In 1981, the hit song was ‘Physical’ by Olivia Newton John. The top movies were ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘Superman 2’, and ‘On Golden Pond’. The Superbowl champions were the Oakland Raiders (boo!) and the Stanley Cup champions were the New York Islanders. (boo!) It was also in 1981 that Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female US Supreme Court Judge. (Girl power!) But unlike the great things I just mentioned; a brutal quadruple homicide would put Keddie, California on the map. This is the story of the Cabin 28 Keddie Murders.
Our story actually dates back to the fall of 1980. Glenna Susan “Sue” Sharp (nee Davis, b. March 29th 1945) along with her five children left their home in Connecticut after she separated from her husband, James Sharp. Glenna, most often known as Sue was now a single mother in a time when being a single mother was HARD. Even in 2020, it’s still hard, but back then it wasn’t as common, and i’m sure that she was feeling overwhelmed. After all, raising five children is no easy feat, especially all alone. Her five children are John Sharp (aged 15); Sheila Sharp (aged 14); Tina Sharp (aged 12); Rick Sharp (aged 10) and finally Greg Sharp (aged 5) bringing up the rear. Sue decided to relocate to northern California where her brother Don was residing at the time. Upon arriving, she began renting a two bedroom- Cabin 28.
Just imagine it. Six family members in a two bedroom cabin must not have been Sue’s dream. I’m sure that it was merely a means to an end. Even though I will say, looking at the pictures of the cabin, it looks much bigger than being only two bedrooms. I can imagine that the three boys must have shared one room, the two girls might have the other room and Sue might have stayed on the couch. I’m merely speculating the room arrangements.
The night in question actually began on April 11th. Around 1:30pm, Sue and Sheila drove from Keddie to pick up John and his good friend Dana Wingate (aged 16) from Gansner Park in Quincy, and brought them back to Keddie- about five miles away. Two hours later, (so around 3:30pm) John and Dana hitchhiked back to Quincy where they may have had plans to meet up with other friends. In fact, the two boys were seen multiple times in the city’s downtown area, and a local woman (Donna Williams) claimed to have picked them up in front of a tire store and gave them a ride down the road to a friend’s house. The two teenage boys were later seen attending a party at Oakland Camp in Quincy.
That same evening, Sheila had plans to spend the night with the Seabolt family who lived right next door to Cabin 28. I mean, from the pictures I’ve seen, you can practically touch the two cabins with each arm stretched out. You’d probably become a little bit of the rubber man, but hey… you get the gist. Sue remained at home with Rick, Greg and Justin Smartt. (the boys’ friend) Sheila left cabin 28 shortly after 8pm. Tina, who had been watching t.v at the Seabolts’ returned home around 9:30pm.
Around 7am the next morning, (April 12) Sheila returned home and discovered the dead bodies in the cabin’s living room. The three murder victims were Sue, John and Dana. Upon discovering the scene, Sheila rushed back to the Seabolts’. I am sure she didn’t even fully walk inside the cabin due to the graphic and brutal scene in the living room. John Seabolt upon hearing of the carnage next door, decided to take it upon himself to venture next door and see for himself what lay waiting. He eventually retrieved the three remaining still alive young boys from the bedroom window and later admitted to having briefly entered the cabin through the back door. He was trying to see if he could find Tina who was missing and potentially contaminating evidence.
The murders of Sue, John and Dana were notably vicious. Two bloodied knives (one of which was a steak knife that had been bent in half due to extreme force) and one hammer were found at the scene. Blood spatter evidence indicated that all murders had taken place in the living room. Sue was discovered lying on her side near the sofa, nude from the waist down and gagged with a blue bandana and her own panties, which had been secured with tape. She had been stabbed in the chest, her throat was slashed and on the side of her head was an imprint matching the butt of a Daisy 880 BB gun. John’s throat was also slashed and blunt force trauma to his head, most likely caused by a hammer. John was face-up, with hands and feet bound by an electrical cord that also wrapped around Dana’s feet. Dana had multiple head injuries and had been manually strangled. Autopsies of all three victims indicated they died from knife wounds and blunt force trauma.
The investigation sounded like it was an absolute shit-show. I mean, I know things were different back in 1981, but c’mon. Three… THREE people viciously lost their lives, and one person remained missing. You would think that the investigators worked the case into the ground, but I’m not so sure. Initial reports stated that the three younger boys had slept through the incident, though later contradicted. Sheila and the Seabolt family heard no commotion during the night. Now remember, they stayed right next door… like right there. I find it a little hard to believe that no one heard anything, especially when a couple living nearby were awakened around 1:30am by what sounded like muffled screaming. The couple couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from and must have gone back to bed. Tina’s jacket, shoes and a shoebox containing various tools were missing, and the cabin showed no signs of forced entry. An unidentified fingerprint was found on a handrail on the stairs leading to the cabin’s back door. The cabin’s telephone had been left off the hook, it’s lights were off and the drapes were closed.
Suspects interviewed included a man who disappeared from Keddie around the time of the murders and later turned up in Oregon. After submitting to a polygraph exam, he was cleared. Do you remember Justin Smartt? The little boy who spent the night at Cabin 28 and survived? His mother (Marilyn Smartt) later claimed she had found a bloody jacket belonging to Tina IN HER BASEMENT and had turned it over to police. No official record of this exists. (Um… what?! So either it was a rumor, or the investigation f*cked up.) Martin Smartt (Justin’s dad) also claimed that a claw hammer had gone missing from his home. I don’t think I mentioned it yet, but the Smartt family also resided in a cabin in Keddie. I think all the kids and parents knew each other, and would bounce from cabin to cabin enjoying each other’s company. But it’s still odd that a hammer would go missing from the Smartt residence, unless a Smartt family member might have had something to do with the murders. Plumas County Sheriff Doug Thomas who presided over the case later stated that Martin had provided “endless clues” that seemed to “throw the suspicion away from him.”
Detectives interviewed numerous other locals and neighbors. Several of them, including members of the Seabolt family recalled seeing an unknown green van parked at cabin 28 around 9pm. Others recalled noticing a brown Datsun parked at the residence which appeared to have a flat tire.
Justin gave conflicting stories of the night in question. He first claimed that he dreamt details of the murders, then later claimed to have actually witnessed them. While under hypnosis, he said to have heard sounds coming from the living room while he watched t.v in the bedroom with his friend’s Rick and Greg. Upon investigating the sounds, he saw Sue with two men. It was then that John and Dana entered the home and began a heated argument. A fight ensued after which Tina came home from being at the Seabolts’. She was taken out the back door by one of the men. Based on Justin’s descriptions, composite sketches of the two assailants were produced by forensic artist Harlan Embry. In press releases accompanying the sketches, the suspects were described as being in their late 20’s to 30’s. One stood 5’11” to 6’2” with dark blonde hair. The other suspect stood between 5’6” to 5’10” with black greased hair. Both wore gold framed sunglasses.
Rumors regarding the crimes being ritualistic in nature, or motivated by drug trafficking were dismissed by Sheriff Doug Thomas. In the week following the murders, Sheriff Doug Thomas stated that no drug paraphernalia or illegal drugs were found in the home. About 4,000 man-hours were spent working the case, which Sheriff Doug Thomas described as “frustrating”. In December of 1983, detectives ruled out serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole.
Because Tina was believed to have been abducted, her disappearance was initially investigated by the FBI. But by April 29th (remember the murders and Tina’s disappearance happened on April 11th) the FBI “backed off” because they thought the DOJ (Department of Justice) was doing an “adequate job” and “made the FBI’s presence unnecessary”. A grid pattern search of the area covering a five-mile radius around the cabin was conducted with police canines, but the search turned up fruitless.
On April 22nd, 1984 (3 years and 11 days) a bottle collector discovered a cranium portion of a human skull and part of a jawbone at Camp Eighteen, California, near Feather Falls in Butte county. The distance is about 100 miles from Keddie. Shortly after announcing the discovery of the human remains, an anonymous call was placed to the Sheriff’s office that the remains belonged to Tina Sharp, the missing 14 year old from cabin 28. That anonymous call was never documented. (Of course it wasn’t!) The remains were confirmed by a forensic pathologist to be those of Tina in June of 1984. Near the remains, the police found a blue nylon jacket, a blanket, a pair of Levi Strauss jeans with a missing back pocket and an empty surgical tape dispenser. One good update: a recording of the anonymous phone call was found at the bottom of an evidence box sometime after 2013 by a new detective who was assigned the case.
In 1996, Robert Joseph Silveria Jr (also known as the Boxcar killer) was examined as a potential suspect of the Keddie murders. Nothing came of it. By 2004, cabin 28 was demolished and all that was left of April 11th and 12th of 1981 was a pile of rubble and eventually a wide open space. In a 2008 documentary of the murders, Marilyn Smartt (remember her?) claimed that she suspected her husband Martin and his friend John “Bo” Boubede were responsible. Marilyn claims that the evening of the murders, she had left Martin and Bo at a local bar at around 11pm and returned home to sleep. At around 2am on April 12th, she states that she was awoken to find the two men burning an unknown item in the wood stove. She goes on to say that “Martin hated Johnny Sharp with a passion”. However, in that same 2008 documentary, Sheriff Doug Thomas claims that he had previously personally interviewed Martin Smartt and says that Smartt passed a polygraph exam. Martin Smartt died of cancer in Portland, Oregon in June of 2006. Bo Boubede (who allegedly had ties to organized crime) died in Chicago in 1988.
In 2008, the horror film ‘The Strangers’ starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, detailed the ambush of a couple in their rural vacation home by three masked assailants brought renewed interest to the case resulting from internet bloggers who drew comparisons between the events depicted in the movie to the Keddie murders. However, the film made no claims to the events, and was only vaguely marketed as having been “inspired by true events.” The same year, an independent film chronicling the murders, titled ‘Cabin 28’ was released. The incident was also covered in an episode of the web series Buzzfeed Unsolved in season 2.
On March 24th 2016, a hammer matching the description of the hammer that Martin Smartt claims to have gone missing was discovered in a local pond and taken into evidence by Plumas County Special Investigator Mike Gamberg. Plumas County Sheriff Hagwood (who was 16 at the time of the murders and knew the Sharp family well) stated: “..the location it was found…it would have been intentionally put there. It would not have been accidentally misplaced.”
Special Investigator Mike Gamberg said that at the time six potential suspects were being examined.
A note: Mike Gamberg knew John Sharp and Dana Wingate. He used to be their martial arts instructor.
Sheriff Hagwood’s mother was a teacher and had Tina Sharp in her class. The summer before the murders, Hagwood and John Sharp and Dana Wingate worked together on a painting crew. Even more weird is that before the Sharp’s moved into cabin 28, Hagwood had a friend who used to live there and “I stayed in the cabin probably a dozen times…”
In a 2016 article published by the Sacramento Bee detailing the discovery of the hammer, they claim that shortly after the Keddie murders, Martin Smartt had left Keddie and driven to Reno, Nevada and from there he sent a letter to Marilyn reflecting on their marriage struggles to which he concluded: “..I’ve paid the price of your love & now i’ve bought it with four peoples lives, you tell me we’re through?… Great! What else do you want?” However, Marilyn claims that she never received the letter.
In a 2016 interview, Special Investigator Mike Gamberg stated that the letter was “overlooked” in the initial investigation and never admitted into evidence. (Of course it wasn’t, what else is new?!) Mike Gamberg later criticized the quality of the initial investigation saying, “You could take someone just coming out of the academy and they’d have done a better job.”
A counselor who Martin Smartt regularly visited also alleged that he had admitted to the murders of Tina and Sue, but claimed “I didn’t have anything to do with (the boys).” He allegedly told the counselor that Tina was killed to prevent her from identifying him, as she had “witnessed the whole thing.”
In April 2018, Gamberg stated that DNA evidence recovered from a piece of tape at the crime scene matched that of a known living suspect.
But.. I’m sorry. The last update was in April 2018 and we’re now in July of 2020. That was over two years ago. Now I’ve watched enough true crime docs and heard enough podcasts to know that investigations take time, but…. Come the f*ck on. It’s been 39 years. It’s been long enough. Is it this unknown suspect still living now that it’s been two more years of unanswered questions? Did this unnamed suspect accompany Martin Smartt? And if Martin Smartt was involved, why would he murder Sue Sharp? Was it because Martin was angry at Sue’s interference in his marriage to Marilyn? Or was it someone who drove John Sharp and Dana Wingate home from Quincy? The questions are still a mile long after all these years and it’s hard to be hopeful for an outcome, but we gotta stay hopeful. The Sharp and Wingate families deserve answers and deserve justice.
Sue top left, John top right, Tina bottom left, Dana bottom right
Front of Cabin 28
Back of Cabin 28; Where Sue parked her car, but at the time the photo was taken, the police had already taken it as evidence.
The Keddie Resort is closed permanently today.
Inside Cabin 28
The chalk markings of John and Dana
Knives and hammer collected as evidence that were left at the scene
Harlan Embry’s sketches of the two suspects that Justin Smartt described.
Sheila Sharp in 2016. She is hard advocating for her mother, brother and sister’s murders to get solved.