The little town of Keddie California lies nestled in the mountains to the north-eastern part of the state in Plumas County. Locals describe it as a beautiful woodsy town, one with a strong sense of community. Particularly in the little village of Keddie where everyone lived in a little neighborhood of cabins, everyone knew everyone else and all the kids felt safe to run back and forth from neighbor to neighbor.
In November of 1980 36 year old single mom Glenna “Sue” Sharp had just made the long move cross country from Connecticut with her 5 children: Johnny who at the time was 15 years old, Shiela age 14, Tina age 12,, Ricky age 10, and Greg age 5. Sue herself was described as quiet, someone who kept to herself, worked hard, and didn’t need or want anything fancy. The children were also well liked, though occasionally Johnny would find himself in a little bit of typical teenage trouble.
Sue’s brother lived nearby, and though the move seemed major, they were all looking forward to the fresh start they’d find in Keddie. You see, Sue’s rocky relationship with her husband Jim had finally reached a boiling point where the two agreed there was no way to make the marriage work. He had a history of abusive behavior towards Sue, who was now on her own for the first time. She was thrilled with the new life she had blossoming out there in Keddie.
On the evening of April 11th, 1981 the family were settling into their own evening activities. Sheila was sleeping out at the cabin next door, spending time with her friend Alicia Seabolt. Initially Tina had been with her as well, but Sue had requested that Tina come home in order to get some chores done and sleep in her own bed that night.
In the Sharps’ cabin, the two younger boys also decided to have a sleepover that night, inviting their friend and neighbor 12 year old Justin Easton to spend the night with Greg and Ricky. Johnny Sharp was out that evening with another friend and neighbor, 17 year old Dana Wingate. The two had been out having fun earlier, but were now home and ready to crash.
The next morning was Sunday, and when Sheila woke up at the Seabolt’s house and they invited her to attend church with them, so she headed next door around 7:45 in the morning to change into some nice clothes. But instead of her mothers smiling face, or sleeping brothers, Sheila was greeted by a scene so gruesome and horrific that I think it’s hard for anyone to imagine.
Opening the door, the metallic smell of blood must have been staggering. It was splattered on the walls and pooled on the floor, smeared and sticky. In the room Shiela could make out bodies tied together with medical tape and electrical cord, so beaten and bloodied that it was unclear immediately who the victims were or what was going on.
Sheila feared for her own safety at that moment and dropped her bag in the doorway, dashing back to the Seabolts, who promptly called police. The Seabolts oldest son Jamie ran next door and carefully, sneakily searched the outside of the house, making certain there were no assailants still on the premises. When he arrived at the back bedroom window and looked in he found the three younger boys in their beds, all fast asleep. Somehow they’d been spared in all of the carnage, but to keep them from the trauma of the bloody crime scene, Jamie helped Ricky, Greg, and Justin climb out the back window to safety.
The Sheriff’s department arrived along with Sue’s brother, who had the horrific task of identifying the victims. It took him multiple attempts to discern who was who for certain, because they’d be so severely brutalized. In Cabin 28 laid the bodies of Sue Sharp, Johnny Sharp, and Dana Wingate. It was clear immediately that there had been an intense struggle. Furniture was tossed all over, there were slashing knife marks on the walls, and the back door was left open. There was no sign of forced entry, and the phone and lights had been turned off.
Upon autopsy it was confirmed that the three had been stabbed multiple times. They’d also been beaten and bludgeoned with two different hammers- one they’d found at the scene along with a knife, and another that had not been located. Johnny and Sue had their throats cut, and Dana had been manually strangled. All three were bound with electrical cords and medical tape in complicated, overly excessive manners. Sue’s panties were stuffed in her mouth as a gag. Johnny seemed to have suffered the most in the attack, likely defending his mother.
Between the blood evidence on scene, and the brutality with which the victims were treated, it was clear that the perpetrator or perpetrators had taken their time. This was not a quick robbery gone wrong. This was a targeted, personal attack, and investigators began to surmise that there must have been more than one assailant in order to tie up and torture two teenage boys in this way.
Miraculously, the three boys sleeping in the back bedroom survived the ordeal completely uninjured, and as police continued to process the scene they realized there may be another survivor out there- Where on earth was Tina Sharp?
Though everyone admits that it took them a while to realize Tina was missing, once they did the investigation quickly shifted gears, as everyone in Plumas County desperately hoped to find Tina safe and sound. Officials and locals searched roads, side roads, wooded areas, and anywhere they could think to look across the county. An all Points Bulletin was put out, and the FBI arrived to pitch in. To have taken Tina leads detectives to wonder if her abduction was the motive.
Throughout the search for Tina, some feel that investigators may have lost sight of the murders at hand. The concern was so strong about finding Tina that perhaps other motives were ignored initially, perhaps the scene wasn’t processed quickly enough, perhaps there were some things missed as a result. Though everyone continued to search for her, it was important to get back to using the clues they had available. So that’s when investigators decided to talk to the three sleeping boys.
Ricky and Greg Sharp both insist that they slept through the night and have no memory of anything unusual. But Justin tells detectives about a strange dream he had that night. Justin was placed under hypnosis and revealed that he dreamt he was on the Love Boat when two scary men came on board, killed Johnny Dana and Sue, and threw their bodies overboard, escaping in a raft.
As crazy and unusual it was to use a dream and hypnosis, especially in 1981, Justin had many details of the attack correct in his dream. Justin’s Love boat dream had Sue slit through the chest, had a hammer as a weapon, and had Johnny and Dana fighting to protect Sue. This led them to believe they were onto something, so they created a composite sketch of the two assailants from Justin’s dream.
Police released the sketches and began to interview everyone involved in the Sharps life- and we’ll get into some of the theories soon- but nothing led to an arrest.
Over the next few years, the investigation trudged slowly and eventually went cold. Until 3 years to the day after the horrific murders a man collecting cans stumbled upon a human skull in Butte County CA. Local investigators wrote it off as an upturned burial skull of a native american, but two months later, they got an anonymous call claiming that the skull belonged to Tina Sharp.
The remains were processed, and it was unfortunately determined to be the 4th victim of the Keddie Cabin murders. Though the area was searched thoroughly and more of Tina’s remains were recovered, no new investigative clues laid in her burial place. Her remains were in such a deteriorated condition that it yielded no answers as to what happened to her, but it did bring more questions- Who was the caller? Could they have been involved? Was it intentional that they called on the anniversary of the murders??
One would assume this would have been investigated, but like many other curious occurrences in this case, the recording of the anonymous tip was…. Misplaced.
Immediately police begin their investigation with Jim Sharp, Sue’s ex. Not only had Jim been violent with Sue in the past, but according to Shiela he had sexually absued both her and Tina up until the time their mom left him. Tina had always been his “favorite”- Could he have taken Tina in a sick perverted scheme to abuse her? Could it be revenge against his wife? FBI did a background check and even surveilled him for some time, but he never led them to Tina. He’s questioned then, but his alibi was air tight. Jim Sharp did not commit the murders.
Other relationships in Sue’s life were looked into, and one by one they were eliminated as suspects. Rumors began to swirl around town- could she have been involved in drug trafficking? Could she have been involved in prositution? Sheriff Hagwood says there was no evidence for it, and he doesn’t believe any of the rumors have relevance in the deaths.
Another suspect emerged early on when Tina’s classroom teacher was interviewed as a source of information, detectives realized he had quite the fascination with the little girl. The man Joel Lipstein had allegedly had a “disproportionate interest” in Tina, compared to the other kids. This included a framed photo of her in his home and he had been seen at the bar in Keddie the evening of the murders. However, like Jim before him his alibi eliminated him as a suspect. Side note in case this infuriates you like it did me: Later, Lipstein left the area and was eventually arrested on charges of child molestation for another young girl.
But do you remember that composite sketch from Justin’s dream? Well- investigators discovered that one of them looked remarkably like a neighbor from the cabin community- Marty Smartt. Justin’s own Step father. Marty had a bit of a reputation for not being the kindest man around, and according to Sheila he had a particular hatred for teenage Johnny.
Marty was a Vietnam Vet with PTSD who was known for his explosive temper and violent tendencies. He was reportedly abusive to his wife Marilyn and her son Justin, even attempting to run them over with a car at one point. At this time he went to the VA hospital for some mental health help and made a friend named John Boubede, known as Bo.
During the time of the murders, Bo was staying with Marty in Keddie sleeping on his couch. Bo had a lengthy rap sheet as a thief and even a hitman. Marilyn says that the night of the murders Bo had asked out Sue and he had rejected her. According to Marilyn, Bo was so upset by this that he said he “felt like killing someone.” Was Sue killed for rejecting Bo?
Now here is where the investigation gets…. Questionable.
The sheriff at the time, Doug Thomas, elected to have Bo and Marty interviewed by the Department of Justice Organized Crime Unit. His own investigators felt confused by this naturally, and it would certainly indicate that they believed Marty and/or Bo to have a mafia connection of some sort.
During this interview, Bo tells them he used to be a former police officer who had been shot in the line of duty rendering him impotent. He states this repeatedly, citing it almost as if it were his alibi. He simply couldn’t have taken an interest in Sue. Bo was also never a police officer.
What’s even stranger here, is that the DOJ investigators next interviewed the men together. In this interview, Marty makes hints that he was at the scene of the crime, and he even ASKS investigators if it was true that a hammer had been used. Marty then describes a hammer in vivid detail that he says had gone missing from his home. DOJ investigators let the men go, they left town, and were absolutely never interviewed or questioned again.
How could that possibly happen? Well…. Many speculate about police corruption. Sheriff ___ just so happens to be Marty’s BEST FRIEND. Gamberg and Hagwood were both young investigators at the time and felt the immediate shift once Marty became involved as a suspect. Even little Justin with the Love Boat dream stopped cooperating amid rumors that he and his mom Marilyn were threatened into silence.
More rumors spread about the motives to cover up Bo’s involvement. Is it possible that Bo was an informant for organized crime? Did he need to be protected in order to help them solve “bigger” mob related crimes? Why on earth did the DOJ’s organized crime unit from Chicago get involved in a small mountain town murder? It simply wasn’t adding up and Gamberg questioned it at the time. He was told by the Sheriff to knock it off or he’d be fired.
Today, the Sheriff role has gone to Hagwood who has teamed up with his old colleague. Gamberg to reopen the case. After all these years, they simply can’t forget the impact of this case on their little town or on themselves.
Gamberg feels point blank- for the details of this case to be left out the way they were had to have been intentional. This isn’t negligence, this is cover up.
John Bobede died in 1988 and Marty Smartt died in 2000 of cancer. Though maybe the men can’t serve time in this life for crimes they may have committed, Hagwood and Gamberg are hoping to still be sure that justice is served in this case. They may have taken some of their secrets to the grave with them, but the investigation is still on.
In 2010 when Hagwood found himself in the position of Sheriff, he pulled the old dusty boxes out of storage and had his team comb through everything again. And hold your hats everyone, because you’re about to be mind blown by what they found.
- Gamberg discovered that after the murders, Marty Smartt continued to seek services at the VA, so he went in and interviewed some of his providers. His therapist said that he confessed to the murders, point blank. Marty said he killed the woman and her daughter, but he had nothing to do with those boys. Obviously there’s a fine line here with the idea of patient confidentiality and that information being privileged, but this further highlights the theory that this case was not investigated thoroughly as no one had ever interviewed at the VA previously. The DOJ apparently WAS alerted about this confession in 1981, and dismissed it as hearsay
- They found the damn tape. Buried deep in an evidence box was the missing recording of the anonymous call stating that the remains were Tina’s. The tape was sent to the FBI voice comparison unit and to the best of my knowledge, those tests are still pending or at least have not been released publicly. I have heard some internet rumors that indicate investigators may know more about this tip than they’re sharing which is a good thing.
- Another item Gamberg found that had been completely overlooked and never even entered into evidence was a letter addressed to Marilyn, begging her to repair their marriage. Forensic DNA confirming the letter was from Marty was found on the stamp and the envelope. Amelia, do you want to read a little snippet of that letter for us?
- I’ve given it to you. I’ve paid the price of your love and now that I’ve bought it with four people’s lives, you tell me we are through. Great! What else do you want from me?
- What’s especially interesting here for me, is that in a 2008 interview with Marilyn Smartt, she says she believes her husband and friend did it, but she says she was dismissed by Sheriff Thomas back then, who claims it couldn’t be true because Marty passed a polygraph. I was not able to find documentation of that.
In 2016 the case gets another piece of potential evidence when a junk collector finds an old hammer in the Keddie area. Now at the time, he didn’t think anything of it and tossed it back, but one day shortly after that he was cruising the internet and stumbled upon a website about the unsolved murders. The website had a description of Marty’s missing hammer, and the man thought “holy crap, that’s the hammer i found.” The hammer is being forensically examined as well but it’s not likely we’ll find DNA after all these years, but it matches the description of Marty’s hammer almost exactly.
In 2018 Gamberg announced that they had 6 total potential suspects, and that DNA taken from a piece of tape at the crime scene was now linked back to a living suspect.
Gamberg and Hagwood say the case is personal now, and it’ll never be forgotten. There are many theories as to why the 4 victims were killed- Could Marilyn have been involved in an affair plot, could Sheila have been involved and that’s why she stayed out, all just speculation.
However some who are involved closely with the case believe the police cover-up theory is the most resounding. Could the former Sheriff have been involved in a drug trafficking ring that made him want this problem to go away quietly? We may never know for sure, but the new team is working hard to resolve the case. Hagwood says the most important thing we need now is for the people who know to talk. He says there are people alive today who know exactly what happened, they know, and it’s time to be solved.
Call to action:
If you have any information about the murders of Sue Sharp, Johnny Sharp, Tina Sharp, and Dana Wingate, please call 530-283-6360. You can remain anonymous, and there is a $5,000 award for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers.
People Investigates- Cabin 28: Horror in the Woods (Investigation Discovery) and https://people.com/crime/keddie-cabin-28-murders-5-things-know/
The Keddie Cabin Murders