her attempts to keep the baby whom she had named Richard, the child was eventually placed into the Cuyahoga County, Ohio foster care system designated as Ward 1575, where he received the minimum amount care needed to sustain him as he passed from family to family.

On subsequent visits to the Cuyahoga County welfare office, Lenardic herself began to exhibit irregular and eccentric traits. Richard also had behavioral traits that disturbed his foster families including on-going tantrums, compulsive masturbation and an inability to acquire language.

Ultimately Louise Lenardic refused to surrender her rights to her son, meaning that there was no chance for Richard to be adopted into a stable home.

In addition to behavioral problems such as excessive breath holding, an inability to acquire language skills and disassociative tendencies, Richard Lenardic also showed homosexual tendencies at a young age, which coupled with his exhibitionism also caused problems in placing him in private homes, and while housed in county facilities. At one point a potential adoptive home was found, however the family backed out of the adoption after the introduction of another potenially adoptive infant was brought into the home and Richard, age four, begin to mimic the infants behaviors.

In 1939 Lenardic was placed with George and Christine Eberling, an older couple who farmed near Bay Village, Ohio. The Eberling’s housed numerous foster children, using them as cheap labor for the farm. Richard soon became a favorite of Mrs. Eberling, whose fawning attentions fueled his girlish mannerisms. Cuyahoga County case workers noted that Richard refused to play games with other boys, instead preferring to stay inside and clean, "redecorate rooms" and wear clothing belonging to Mrs. Eberling. It was also noted that Richard's mother wanted to establish contact with him, however this posed a problem for Cuyahoga County authorities because he had been told that both of his parents were deceased.

In 1946, while Richard was still with the Eberlings, George Eberling died while suffering from pneumonia, however the official cause of death was listed as a stroke.

Suspect activities

Eventually Richard graduated from high school, established his own house cleaning and decorating company and purchased the Eberling farm from Christine Eberling. In 1948, he legally had his name changed from Richard Lenardic to Richard George Eberling.

However successful Richard Eberling was, he also developed a tendency to steal from his clients while cleaning their houses, usually taking personal items, like jewelry. This resulted in charges being brought against him and convictions for petty thefts. One of clients in the window washing business was Marilyn Sheppard, and Eberling had been at the Sheppard home on the day of her murder washing windows when, according to Eberling he cut himself and required the use of the Sheppard’s house to wash up and stop the bleeding. This also was Eberling's account of how he came into the possession of one of Marilyn Sheppard's rings during one of his petty theft arrests in 1959.

Eberling also positioned himself as an aide to Cleveland Mayor Ralph Perk in the early 1970s through his friendship with the Mayor's wife Lucille. (During her husband's administration, Lucille Perk made national headlines when she and her husband were invited to an event by the Nixon White House which she refused because the event was on the same night as her league bowling night.)

In 1973 Eberling was placed in charge of a committee charged with the remodeling of Cleveland's City Hall, causing a storm of criticism among Cleveland's design community because he lacked the training to do so. A financial crisis emerged as Eberling's spending, and his inability to account for it, landed on the front page of Cleveland Plain Dealer.

In 1974, Eberling's companion, Obie Henderson, became Perk's executive secretary. In 1977 both Henderson and Eberling lost their positions in city hall when Perk was voted out of office.

While hobnobbing in Republican fund raising party circles, Eberling and Henderson met Patricia Bogar at a fund raiser for the Cuyahoga County Auditor George Voinovich. At first, Bogar claimed to have dated Henderson, however whenever Henderson would arrive for a date, he had Eberling in tow. Eventually, Bogar, Eberling and Henderson became friends, with Bogar receiving a her regular guest room at Eberling's home in Westlake.

Relationship with Ethel May Durkin

Eberling also became friends with Ethel May Durkin, a wealthy, childless widow who lived in Lakewood, Ohio who had hired Eberling to do some decorating for her, and quickly became her most trusted confident. This time it was Durkin's death, as well as the deaths of her two sisters that raised suspicions about Eberling.

Durkin's sister, Myrtle Fray, took an instant dislike to Eberling. Fray was also reportedly involved with illegal gambling. Fray was beaten savagely about her head and strangled in her secured apartment building on May 20, 1962, after she had readied herself for bed. More than twenty years later, when questioned about the murder of Fray made statements that corroborated with previously unpublished information in the police report. Eberling also stated that he wouldn't have been surprised if the murderer had washed up in the sink, and then donned one of Fray's dresses to use as an escape costume to avoid being filmed by the lobby security camera. According to author James Neff, thirty years following the death of Myrtle Fray, Eberling wrote that Fray was killed in the same manner as Marilyn Sheppard.

Durkin's elder sister Sarah Belle Farrow died under suspect conditions in March 1970 while living with her sister in Durkin's spacious Lakewood home. This time the death was attributed to injuries sustained in a fall down the basement steps that broke both legs and both arms. Eberling later attributed the accident to "Belle's age" and then stated that if he had wanted to kill her he would have pushed her down the basement stairs. By 1970, Eberling was regularly pulling cash out of Durkin's bank accounts.

Eberling enlisted the help of Patricia Bogar, to help forge documents that would give Eberling complete control over Durkin's finances, with Eberling guessing that estate could be worth in excess of $500,000 dollars, with Bogar to receive ten percent for her part. As Durkin's health declined, Eberling used the documents to make financial and medical care decisions for Durkin. Ethel Durkin also began having a number of accidents that resulted in serious injuries, including falls down flights of stairs. Eberling controlled her prescription regimen, and Durkin was often kept in a sedated state. Bogar, suspecting that Eberling might cheat her out of the promised $50,000 wrote a detailed letter for which she had her signature notarized, and mailed it certified mail to her attorney with instructions on placing the unopened letter in safe keeping until such a time in the future that she might require it back.

Durkin eventually came under the care of Kathy Wagner, a health aide whom Eberling hired, and eventually confided to that slitting a throat and watching someone die was exhilarating, and that he had killed Marilyn Sheppard and assaulted her husband, Dr. Sam Sheppard, in the head with a steel pail, adding "You didn't hear that." (Neff, page 295-298).

On November 15, 1983 the squad was called to Ethel May Durkin's home where the paramedics found she face down on a hardwood floor. Eberling claimed that she had gotten up from her chair and fallen. Eberling told the EMS team that he thought it was a heart attack, but her vital signs, combined with wounds to her face lead medical professions to think she had been attacked. X-rays revealed that Durkin's neck bone had been broken in the same spot where Marilyn Sheppard's had been broken. Durkin died from the injuries on January 3, 1984.

In Durkin's will, which had been forged by Eberling and Bogar (and two other accomplices who were being blackmailed by Eberling for insurance fraud), Durkin left the bulk of her estate to Eberling. Also in the will was the instruction that she was to be buried with her jewelry and clad in her favorite mink coat. Before the casket was sealed, Eberling removed her jewelry and her mink coat.

Jilted by Eberling and Henderson, Bogar began the process of turning on Eberling, reopening the Durkin matter. While Lakewood police moved forward with their investigation, her estate was turned over to local independent attorney by the Cuyahoga County Probate Court for review. Finding irregularities with the estate accounting and signatures, the matter was returned to the court system for additional investigation.

In July 1988 Eberling, Henderson and two others were indicted for forgery, perjury, aggravated grand theft, tempering with evidence and tempering with records. Bogar, who had simply signed a blank sheet of paper was not changed in the matter.

Shortly thereafter Durkin's body was exhumed for examination, and detectives took note that During was without her fur coat and her diamonds. A full autopsy revealed that Durkin was hit hard in the neck from behind. Eberling, who had claimed to have hit Durkin to one of the co-conspirators was charged with murder. Eberling and his companion Obie Henderson were found guilty of the murder of Ethel May Durkin in July 1989; the co-conspirators were convicted and received suspended sentences for their help in testifying against Eberling and Henderson.

Link to Sheppard Case

While in prison, Eberling boasted to a fellow inmate that he had killed Marilyn Sheppard and beaten Sam Sheppard when Sheppard had attempted to stop him. Following that revelation, he also agreed to meet with Samuel Reese Sheppard, Sheppard's son, and disclose information that would be of value to him. Sheppard spoke out publicly on Eberling's possible involvement, setting in motion legal actions which would bring the matter before the courts again.

While in prison, Eberling sent letters to Sam Reese Sheppard, containing references to the crime and promises to reveal all at the right time. Eberling also met with reporters and authors regarding his potential role in the Shepard murder case, during which he seemingly enjoyed the attention being lavished upon him. Eberling had suffered from male pattern baldness, as a young man he owned and wore a bushy appearing hair piece, which Dr. Sheppard mentioned in his trial as part of his defense.

Additional suspected crimes

It was also during this time that Eberling's link to two other suspicious deaths came to light:

George Eberling (1946), while being taken care of by Christine Eberling and Richard, it was discovered that he had ingested poison immediately before suffering his stroke, which had been left on his bed side nightstand.

Barbara Kinzel (1956), Eberling's purported girlfriend, and a nurse at Sam Sheppard's Bay View Hospital, allegedly died when Eberling veered off a Michigan highway and slammed her Ford convertible into the back of a parked truck. Kinzel, who had cared for Sheppard immediately following the murder of Marilyn Sheppard, claimed that she felt Sam Sheppard was innocent based on the severity of his condition after the incident. After Kinzel's comments had been circulated in newspapers, Richard Eberling began calling on her and the two began to date. Eberling later claimed that following the accident that claimed Kinzel's life, he reached over and found her body crumbled on the floor in front of the passenger seat.

While no autopsy was performed on George Eberling, one was performed on Barbara Kinzel due to questions raised at the accident site. With the convertible top down at the time of the accident, and without there being a seat belt, there was the question on why her body wasn't thrown from the car. Eberling claimed that she had hit the windshield, but noted that there was no bleeding, internal or otherwise, anywhere on her body, nor was their evidence of safety glass found in her facial tissues as would be indicated in a case where an object would strike the windshield with the force that would have occurred in the accident. The coroner did note that her neck was broken along the second vertebra (as were Sheppard's and Durkin's).

Speculations were made that Eberling had killed Kinzel to keep her quiet on Sheppard's innocence should a retrial be ordered. It should be noted that while it was Kinzel's car that was involved in the accident that took her life, Eberling made a healthy financial settlement from the company that owned the truck for his injuries sustained in the case.

While the evidence linking Eberling to these deaths was seemingly evident, no action was taken because of Eberling's death in prison on July 25, 1998, aged 68.

Legal actions that transpired following his death relative to any possible involvement in the murder of Marilyn Sheppard proved inconclusive.

Trail of Blood
Richard Eberling had come far since his 1950s days as a window washer and petty thief. By the 1970s he was a patron of the arts, welcoming public officials and society leaders to lavish parties in his showplace home.

His taste was such that Cleveland Mayor Ralph Perk put him in charge of a $100,000 renovation of the mayor's suite in City Hall. By the late 1980s, Eberling was living on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee in a 27-room mansion stuffed with works of art.

And then, one day in 1987, police in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood got a call from a woman who said she wanted to let them know about a forged will.

Eventually, Patricia Bogar told them more. She had helped Eberling and his long-time companion, O.B. Henderson, forge a will naming Eberling as the heir of Ethel Durkin, an elderly Lakewood widow for whom he was caretaker.

Durkin died in January 1984 as the result of what was ruled -- without an autopsy -- an accidental fall. Her relatives were shocked to learn she had left 70 percent of her $1.5 million estate to "Dearest Richard, a gentleman who was to me the son I always wished for."

Under questioning, Bogar revealed she had also helped Eberling stage a series of phony burglaries, including one of her own home, to collect insurance. Her reason for blowing the whistle: Eberling had failed to come through with her promised share of the Durkin estate.

Beverly and Dale Scheidler, who had witnessed the signature of the will, confessed to their part in the scheme, and during a lie detector test, Beverly Scheidler broke down: She revealed that Durkin's death was actually caused by Eberling.

Police went to the Tennessee mansion where Eberling was living with Henderson and found it filled with antiques, oriental rugs and figurines -- all stolen. Eberling had even stolen a painting from City Hall and passed it off as a portrait of his uncle.

Eberling denied killing Durkin, but when her body was exhumed the coroner examined the injuries and proclaimed the death a homicide. In July 1989 Eberling and Henderson were convicted of Ethel Durkin's murder and sentenced to life in prison.

So the man who admitted dripping blood in the Sheppard home two days before the murder was actually a murderer himself. Reporters began digging into Eberling's background -- but, young Sam noted bitterly, law enforcement officials didn't.

After his City Club speech, young Sam took some time for a pilgrimage: He visited his father's grave near Columbus and, while he was in the city, went to the old Ohio Penitentiary, now closed, where as a boy he used to visit his father.

When he got back home to Boston, he found a letter waiting for him -- from Lebanon Correctional Institution in Ohio.

It was from Richard Eberling.

"Sam, yes I do know the whole story...," it said.


Young Sam and Cynthia Cooper, an investigator who was to join him later, wrote about what happened in the 1995 book Mockery of Justice. The title is taken from Judge Weinman's ruling freeing Dr. Sam in 1964. In the book he is called Sam R. or "young Sam,'' though by 1995 he was 48.

In the exchange of letters that followed the first one, Eberling told stories about the Sheppard family, such as a time when, he wrote, Marilyn asked Eberling to keep an eye on young Sam and his cousin while she went out. He sent a very accurate diagram of the rooms in the Sheppard house.

With poor spelling and punctuation, he teasingly hinted of his inside knowledge: "The true facts of Marylin Sheppards' murder have remained a secret to the public, reason being it could injure the reputations or careers of living persons. My reason for speaking out now. Is to help her son understand what happened."

Finally, young Sam went to see Eberling in prison. Over the next five years, Eberling would meet nearly a dozen times with Cooper and send over 230 pages of letters. The story he told was an amazing one:

Marilyn Sheppard, he said, had been killed by Esther Houk. Sam Sheppard and Spencer Houk together staged a cover-up.

He told of coming to wash the Sheppards' windows on the morning of July 2 and being invited by the doctor and his wife to have a sweet roll with them in their kitchen. Five minutes later Spencer Houk walked in carrying a package of meat from his butcher shop, put it in the Sheppards' refrigerator and, after some small talk, left. Sam then left.

While Eberling was washing windows, he heard a voice from another room. It was Esther Houk's, and she screamed "If you don't leave him alone, I'll kill you."

He said Marilyn took Esther downstairs and gave her a cup of tea. Later, Marilyn told Eberling that Esther was on medication and had been drinking, but was really "a sweet gal."

Later she served him lunch. She complained her husband was a workaholic and said Esther was upset because she had seen Spencer come to the Sheppard house in the morning. She said she would have to stop having her meat delivered.

It was that afternoon, Eberling said, that he cut his finger and dripped blood while going to the basement to wash it off.

There was more: Spencer Houk was actually gay, Eberling said, and Sam was bisexual. Esther thought her husband was having an affair with Marilyn, while actually he was having an affair with Sam.

After the murder, Eberling said he was washing windows at the home of Dr. Richard when Sam came in. Eberling offered his condolences then told him about Esther's threat. Sam's reply: "Don't let that be a problem. It's all taken care of." He added: "Richard, leave it alone!"

Eberling said he took that as an order, and didn't mention it to police or anybody else.

Years later, in 1969 or '70, after Sam's acquittal at his retrial, Eberling said, he ran into Sam at a local delicatessen. Sheppard told him to sit down and they talked for 40 minutes.

"Dr. Sam told me who murdered Marilyn," Eberling said.

Richard Eberling

If you believe the Sam Sheppard estate, Richard Eberling is the answer to the whodunit that inspired "The Fugitive." The doctor's heirs are convinced that Eberling is the "bushy-haired" man who in 1954 slaughtered Marilyn Sheppard, doomed her husband to infamy and robbed their son of both his parents.

Of course, Ohio prosecutors disagree, saying Eberling is a convenient scapegoat for the doctor's own brutality. Both sides agree, however, that Eberling, who died in 1998, was a murderer and a thief who lived a strange life.

Eberling was born Richard Lenardic on the eve of the Great Depression. His mother, an unwed domestic, quickly abandoned him. He spent his childhood shuffling through foster homes around Cleveland. According to Cynthia Cooper's book on the Sheppard case, Mockery of Justice, Eberling was a troubled child who stole and lied constantly.

In 1946, when he was 16, he wanted to change his name to Eberling, the surname of his foster family. George Eberling, the head of the family, reportedly bristled at the idea of the boy adopting his name and barred him from doing so. Shortly after this, George Eberling died. Police at the time concluded he had taken the wrong medication, but the Sheppard estate contends this was the first of many possible murders linked to Eberling.

Eventually, he did change his name, and in high school, he started a window-washing business called Dick's Cleaning Service. The business grew and by 1954, many wealthy Cleveland families, including the Sheppards of Bay Village, counted on Eberling and his employees as handymen. The week before Mrs. Sheppard's murder, Dick's Cleaning Service washed the family's windows.

Eberling was never considered as a murder suspect in 1954. Police officers pointed the finger of blame at Dr. Sheppard within hours of the murder, and he was convicted within the year.

Two years after Marilyn Sheppard's death, Eberling and his girlfriend Barbara Kinzel were involved in a strange car accident in Michigan. Eberling, driving a convertible, told authorities he had swerved to avoid a truck. He had some minor injuries, but Kinzel, who had at one time worked for the Sheppard family, was dead. The truck driver told police his vehicle was no where near Eberling's and couldn't understand why the convertible had to swerve. The Sheppard estate maintains the accident was more likely a murder.

Eberling showed up on police radar again in 1959 when some of his cleaning service customers began complaining that he was stealing from them. Jewelry and cash went missing every time he came into their homes, they charged. Police hauled Eberling into a suburban Cleveland station where he confessed to robbing a number of families. Among the loot he was carrying with him at the time was a ring that had once belonged to Marilyn Sheppard. Eberling had apparently stolen it from her sister-in-law's home.

Police officers were surprised by his confession and more so by a piece of odd information he volunteered about the Sheppard murder. He told officers he had cut his hand in the Sheppard's home days before Mrs. Sheppard's death. The wound, Eberling allegedly said, had dripped blood throughout the house. Startled, the officers brought Eberling to the attention of Cuyahoga prosecutors, but they said they weren't interested. Eberling got a suspended sentence for the thefts.

In 1966, Eberling testified for the defense in the second Sheppard trial. He recounted cutting himself days before the murder and the doctor's attorney, F. Lee Bailey, used his testimony to explain how blood could have gotten on all three floors of the home.

By the time of the trial, Eberling had moved beyond his cleaning service. He had insinuated himself into the lives of a trio of well-off sisters from Cleveland, Myrtle Fray, Sara Belle Farrow and Ethel May Durkin, as a sort of companion. According to the Sheppard estate, all three women died violent deaths at Eberling's hands.

The first, the estate says, was Fray, 63, the youngest sister. She died in 1962 shortly after allegedly warning her sister to stay away from Eberling. Days after this alleged conversation, Fray was found beaten to death in her bed. The murder has never been solved. Eight years later, Farrow, 79, died in a fall down stairs at Durkin's home.

A nurse who worked in the Durkin home has testified that late one night in 1983, Eberling confessed that he had killed Marilyn Sheppard. Eberling had been drinking, and the nurse, Kathy Dyal said she did not take him seriously at the time. Soon after the conversation, she was fired.

A short time later, in 1984, Durkin died after a suspicious fall in her home. With Durkin's two sisters deceased, Eberling and his longtime companion, Oscar "Obie" Henderson III, inherited the bulk of Durkin's $1.5 million estate. Durkin's death was ruled an accident until 1987 when a Florida woman told police that she'd helped Eberling fake Durkin's will. In 1989, Eberling and Henderson were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

While in prison, Eberling contacted the Sheppards' only son, Sam Reese Sheppard, and made some cryptic comments to him that the estate maintains amounted to a confession. Eberling said he knew "the entire story" of the murder and knew that Dr. Sheppard was innocent. He also told Sheppard "your family has been with me a long time." Later, however, Eberling recanted these statements and he died without fully explaining himself.


MO: Female victims bludgeoned; some raped

DISPOSITION: Life term on one count in Ohio, 1989; died in prison july 25, 1998

Richard Eberling