It happened over thirty years ago, in one of the most peaceful and idyllic corners of America. At some point during the night of April 11th, 1981, a bit of Hell stained this paradise. Despite the relentless passage of time, the shadow of that blood-red stain still lingers…
Keddie, California. It’s a small pocket of humanity nestled in the glorious Sierra Nevada foothills. In 1981, the population of this former resort town was roughly 200. As of 2010, that number had plunged to a mere 66.
Once, Keddie was best known for the spectacular natural beauty surrounding it.
Today, Keddie is best known as the site of a horrific quadruple murder that destroyed an entire family. The killings remain one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our time.
Glenna “Sue” Sharp was a 36-year-old mother of five. She left an abusive marriage and set out to give her kids a safe, stable home. Beginning in November of 1980, Sue and her children took up residence in Keddie, renting cabin 28 for the next several months.
Sue Sharp, a single mom who left behind a violent marriage. Image source: keddiemurdersfilm.com
The Sharp children. Image source: keddiemurdersfilm.com
On that infamous April night, Sue’s 14-year-old daughter Shelia slept over with the next-door-neighbors in cabin 27.
The next morning at approximately 8 am, Shelia went back to cabin 28, where she made a nightmarish discovery. Both her mother and her 15-year-old brother John, as well as John’s 17-year-old friend Dana Wingate, were dead.
They had been tied up with medical tape and electrical appliance wires. All three of them had been severely bludgeoned with a claw hammer. Both Sue and John had been stabbed repeatedly. It was later determined that Dana had been manually strangled.
One of the murder weapons, a steak knife, had been used with such animalistic fury that its blade was bent 25 degrees.
The entire blood-soaked rampage had apparently lasted for ten hours. Shockingly, although other cabins were nearby, none of the other residents heard a sound.
A photo of the crime scene. Image source: documentingreality.com
A claw hammer turned murder weapon. Image source: documentingreality.com
When police arrived, they eventually realized that Shelia’s 12-year-old sister Tina was missing. Bizarrely, Shelia’s two other brothers and a friend of theirs – all three of whom had been sleeping in the very next room during the murders – had been left completely unharmed.
Three years passed before Tina’s tragic fate was discovered. Miles away from the cabin, a skull fragment was unearthed. Months later, a mysterious caller confirmed the skull belonged to Tina. Acting on that tip, police excavated the area, recovering even more of her bones. Her entire body, though, has never been located. Tina, it seems, was killed shortly after her abduction. Whether or not she was sexually assaulted remains unclear.
The subsequent investigation identified a mind-boggling list of potential suspects.
On the surface, Keddie may have been a serene, family friendly vacation spot. In truth, the resort town was inhabited by a seedy collection of drug runners, crooked cops, unstable transients, child molesters, and even a serial killer.
Several neighbors had been described as acting “creepy” around the children. Tina’s own teacher was found to be obsessed with the young girl. Even the resort’s caretaker emerged as a chronic peeping Tom. All of them were possible culprits.
The events leading up to the murders are just as baffling as the seemingly endless list of suspects.
John and Dana, who may or may not have gone to a party earlier that night, were last seen hitchhiking back to the cabin from nearby Quincy. Had they inadvertently invited a sadistic killer inside? Had they been followed for some unknown reason? Or had they simply walked in on the murder of Sue, thus leading to their own deaths?
These questions – officially, at least – remain unanswered. Despite the number of suspects and the amount of physical evidence, the case quickly grew cold, with many pointing to police incompetence as a major stumbling block.
A recent documentary, Cabin 28: The Keddie Murders, investigated the case with the goal of finally pinpointing the murderer.
The film presents a strong argument that it was neighbor Martin “Marty” Smartt, a deeply troubled Vietnam veteran, who carried out the barbaric homicides along with his equally disturbed accomplice, John “Bo” Boubede. Smartt had been the prime suspect during the original investigation. Sue and Marty’s wife were apparently friends. Marty believed that Sue had convinced his wife to leave him.
Incredibly, Marty’s 12-year-old stepson – Justin – was the friend who had been sleeping in that very next room with the two younger Sharp brothers. Does this explain why the three boys were not hurt?
Does it also explain why Justin was not asleep during the murders, as he later helped police create composites of two men who were in the cabin, composites that were eventually deemed unreliable? Had Justin actually witnessed his own stepfather brutally torture and murder Sue, John, and Dana?
A composite drawing of the two suspects based on the memories of 12-year-old Justin, the only eyewitness to the crimes. Unfortunately, he is no longer considered reliable. Image source: keddiemurdersfilm.com
Over the years, Justin’s recollections of that night changed multiple times. As if the story was not surreal enough, Justin had even undergone hypnosis – once by the County Sheriff himself, then much later by a professional. Both attempts have produced significant discrepancies.
Despite the wealth of evidence pointing to Smartt as the killer, no charges were ever laid against him. Both Smartt and Boudebe are now dead. The case itself has fallen into a permanent limbo. Justice, it seems, may never be served.
Cabin 28 soon became known among locals as the “Murder House.” The economic fallout was swift. A once popular resort town, Keddie could not escape the grim shadow cast by the slayings. Within a year, it was essentially abandoned by the outside world. In 1984, Keddie was put up for sale at a price of 1.8 million.
There were no buyers.
Soon, the cabins started to rot and decay. Most of the buildings were condemned. For a decade, this ghost town became the home of squatters.
Perhaps inevitably, cabin 28 took on an almost mythical status, attracting legions of morbid curiosity seekers and destructive vandals. It wasn’t long before rumors of ghostly activity began to spread. Reports include disembodied moans, slamming doors, chairs rocking by themselves, and black, murky figures.
Gary Mollath was the longtime owner of Keddie. His stepdaughter, Ashley, claims to have once seen the word “NO” carved mysteriously across the front door and a pitchfork propped beside it. When she went back a half-hour later, both the word and the pitchfork were gone.
New owners have since embarked on a massive restoration campaign, managing to salvage Keddie from the brink of ruin. Today, the cabins look much as they did thirty years ago – with one notable exception. Cabin 28 no longer exists. It was razed to the ground in 2004, an attempt to wipe away the toxic history of the murders and start anew.
The empty spot where the infamous cabin 28 once stood. Image source: wikipedia.com
Whether or not cabin 28 was haunted following the heinous deaths remains unknown. But we can be sure that the symbolic ghosts have never quite left. They continue to speak out from the grave, asking one simple question – what really happened the night of April 11th, 1981?