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New Witness Comes Forward in Sheppard Murder Case

April 29, 1996 GMT

CLEVELAND (AP) _ The 1954 murder of Dr. Sam Sheppard’s wife has taken yet another twist: A former nurse says a killer now in prison told her 13 years ago that he committed the crime.

Kathie Collins, 34, met last week with prosecutors to tell them about a 1983 conversation she had with Richard Eberling in which he described the murder.

At the time, Collins was a night nurse for the woman Eberling later was convicted of killing. Eberling is serving a life sentence for that murder.

Eberling, 66, has denied any involvement in the Sheppard case, which helped inspire the television series ``The Fugitive.″ He wouldn’t comment Monday.

In an interview in Monday’s Plain Dealer, Collins said Eberling told her he killed Marilyn Sheppard and then knocked out her husband.

Sheppard was convicted of killing his wife, then acquitted in a second trial after spending 10 years in prison. He died in 1970, still under wide suspicion.

Collins said she did not know until recently that the Sheppards’ son, Sam Reese Sheppard, was trying to clear his father’s name by linking Eberling to his mother’s killing.

Sheppard has filed a civil lawsuit against the state seeking damages for the wrongful imprisonment of his father, and the prosecutor’s office has reopened its investigation into the Sheppard slaying.

Collins said she and Eberling used to talk each night at the home of Ethel May Durkin, the Lakewood woman whom Collins cared for. Eberling supervised Durkin’s domestic help.

Collins said Eberling once asked if she had ever killed anyone.

``I did,″ Eberling said, according to Collins’ account.

He then asked if she knew about the Sheppards. Collins _ who wasn’t born when that murder occurred _ said she had not.

``He said, `Well, I did her, and somebody else paid the bill,‴ Collins said.

Collins pressed him: ``You mean you killed her?″

``Yeah, I killed her,″ Eberling said, according to her account. ``I hit her husband with a pail on the head and knocked him out.″

Collins said Eberling almost immediately realized his mistake and told her to ignore what he had just said.

About two weeks later, Eberling accused the nurse of drinking his Scotch and fired her. She denied the charge.

Another two weeks later, Durkin was hospitalized after a severe blow to the head. She died six weeks later. Eberling, who had forged a phony will that left him 70 percent of Durkin’s $1.5 million estate, was convicted in 1989 of killing her.

Collins’ lawyer, Terry Gilbert, said Collins at first told only her mother about Eberling. Six years later, she saw an article in a magazine about Durkin’s death.

She then told a Cleveland homicide detective about the conversation she had with Eberling. She said the detective, whose name she didn’t remember, brushed her off and didn’t follow up.

``I feel guilty in a way,″ Collins said. ``I should have made someone listen to me. I could have solved this case 10 years ago.″

Prosecutors plan to review Collins’ statement but said there is not enough evidence now to support charging anyone with the murder.

Collins now lives in Florida. Her lawyer refused to disclose the city to protect her privacy.