April 12, 1981: The Keddie Murders


WHAT HAPPENED? (1)


During the late evening of April 11, 1981 and the early morning of April 12, someone went into Cabin 28 of the Keddie Resort in Keddie, California, and murdered Sue Sharp, her son John Sharp, and her son's friend Dana Wingate. Their bodies were found on the morning of April 12 by Sue's daughter, Sheila.


Sue's other 2 sons, Rick and Greg, as well as their friend Justin Smartt, were in the home but unharmed, and it appears that they slept through whatever happened that night. Sue's daughter, Tina, was missing. She was considered missing until 3 years after them murders, when her skull was found.


Though leads and suspects have been examined and questioned throughout the years, charges have never been filed. Like a lot of mysterious 80s murders, the many believe that the police handled the investigation poorly, leading to the overlooking of evidence.


I will admit that this is one of my favorite true crime cases. It is so mysterious, and remains "unsolved" to this day. It is a really wild ride.

PRE-MURDER BACKGROUND (1)


In the fall of 1980, Sue Sharp separated from her husband, James Sharp, and moved her and her 5 children from Connecticut to northern California. Her brother lived in the area, and she figured the place was as good as any to start fresh. She began renting Cabin 28 at the Keddie Resort, in the rural Sierra Nevada area. She lived with all 5 of her children: 15-year-old John, 14-year-old Sheila, 12-year-old Tina, 10-year-old Rick, and 5-year-old Greg.


On the afternoon of the murders, Sue and Sheila drove from Keddie to Grasner Park in Quincy, California, to pick up John and his friend Dana and bring them back home. (Dana is a boy. It doesn't really matter, but the first few times I read about this story, I thought he was a girl.) A few hours later, the 2 boys hitchhiked back to Quincy, potentially to visit friends. They were seen downtown, and a local remembered giving them a ride to a friend's house. They were later seen at a party in Quincy.


That evening, Sheila planned to stay the night with the Seabolt family, who lived in a nearby cabin. Sue planned to stay home with Rick and Greg, and they had a friend over named Justin. Sheila went to the Seabolt's around 8, and Tina, who was hanging out at the Seabolt's, came home at around 9:30. It is not clear if John and Dana arrived home before the murders, or if they walked in during the murders.

THE MURDERS & THE INVESTIGATION (1)


On the morning of April 12, Sheila returned home to a grisly, traumatizing scene. Her mother, brother, and Dana were dead in the living room. They were all bound with tape and wire. Their murders were "notably vicious", done with knives and hammers. One steak knife was bent in half due to the force.


Sue was laying on her side, naked from the waist down, gagged with her own underwear. She had been stabbed in the chest, her throat slashed. John's throat was also slashed, and Dana had been strangled. All 3 of them had been beaten in the head with the hammers.


Sheila confirmed that the younger kids were okay, and she ran back to the Seabolt's home, and father James Seabolt came over to help retrieve the boys fro the bedroom window. He admitted that he entered the cabin briefly to see if anyone was still alive, which may have contaminated the evidence.


Even though the Seabolt and Sharp cabins were very close, no one in the Seabolt family, or Sheila, had heard anything during the night. Another nearby couple said they heard muffled screaming at about 1:30 in the morning, but didn't know where from.


Tina's jacket, shoes, and a shoebox of tools were missing from the home, and there was no sign of forced entry. It is also important to note at this point that Tina was missing, too.


The scene also included a fingerprint on the handrail, but it was unable to be identified. The phone was left off of the hook, the lights were off, and the drapes were closed.


The first suspect interviewed was a man who had disappeared from Keddie after the murders, but was found in Oregon. He took a lie detector test, and after passing, was clear. Marilyn Smartt, Justin's mother, claimed she found a bloody jacket belonging to Tina in her basement, but this has never been corroborated. Martin Smartt said that a claw hammer of his had gone missing from his home.


But his clues didn't stop with the hammer, and police thought that perhaps he was providing these clues to remove suspicion from him. Detectives interviewed the Smartt's, but nothing came of it. A few neighbors recalled seeing a green van parked at the cabin at around 9, and others recalled seeing a brown Datsun at the house that evening.


Justin became a key witness in the case when he initially claimed he had dreams about the events of that night, but later revealed that he had actually witnessed them. He said he saw 2 men, one with a mustache and short hair and one clean-shaven with long hair, both with glasses, with Sue. Justin claimed that, when John and Dana got home, they began arguing with the men, and a fight broke out. Then, Tina was snatched and taken out the back door.


Composite sketches were drawn based on Justin's descriptions. Some believed the crimes were motivated by drug trafficking, but no drugs or drug paraphernalia were found in the home. A family acquaintance told detectives that Dana Wingate had recently stolen LSD from local drug dealers, but she was not able to provide any proof.


Nearly 4,000 man-hours were spent working the case, and during that time, serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole were ruled out as suspects.


Tina was believed to have been abducted from the crime scene and not killed there, so the FBI got involved. But, by the end of April, the FBI said the department of justice was doing fine job, and the FBI did not need to be involved. Efforts were fruitless, however, and she was not found.


On April 22, 1984, a bottle collector found a portion of a human skull about 100 miles away from Keddie. In a really weird element, shortly after police announced they had found a skull, they received an anonymous phone call saying it was Tina. (Remember, this was 3 years later and 100 miles away.) A recording of the anonymous call wasn't found until 2013 by a deputy who was assigned to the cold case. But, remains were identified as Tina's in June of 1984. Found near her was a blue jacket, a blanket, a pair of jeans and an empty surgical tape dispenser.


In a 2008 documentary about the murders, Marilyn Smartt said she suspected that her husband Martin, and his friend/organized crime convict John Boubede, were responsible for the murders. She said that the two had been at a local bar and then came home to go to sleep, but she had awoken to find them burning an unknown item in the wood stove at around 2 AM. She also said that her husband "hated Johnny Sharp with a passion" which seems like a really aggressive way for a grown man to feel about a 15-year-old. However, police had interviewed Martin, and he passed a polygraph test. He died in 2000, and John Boubede died in 1988.

LATER EVIDENCE & SOME FRESH EYES


In 2016, a hammer matching the description of Martin's missing hammer was found in a local pond. When this came out, more information about Martin came out. Apparently, after the murders, he drove to Reno, Nevada, and he wrote her a letter saying, "I've paid the price of your love & now I've bought it with four people's lives". The letter was overlooked originally, and the now-police chief criticized the initial investigation for missing such a crucial piece of evidence.


Additionally, a counselor whom Martin used to visit alleged that he admitted to murdering Sue and Tina, but claimed he had nothing to do with the boys. (Yeah, sure, there were just 2 separate murders that night.) Allegedly, he told his counselor that he had to kill Tina because she witnessed the whole thing, and he couldn't risk being identified.


Despite what seems like a mountain of evidence against Martin, he was never even a suspect beyond his passing grade on his polygraph test. He was, allegedly, good friends with the police at the time.


Luckily, the case is in new hands now. Mike Gamberg and Greg Hagwood, who both knew the Sharp family from their youth, are now on the case, and have begun to understand the magnitude of mistakes made back during the initial investigation. The voicemail, the letter. (2)


Now, the most widely accepted version of events points to a love triangle between Martin, Marilyn and Sue. Many believe that Martin and Sue were having an affair. At the same time, she was also connecting with Marilyn who confided in Sue that Martin was abusive, and she was trying to get Marilyn to leave him. When he found out that Sue was trying to get his wife to leave him (yes, the wife he was cheating on), he enlisted the help of his criminally seasoned friend to help take Sue out of the picture. (3)


The day of the murder discovery, Marilyn left her husband. And, it would explain why the kids were spared, because his son was in there. And, it may explain why Justin initially said he hadn't heard or seen anything, because he saw his dad out there killing everyone. Perhaps the kids heard the commotion, and Justin went out to look, and told the boys to go back to sleep. (3)


Martin was a drug dealer, and John was connected to organized crime in Chicago, which also may explain why the Sacramento Department of Justice sent out 2 corrupt organized crime agents, instead of homicide agents, to help out, and why they may have been given a free pass. (3)


Though both of them are deceased now, Gamberg and Hagwood believe that more than just those 2 were involved in the crime, perhaps a handful, and they believe that some of them are still alive. (3)


After the murders, Ricky, Greg and Sheila were sent out of state to live with an aunt, but because she had her hands full with several children of her own, they ended up in foster care, first together, but later apart. Ricky and Greg had slept through the nightmare, but Sheila had seen it: Her brother and mother slain in their living room, running, screaming to her friend's house to get help. (4)


Sheila, too, believes that the murders were committed by Smartt and Boubede because her mother had taken Martin's side in the family marital dispute. She has always hoped the case would ultimately get solved, for some semblance of closure after losing half of her family in one night. (4)


But she admits it would be cold comfort, as she would still have to live without her loved ones. Her older brother who she looked up to. Her only sister. Her mother, who, despite allegations of abuse or drug use, Sheila said was none of those things, just a loving mother who was still able to make them all feel loved and cared for while living in such poverty. (4)


Hopefully, the closure Sheila longs for is closer now than it ever was, but an official report may not be needed for most to believe that Smartt and Boubede had committed the crimes. Personally, I think it was them, and only them. And I hope, despite the fact that they died, that some evidence is found that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, ties them to it so they can be officially declared the killers.


Though we can guess who did it, nobody has ever officially been charged for the brutal, heartbreaking slayings of a mother, 2 of her kids and a family friend that late night and early morning 39 years ago. But, I sure hope the new evidence and new detectives on the case can make a break, to provide closure for the ones who were left behind.

REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keddie_murders

2. https://www.kolotv.com/content/news/The-Keddie-Murders-A-cold-case-suddenly-getting-warm-375330851.html

3. https://allthatsinteresting.com/keddie-murders

4. https://people.com/crime/keddie-cabin-28-murders-sheila-sharp-update/


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