On the night of April 11, 1981, three victims—a mother, her adolescent son, and the son’s friend—were bludgeoned to death in a California cabin while children slept soundly in an adjacent room. A fourth victim—the mother’s 12-year-old daughter—vanished in the night, her remains found years later and many miles away.
The slayings are chilling enough. Yet the case is made all the more unsettling by the fact that it remains unsolved, leading some to suspect a police cover-up.
Glenna Sharp—who went by the name Sue—had been renting Cabin 28 in the tiny community of Keddie, California since November of 1980. She lived there with her five children. On the night of the murders, Sue was at home while her two youngest sons and one of their friends played in an adjacent room. Tina, Sue’s youngest daughter, returned home around 10 o’clock, after an evening of watching television with the neighbors in Cabin 27.
Sue’s oldest son John had spent the day in the town of Quincy with his friend Dana Wingate. The pair was last seen walking along State Route 70. They returned home to Cabin 28 later that night, presumably retiring to John’s basement bedroom. Whether they entered the home with the murder in-progress or became aware of intruders after hearing a disturbance upstairs is unknown. In either case, John and Dana would not survive the night.
The following morning, Sue’s oldest daughter Sheila came home after a night spent with friends. Upon entering, she discovered three bodies on the living room floor of Cabin 28.
The bodies belonged to Sue, John, and Dana. A search of the premises revealed the trio of younger boys still in their room, alive and unharmed. With the help of neighbors, Sheila removed the three children. The fourth victim, 12-year-old daughter Tina, was nowhere to be found.
Sue Sharp, John, and Dana met a decidedly violent end. Their bodies were bound with medical tape and appliance wire; they had been stabbed, bludgeoned, and strangled to death. Examinations revealed that the victims suffered blows from at least two different hammers of varying sizes, and Sue and John had been stabbed repeatedly. Sue had also been bludgeoned with a Daisy Powerline 880 rifle, while Dana Wingate was strangled to death by hand.
Various weapons were found at the scene, including a table knife, a butcher knife, and a bloody hammer. Other weapons—including the Daisy rifle—were not recovered. Some evidence, such as a second bloody knife, turned up in a trash bin behind the Keddie general store.
In April of 1984, three years after the slayings occurred, part of a skull was found 29 miles away near Camp Eighteen in neighboring Butte County. The discovery prompted a thorough examination of the area, revealing a jawbone and several other bones. The fragments were eventually determined to belong to young Tina.
The discovery of Tina’s remains compounded a case already steeped in mystery. Why was the body of Tina Sharp found so far away from Cabin 28? How could a murder with so much physical evidence remain unsolved? The abundance of loose threads, in conjunction with what appeared to be a substandard investigation, have prompted some to suspect a police cover-up.
In 2004, Cabin 28 was demolished along with several other condemned buildings on the grounds. While theorists postulate possible mob connections and police complicity in the killings, the complete facts in the case may never be known. The strange Keddie murders remain unsolved to this day.
UPDATE: In November 2016, the true crime show “People Magazine Investigates” released dedicated to reexamining the Keddie murders. Several new pieces of evidence and information came to light, which may, in time, finally help crack this cold case.
First, though the primary suspects in the slayings, Marty Smartt and Bo Boubede, are now deceased, new details continue to emerge that suggest their culpability. According to , Smartt was angry that Sue Sharp had been interfering in his marriage. After the murders, he wrote a letter to his wife Marilyn, which was only discovered after the case was reopened in 2013:
“I’ve paid the price of your love & now that I’ve bought it with four peoples lives, you tell me we are through … Great! What else do you want?”
Though Marilyn claims she never received the letter, and was only made aware of it by the authorities, she confirmed Smartt’s handwriting.
Even more potentially incriminating is a therapist in Reno, Nevada, to whom Smartt allegedly confessed to the killing. Strangely, this confession was never used by investigators in trying to bring charges against Smartt.
Another important piece of new evidence is a hammer, discovered by a man with a metal detector, in a pond near the cabins. It matches a description of a hammer that Marty Smartt claimed to have misplaced, and it is currently being tested for DNA evidence.
The final bizarre piece to the puzzle? A copy of a 911 call recording, found at the bottom of a Keddie murder case file box. The call dates back to 1984, in the weeks after skull fragments were first discovered in Butte County. The anonymous caller identified the remains as belonging to Tina Sharp, then hung up. Chillingly, records indicate that this caller knew the remains belonged to Tina before investigators confirmed the fact with dental records.
Mike Gamberg, who leads the current investigation, is baffled by these inconsistencies. “It’s not what was done,” in reference to the many flaws of the original investigation. “It’s what wasn’t done.”
Though the original inquiry into the Keddie murders was—suspiciously—shoddy, there is new hope that the authorities of today may be able to grant the Sharps justice once and for all.