A horrifying tragedy unfolded during the night of April 11 and April 12, 1981, in the serene resort town of Keddie, California. Known as the Keddie Cabin Murders, Glenna “Sue” Sharp and three others, their lives brutally extinguished, fell victim to an unimaginable horror.
This gruesome incident, a quadruple homicide, sent shockwaves through the community and the world beyond. Yet, despite the passage of time, the shroud of uncertainty still hangs heavy as the perpetrators of these heinous acts have eluded justice, leaving the Keddie murders an unsettling, unsolved mystery that refuses to fade into history.
A Prelude to the Keddie Cabin Murders
In July of 1979, a new chapter began for Glenna Susan “Sue” Sharp, born on March 29, 1945, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Having separated from her husband, James Sharp, she embarked on a journey with her five children, leaving behind their home in Connecticut. Their destination was the serene landscape of northern California, where Sue’s brother Don had set down roots.
Upon their arrival in California, they found temporary shelter in a small trailer at the Claremont Trailer Village in Quincy, a modest abode that had once been her brother’s. Yet, as the seasons turned, Sue sought a more spacious dwelling. Her quest for a home led her to house #28, nestled in the quiet embrace of the rural Sierra Nevada railroad town of Keddie.
Once occupied by Plumas County’s sheriff Sylvester Douglas Thomas, this house offered more space and the promise of a fresh start. Sue now shared it with her 15-year-old son John, born on November 16, 1965, her 14-year-old daughter Sheila, and 12-year-old daughter Tina, whose birthdate was July 22, 1968. Completing the family were two younger sons, 10-year-old Rick and 5-year-old Greg.
On the fateful day of April 11, 1981, around 11:30 a.m., Sue, Sheila, and Greg embarked on a journey from their residence to retrieve Rick, who was engaged in baseball tryouts at Gansner Field in Quincy.
Along the way, their path intertwined with that of John and his friend Dana Hall Wingate, born on February 8, 1964, who were hitchhiking near the mouth of the canyon leading from Quincy to Keddie. The Sharp family extended a helping hand, driving them approximately 6 miles to Keddie.
Two hours later, around 3:30 p.m., John and Dana once again resorted to hitchhiking, heading back to Quincy, their intentions possibly aligned with plans to visit friends in the town’s downtown area.
As evening descended, Sheila had plans to spend the night at the Seabolt family’s residence adjacent to #27, creating an impression of a peaceful night ahead. Meanwhile, Sue remained at home with Rick, Greg, and the young Justin Smartt, who had come to visit.
Sheila departed from house #28 shortly after 8:00 p.m., going to the Seabolts’ home for the night. A seemingly ordinary evening was about to take a chilling turn as events unfolded that would forever alter the lives of the Sharp family and the community of Keddie.
Who Discovered the Keddie Cabin Murders?
The morning sun illuminated a scene of unimaginable horror on April 12, approximately at 8:00 a.m. It was a moment that would forever be etched in Sheila’s memory as she returned to house #28, her heart pounding in her chest, only to discover a tableau of death that defied all reason. In the living room, there lay the lifeless bodies of Sue, John, and Dana. They were bound with a combination of medical tape and electrical cords. Tina, the 12-year-old daughter, was nowhere to be found.
In an adjacent bedroom, young Rick, Greg, and Justin had remained physically unharmed, their slumber an eerie contrast to the horrors that had occurred just steps away. Initial reports suggested that the boys had slept through the nightmarish incident, a notion that would later be contested.
Upon making this gruesome discovery, Sheila, in a state of shock and terror, rushed back to the Seabolts’ house. Jamie Seabolt rescued Rick, Greg, and Justin through their bedroom window. He went through the back door to see if anyone was still alive and later admitted it, potentially tainting evidence.
Two bloodied knives and one hammer were discovered at the scene of the murder of Sue, John, and Dana; one of the knives (a steak knife later proven to have been used in the murders) was bent at around 30 degrees due to the sheer violence it had been subjected to.
Inside the Keddie cabin, blood splatters pointed to the living room as the killing zone.
Sue was found naked from the waist down and bound with tape using her underwear and a blue bandana near the sofa in the living room. The butt of a Daisy 880 Powerline BB/pellet rifle was imprinted on the side of her skull, and she had been stabbed in the chest and throat horizontally, with the wound penetrating through her larynx and nicking her spine.
Someone sliced John’s throat. Dana had been strangled and had suffered many blows to the head. John and Dana had hammers slammed on their heads, causing severe injuries. According to autopsies, Sue and John died from stab wounds and blunt force injuries, while Dana died of asphyxiation.
Who Killed the Family At Keddie?
The initial stages of the investigation into the Keddie murders were shrouded in an unsettling silence. Sheila and the Seabolt family, who had spent the night in the neighboring home, reported no signs of commotion during the dark hours.
Yet, a couple residing in nearby house #16 was jolted awake at 1:15 a.m. by what they could only describe as muffled screams.
Within house #28, an eerie puzzle emerged. Tina’s jacket, shoes, and a toolbox containing various tools had vanished, creating an unsettling void within the residence. Remarkably, there were no visible signs of forced entry, leaving investigators perplexed about how this horrifying incident had transpired.
It was as if the perpetrators had slipped in and out like ghosts, leaving only questions and dread behind.
Further examination of the scene unveiled disturbing details. The telephone in the house had been removed from its cradle, and its cord had been severed from the outlet. The drapes had been drawn shut as well.
Among the neighbors, Martin Smartt, a neighborhood resident, loomed as a central figure and a prime suspect in the unfolding mystery. His claim that a claw hammer had vanished from his home only added to the enigma.
Plumas County sheriff Sylvester Thomas, presiding over the case, expressed bewilderment at the curious trail of “endless clues” that seemed to divert suspicion away from Martin. The investigation continued to cast its net wide, with detectives interviewing numerous locals and neighbors.
Some recalled seeing a green van parked at the Sharps’ house around 9:00 p.m., further complicating the intrigue surrounding this gruesome case.
The Only Survivor of the Keddie Cabin Murder Who Witnessed the Event
Justin’s accounts of the evening following the Keddie murders were inconsistent, creating a puzzling cloud of uncertainty. Initially, he offered conflicting stories and even suggested that he had dreamed some of the disturbing details of the murders.
However, as the investigation unfolded, Justin’s narrative underwent a transformation. Under hypnosis, he provided a more detailed account, one that claimed to be based on actual events.
According to Justin’s revised version of events, he awoke to mysterious sounds emanating from the living room while asleep in the bedroom with Rick and Greg. Curiosity propelled him to investigate, and he described a nightmarish scene.
In the living room, he claimed to have witnessed Sue in the company of two unknown men. One had a mustache and short hair, while the other was clean-shaven and adorned with long hair. Both men wore glasses, their presence casting a sinister aura in the dimly lit cabin. Soon, John and Dana entered the home, leading to a heated argument with the mysterious intruders. A violent altercation ensued, and Tina was allegedly taken out of the cabin’s back door by one of these figures.
Justin’s account gave rise to the production of composite sketches of the two unidentified men. Surprisingly, Harlan Embry, a man with no artistic training in forensic sketching, was entrusted with this task. This choice raised questions, especially given the availability of highly skilled forensic artists from the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Nevertheless, the resulting sketches described the suspects as being in their late 20s to early 30s, with one standing between 5 feet 11 inches to 6 feet 2 inches tall, with dark-blonde hair, and the other measuring between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 10 inches, characterized by black, greased hair.
Both individuals were noted for wearing distinctive gold-framed sunglasses.
As the investigation progressed, rumors and speculations about the motives behind these gruesome crimes surfaced. Some suggested that they might be ritualistic or linked to drug trafficking. However, Plumas County Sheriff Doug Thomas quickly dismissed these theories, revealing that neither drug paraphernalia nor illegal drugs had been discovered in the Sharp family’s home.
With its twists and turns, the investigation demanded an enormous commitment of resources, with approximately 4,000 man-hours devoted to unraveling the mystery. Sheriff Thomas aptly described it as “frustrating,” underscoring the complexity and challenges inherent in this unsettling case.
What Happened to Tina Sharp?
The investigation into Tina’s disappearance initially bore the weight of an FBI inquiry, treating it as a possible abduction. However, on April 29, 1981, a shift occurred, and it was reported that the FBI had decided to “back off” from the search.
The California State Department of Justice had taken the lead, and they were deemed to be doing an “adequate job,” rendering the FBI’s presence unnecessary in their view. The search for Tina shrouded in uncertainty, continued with state-level resources.
Law enforcement launched an extensive search effort, employing police canines in a meticulous grid-pattern exploration that spanned a 5-mile radius around the house. Despite their dedicated efforts, the search proved fruitless, leaving Tina’s whereabouts still troubling.
It wasn’t until April 22, 1984, that a bottle collector stumbled upon a grim discovery that would finally shed light on Tina’s fate. In a location as distant as Camp 18 near Feather Falls in neighboring Butte County, roughly 100 miles from Keddie, the collector uncovered the cranium portion of a human skull and part of a mandible.
These remains were sent for forensic analysis and in June 1984, a forensic pathologist confirmed that they belonged to Tina.
The discovery site held more than just the macabre remnants of a young life. Alongside Tina’s remains, detectives unearthed a chilling collection: a blue nylon jacket, a blanket, a pair of Levi Strauss jeans missing a back pocket, and an empty medical tape dispenser.
Shortly after the revelation of Tina’s identity, the Butte County sheriff’s office received an anonymous call that purported to identify the remains as belonging to Tina. However, this call was never documented, and a tape containing a recording of it was discovered much later, hidden at the bottom of an evidence box sometime after 2013.
This discovery added another layer of intrigue to the perplexing case of the Keddie murders.
Will the Keddie Cabin Murders Be Ever Solved?
The home where the killings took place was torn down in 2004.
In 2008, a documentary on the Keddie murders shed light on startling claims made by Marilyn Smartt, wife of Martin Smartt. She suspected her husband, Martin, and his friend, John “Bo” Boubede, of being responsible for the murders.
According to Marilyn, on the evening of April 11, 1981, she had left Martin and Boubede at a local bar around 11:00 p.m. and returned home to sleep. Her sleep was interrupted by a disturbing discovery as she awoke around 2:00 a.m. on April 12 to find the two men burning an unknown item in the wood stove.
Marilyn added a disconcerting detail: Martin “hated Johnny Sharp passionately.” However, in the same documentary, Sheriff Doug Thomas revealed that he had interviewed Martin, who had successfully passed a polygraph examination, casting doubt on these allegations.
It was revealed that shortly after the murders, Martin had left Keddie and driven to Reno, Nevada. During his absence, he sent a letter to Marilyn in which he discussed personal issues within their marriage. The letter concluded with a haunting line: “I’ve paid the price of your love & now I’ve bought it with four people’s lives.”
However, the article noted that this letter had been “overlooked” in the initial investigation and was never admitted as evidence. The quality of the initial investigation was sharply criticized by later investigators, with one stating that “you could take someone just coming out of the academy, and they’d have done a better job.”
A counselor Martin had regularly visited claimed that he had admitted to the murders of Sue and Tina but asserted, “I didn’t have anything to do with [the boys].” He allegedly explained that Tina had been killed to prevent her from identifying him, as she had “witnessed the whole thing.”
Martin Smartt died from cancer in Portland, Oregon, in June 2000, taking any potential answers to his grave. John “Bo” Boubede, who allegedly had ties to organized crime in Chicago, died there in 1988.
On March 24, 2016, a significant development emerged when a hammer matching the description of the one Martin claimed to have lost was discovered in a local pond. This discovery was taken into evidence by Plumas County special investigator Mike Gamberg.
Plumas County Sheriff Hagwood, who had a personal connection to the Sharp family, stated that the location where the hammer was found suggested that it had been intentionally placed there, not accidentally misplaced. At that time, six potential suspects were under examination.
In April 2018, a ray of hope appeared as DNA evidence recovered from a piece of tape at the crime scene matched that of a known living suspect. This revelation breathes a new life into the long-standing mystery of the Keddie murders as investigators seek justice and closure for the victims and their grieving community.
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