Some mysterious unsolved deaths have managed to draw to themselves all manner of strange clues and conspiracies. One of the most heinous of all begins in the fall of 1980. Glenna Susan “Sue” Sharp had recently separated from her husband and decided to leave their home in Connecticut to move and start a new life in Northern California. She set out on this new journey with five of her children, 15-year-old son, John, 14-year-old daughter Sheila; 12-year-old daughter Tina, and two younger sons, 10-year-old Rick, and little Greg, age 5. They found themselves moving to the rural town of Keddie, nestled up in the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains, renting out a Cabin 28 at a place called the Keddie Resort, which was to be their new home, and their last. Thus would begin the story of one of the most gruesome mysterious murders there is.
On the evening of April 11, 1981, the daughter Sheila went over to spend the night with some friends in a nearby cabin, while the rest of the family stayed home along with a visiting friend of the sons’ named Justin Eason, who also lived at the resort, as well as John’s friend Dana Windgate. Shiela would return at around 7 AM the next day, and when she did she would find a disturbingly gruesome scene awaiting her. There strewn over the floor of the cabin in a pool of blood were the bodies of her mother, her teenage brother John, and his friend, Dana Wingate. All of them had been bound with electrical tape and wiring, and had been viciously beaten and mercilessly stabbed to death. In an adjacent room were found Rick, Greg, and Justin, who were alive and well, and the sister Tina was nowhere to be seen. Authorities were notified and so began the grim story of what has gone on to become one of the most horrific unsolved crimes in American history.
When police arrived they found it to be the most fearsome murder they had ever seen. The victims had obviously been bound and tortured before being ruthlessly murdered, and a bloodied hammer and knife that was half bent from being so forcefully used to kill were found at the scene. Blood spatter was everywhere, on the walls, floor, furniture, all over the place, but all indicated that the massacre had taken place in the cabin’s living room, after which the bodies had been moved and rearranged throughout the cabin. The brother John was found to have been bound with medical tape and his throat slit, while his friend Dana was lying nearby, connected to John by some wiring that bound their ankles, with his head caved in by severe blunt trauma and placed in a pillow, and he showed signs of having been viciously strangled.
The mother, Sue, had been partially stripped naked from the waist down and had been gagged with her own underwear taped into her mouth with electrical tape. She showed defensive injuries and signs of having been hit in the head with the butt of a pellet gun, and her throat had been opened up by a knife as well, and the corpse was partially covered with a blanket. Every one of the bodies showed signs of having been struck multiple times with a hammer, and an autopsy would find that it was this trauma and the knife wounds that had killed them. The whole scene was so shocking and twisted that Plumas County Patrol Commander Rod DeCrone would say:
They stabbed and pounded on everything in visible sight–the walls, the people, the furniture, everything. There was blood sprayed absolutely everywhere. You knew right away we were involved with a psychopath.
Other clues that were found were that the phone had been left off the hook, the drapes closed, and blood had also been tracked all over the place and was present on the bottom of the victim’s shoes, suggesting that they had perhaps stumbled about after being attacked and bound. Of the daughter Tina there was no sign or any evidence of where she could have been, and it was thought that the three survivors had actually been asleep through the whole brutal ordeal taking place right in the next room. Oddly, it was found that indeed no one in any of the adjacent cabins had heard any sort of commotion or seen anything out of the ordinary on the evening of the murders, except for one couple who thought they may have heard muffled screaming but had simply gone back to sleep. It was also curious that there was no sign of forced entry, as if the perpetrators had been let in willingly. On the handrail of the back stairs there were found some unidentified fingerprints, but other than that it seemed that the perpetrators had used gloves to carefully conceal themselves. Plentiful potential DNA evidence was found, but this was still an era when such forensic techniques were in their infancy.
It was all a complete conundrum, with no initial suspect, no motive, and no concrete evidence to tie anyone to the crime, making the first official theory pointing to that this had been just a senseless random crime. However, some new details would begin to emerge when Justin, one of the three survivors who had been assumed to have slept through the incident, finally admitted under hypnosis that he had actually seen the mother with two men that night, one with a mustache and long hair and another shaven and with short hair. Even more chillingly, one of them was claimed to have had a hammer. Sue had then purportedly had an argument with one of the men, after which a physical altercation had broken out and Tina had been whisked away by one of them. It was all a very intriguing development, and sketches were actually made based on the descriptions, but it ultimately didn’t really lead anywhere at the time.
Several potential suspects were pursued, most notably Justin Eason’s stepfather Martin “Marty” Smartt and his roommate John “Bo” Boudebe, who was an ex-convict and already suspected as having connections to organized crime. When questioned, Smartt would claim to authorities that he had had a hammer go missing shortly before the crimes but that he had no idea of where it had gone. Other suspects looked at were a man who had suddenly skipped town right after the killings and even the serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, but a lack of any real evidence kept any of them from ever being seriously pursued.
Tina Sharp would remain a missing person for years after the murders, despite intensive searches to find her, until April 22, 1984, when a human skull was stumbled upon by a man out at Camp Eighteen, near Feather Falls, in neighboring Butte County around 100 miles from the town of Keddie. Along with the skull were found a child’s blanket, jeans with a pocket missing, a blue nylon jacket, and an empty dispenser of surgical tape. Right after this macabre discovery, an anonymous caller contacted authorities to claim that they were those of the missing Tina, and it would be found they the skull indeed did belong to the missing girl after all. It was widely thought that she had been abducted and killed by whoever had carried out the other homicides, but police were not really any closer to solving the whole thing. In the meantime the actual cabin where the crimes had occurred was demolished in 2004.
The case stayed cold for decades, only being reopened in 2013, when Plumas Sheriff Greg Hagwood and Special Investigator Mike Gamberg took over the investigation. Interestingly, the recording of the anonymous call would never be used in the investigation, and would not be uncovered until 2013, when it was found forgotten at the bottom of an evidence box at the Sheriff’s office. In 2016, a hammer was located at the bottom of a dried up pond, and was suspected as being one of the murder weapons, possibly even the very hammer that Martin Smartt had claimed to have gone missing, and some weird little details began to emerge as well. It turned out that Marilyn Smartt, Justin’s mother, had left her allegedly abusive husband on the very day that the murders had taken place, and she provided a letter she had received from him that chillingly read:
I’ve paid the price of your love & now that I’ve bought it with four people’s lives, you tell me we are through. Great! What else do you want?
Bizarrely, this dark letter was not considered to be good evidence, and was not followed up on at all. It adds to the general feeling over the years that a cover-up has been going on, and Shiela Sharp has even gone on record in 2016 of saying that Marty Smartt and John Boudebe had been told by authorities to get out of town in the wake of the killings, and it even came out that Marty had been close with the Sheriff at the time. In later years even investigators have derided the initial investigation as being sloppy and not very thorough, with some evidence or leads downplayed and others outright ignored.
It is unclear why any of this should be, and there have been all manner of theories on what happened that night in the cabin. The favorite theory is that Martin Smartt had hated John Sharp, and that there had been a bit of a love triangle going on between them and Marilyn Smartt, which came to a head on the day the two Smartts separated. Smartt had then apparently sent his friend Boubede to take care of the dirty work. It all seems very intriguing, but unfortunately Smartt died from cancer in 2000, and John Boubede died in 1988, so we will never know if there was anything to any of this, although Smartt’s therapist would claim that the man had admitted to the killings. Nevertheless, the whole case goes down a rabbit hole of the odd, with the suspicion that someone may know something, and one investigator has said:
There are people locally who know more than they’ve said, and I believe we’ve identified some of them, and we know who they are, and we know where they are. And I have every confidence that they either participated after the fact or they have first-hand information. It’s obviously a worthwhile pursuit. There is not an expiration date on homicides, and to the extent that we have surviving siblings and family members, it is our fundamental obligation to them to understand who did this and why.
To this day it is not clear what happened that night or who decided to kill this family in such cold blood. The whole thing is orbited by strange clues and talk of mysterious conspiracies and lost evidence, and it is not really known just how much evidence has been brushed over or why. The case has gone on to be much talked about and discussed, but has not seen any real answers, just tantalizing but ultimately frustrating clues. Whatever happened on that dark night out at that cabin has been buried in strangeness and conspiracy, and it seems likely that the only people who know what happened are the victims themselves.