Cult of the Fugitive

It was a hideous crime: Marilyn Sheppard, the pregnant wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard, was beaten to death in her home in suburban Cleveland on July 4, 1954. Her husband claimed that a "bushy-haired stranger" had done the deed, but the Lt. Gerard's of the day didn't buy his story. It seems that Dr. Sheppard had been in the midst of a love affair with a woman named Susan Hayes at the time of the murder.

If Dr. Sam Sheppard really did kill his wife in 1954, he probably never dreamed that the crime would spawn the fictional character, Dr. Richard Kimble, along with two television series, two films, a slew of documentaries and a thirsting public interest which seems as strong today as it did more than 45 years ago.

The original Fugitive sparked a "Trial of the Century" media frenzy similar to that of O.J. Simpson's. Dr. Sheppard was found guilty in the press; one Cleveland paper even ran an editorial, "Quit Stalling -- Bring Him In" before the physician was even arrested. An Ohio judge said the courtroom had the "atmosphere of a Roman holiday," due to newsmen who spiraled out of control.

Following Dr. Sheppard's conviction, the matter was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that he hadn't received a fair trial, due to the fact that "bedlam reigned at the courthouse, and newsmen took over practically the entire courtroom, hounding most of the participants in the trial, especially Sheppard." Every juror testified to hearing of Dr. Sheppard's guilt prior to serving in court. Dr. Sheppard's conviction was overturned and he was retried, only to be found guilty once again.

Dr. Sheppard died in 1970, still protesting his innocence. Since that time, his son has fought to clear his father's name. Last year, DNA evidence surfaced which may yet prove that the "bushy-haired stranger" was the true culprit.

Yet Dr. Sheppard's alter ego, the Fugitive, lives on, and has his hook (or is it that of the one-armed man?) lodged in our collective psyche. Where he goes, we will follow:

The Fugitive: Being the "Trial of the Century," the Sheppard case provided plenty of inspiration for Hollywood scriptwriters. The story bore fruit with one of the hottest TV shows of the '60s when "The Fugitive," starring jug-earred David Janssen aired from 1963-'67.

In the televised version, it was a mysterious one-armed man who killed the doctor's wife. The Fugitive drifted from town to town, employed in menial positions as a dishwasher or soda jerk, trying to track the villain down and clear his own name. Despite his lowly social status as a drifter (and middle-aged to boot), Janssen won the hearts of luscious blondes such as Tuesday Weld and Angie Dickenson in each episode by dint of his urbane manner and philosophical musings. And yes, he did catch the one-armed man when the series wrapped up in '67, making a believer out of even Lt. Gerard.

Harrison Ford reprised the role in the 1993 hit film and Ashley Judd did a female take with 1998's film, "Double Jeopardy," with Tommy Lee Jones playing the Lt. Gerard role in each film. We also see echoes of "The Fugitive" in reality-based cop shows such as "America's Most Wanted."

Currently, actor Tim Daly is filling Dr. Kimble's shoes on a new CBS show which has been deemed a runaway success by critics, if not viewers. Like the fugitives before him, Daly darts from town to town, seeking retribution for the killing of his wife while trying to elude the law and clear his name. His tormenter, police lieutenant Gerard (Mykelti Williamson) is relentless in his pursuit, forever disavowing clues that Dr. Kimble may in fact, be innocent.

Famous Fugitives and How They Fared:

Eric Rudolph: America's most notorious (and elusive) fugitive is still at large. An anti-abortion extremist, Rudolph has been linked to several bombings around the country, including those at abortion clinics, a gay nightclub, and the blast at Atlanta's Olympic Park in the summer of 1998.

Nurse Emily Lyons was standing just 12 feet away when a nail bomb went off on the morning of January 29, 1998 outside the New Woman All Women health care clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. The blast literally blew police officer Robert Sanderson to bits and ripped Lyon's body with hundreds of nails. Investigators believe that Rudolph was responsible for the blast, triggering it by remote control from across the street when the nurse and officer got in range.

Rudolph disappeared into the Appalachian wilderness in 1998, and despite a huge manhunt which included SWAT teams and tracking dogs, he was never found. Rudolph may have received assistance from residents of the area who looked upon him as a folk hero. Current speculation is that he either died in the wilderness, lives there still, or is living under an assumed name in the underground of the extreme right.

Abbie Hoffman: Founder of the anarchistic Yippies (Youth International Party), Hoffman was a professional prankster and rabble-rouser during the late '60s.

Hoffman was a hippie from New York's East Village who came to fame though a succession of spectacular stunts. He arranged an exorcism of the Pentagon, trying to levitate the building in protest of the Vietnam War, and was renowned for dumping dollar bills from the gallery of the New York Stock Exchange. He threatened to dose Chicago's water supply with LSD during the 1968 Democratic Convention, and he treated the notorious Chicago Seven trial as a circus. His books, "Revolution for the Hell of It," "Woodstock Nation" and "Steal this Book" were all bestsellers. A father, Abbie urged his followers to "kill your parents" and to steal and take drugs - restraint wasn't his cup of tea.

A coke bust and his political notoriety put Hoffman on the fugitive trail by the late '70s, when he disappeared underground and resurfaced as "Barry Freed" in upstate New York. As Freed, he became a relentless (and much more responsible) campaigner for the environment, working to save the St. Lawrence River. Although his extended family was under constant surveillance by the FBI and Freed was pictured a number of times in the newspaper, Hoffman was never captured. He surrendered to the authorities in the mid '80s, dying at the age of 52 in 1989. His memory lives on in the August, 2000 film, "Steal this Movie," starring Vincent D'Onofrio.

Patty Hearst: The most famous fugitive of the '70s started out as a victim of abduction by the revolutionary members of the Symbionese Liberation Party. Yet before her ordeal was through, Hearst became one of the most wanted fugitives in America.

Hearst was heiress to the newspaper fortune founded by William Randolph Hearst. After being abducted from her Berkeley apartment in 1974 as a "prisoner of war," she was locked in a closet for 50 days, undergoing brainwashing and sexual assault. The SLA slogan was, "Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people." Her abduction resulted in the largest manhunt in U.S. history.

When Patty came out of the closet, it was as Tania, a born-again revolutionary who was photographed with a beret on her head, cradling a submachine gun in front of the SLA banner. The SLA forced her to participate in a bank robbery and to release statements of revolutionary mumbo-jumbo which enraged a previously sympathetic America.

Her SLA captors died in a fiery shootout with the law, and Patty was sentenced to seven years in prison despite pleas that she was victim of Stockholm Syndrome. She was released after two years by a pardon from President Jimmy Carter.

Most recently, Patricia Hearst Shaw starred in "Cecil B. DeMented," a John Waters film which depicts a group of "cinema terrorists" who kidnap a movie star to publicize their work.

The Weather Underground: Sixties' revolutionaries The Weathermen took their name from the Bob Dylan lyric, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." While most white, middle-class student "revolutionaries" were content to yell slogans like "Off the pigs!" and "Smash the state!", some members of the Weather Underground took their rhetoric to heart.

In March, 1970, a member of the group got his wires crossed and ignited 60 sticks of dynamite in a Greenwich Village townhouse, killing three members. Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson escaped the blast, living ten years as fugitives. Bernardine Dohrn and her husband Billy Ayers lived as fugitives for 11 years.

The last known action of the Weather Underground came in 1981 when Kathy Boudin and a radical group called the Family robbed a Brinks armored car, stealing $1,585,000. Two Nyack police officers were killed and one wounded in the resulting chase; Boudin, meanwhile, was captured.

Through the years, various Weathermen surfaced and surrendered, starting with Mark Rudd in 1977, followed by radicals such as Jeff Jones, Dohrn and Ayers. Boudin was sentenced to prison for 20 years to life, but many of her former revolutionaries are now back in the mainstream of society, some working as social activists.

Aaron Burr: There were many famous fugitives in the 19th century: John Wilkes Booth and the outlaws of the wild west come to mind. But perhaps the most colorful, and dangerous, was Aaron Burr, who served as Vice President under Thomas Jefferson.

In 1800, Jefferson and Burr tied for President in an electoral vote, with the tie broken by the House of Representatives. Burr got the cold shoulder as VP, however, and then had his political ambition to be Governor of New York derailed by Alexander Hamilton. He shot and killed Hamilton - the architect of federal power and the national bank - in a duel in 1804. Thereafter, Burr hatched a plan to invade Mexico with a private army in 1806 to create his own nation. Word of the conspiracy got out, however, and Burr was arrested and charged with treason. With the help of a political crony, Burr was released, fleeing the country before a second treason charge could be leveled. He lived as a fugitive for five years in France, trying to convince Napolean to invade America. The fugitive returned in 1812, living a life of wine women and song until 1836.

Sources: "The Movement and the Sixties" by Terry Anderson; "The Best of Abbie Hoffman" by Abbie Hoffman; "Crime and Punishment in American History" by Lawrence M. Friedman; "Don't Know Much About History" by Kenneth Davis.


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