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Cold Case Friday: The Murders in Cabin #28

As we enter into August, I’m reminded of all the campy horror movies—some psychopath murders a bunch of over-sexed teenagers in the woods or terrorizes camp counselors. Colorful stories intended to scare our peers around a campfire. But what if those urban legends, those ridiculous horror movies, were reality? That was the case with the April 11th, 1981 murders of Glenna “Sue” Sharp (age 36), John Sharp (age 15), Dana Wingate (age 17), and Tina Sharp (age 12) in what became known as the Keddie Cabin Murders.

The story starts out like this: Sue Sharp and her five children had been renting Cabin #28 in the small town of Keddie, California, since November 1980. She allegedly fled her previous home and husband because of his abuse towards her and the children. On the evening of April 11th, 1981, Sue was home with her two youngest boys, their friend Justin who was spending the night, as well as Sue's youngest daughter Tina. Sue’s oldest son, John, had spent the day with his friend Dana and the two had hitchhiked earlier from the nearby town of Quincy back to the Sharp’s cabin in Keddie. At some point that night, the two older boys arrived at the Sharp’s cabin. It’s possible they interrupted the crime or they were already home when it occurred.

Around 8:00 am the next morning, Sue’s oldest daughter Shelia returned from a sleepover from the neighboring Cabin #27. When she opened the door to her cabin, she immediately saw a gruesome scene: in the living room were the bodies of Sue, John, and Dana, all tied up with medical tape and electrical appliance wire. They’d been stabbed and bludgeoned. Dana had been manually strangled and bludgeoned. Sheila ran back to her neighbor’s house, and the police were contacted. She then went around to the back window of the bedroom and realized that her two youngest brothers and their friend Justin were still asleep. She woke them up and they exited through the window, avoiding the carnage in the living room. A short time later, it became apparent that the youngest Sharp girl, Tina, was missing. The house had not been robbed.

Years went by and the case grew cold. Tina had not been found. It wasn’t until 1984 that a piece of Tina Sharp’s cranium was recovered around Camp Eighteen in Plumas National Forest about 80 miles from Keddie.

There have been many opinions and rumors about the case since—alleged police corruption, conspiracies, and a link between the then Sheriff of Plumas County and a murder suspect. And yet, the case remained cold.

But Sheriff Greg Hagwood never forgot what happened in Cabin #28. He knew all the victims—as a teenager he’d worked on a painting crew with John Sharp and Dana Wingate, and his mother taught Tina Sharp. Since 2010, he’s been the sheriff of Plumas County, and in June of 2013 he began reinvestigating the quadruple homicide. He brought back retired investigator Mike Gamberg, who had also known the Sharps—he’d taught John Sharp and Dana Wingate martial arts. Hagwood hopes that by giving the case a fresh look with new investigators, he can finally provide answers to the Sharp family.

Since the case has been reopened, a theory has emerged that Sue Sharp had been friends with Marilyn Smartt, who lived with her husband Marty in the neighboring Cabin #26. According to People, Gamberg theorizes: “[Sue] was involved with one of the suspect’s wives, in that she was kind of counseling [the wife] about him and his abuse. I think this guy just went ballistic.” Gamberg’s theory seemed even more plausible when he was informed of a letter found in the case files—a letter written by Marty to his then wife Marilyn after the murders had happened: “I’ve paid the price of your love & now that I’ve bought it with four peoples lives, you tell me we are through,” the letter says. It continues with, “Great! What else do you want?” Marilyn Smartt did not recall ever receiving this letter, but she did recognize his handwriting.

During the recent investigation, Gamberg learned about a man with a metal detector who had found a blue-handled claw hammer in a pond near Keddie. That hammer was recovered and matched the description of the hammer Marty said was missing when he was interviewed about the murders back in the 80's.

A 911 recording had also been discovered by Gamberg in a sealed envelope within the case files. The recording was of an anonymous caller in 1984 who claimed the remains found in Camp Eighteen were that of Tina Sharp—a recording made before the information had ever been confirmed by police. The tape has since been analyzed for voice recognition.

At the time of the murders, Marty had invited a new friend “Bo” Boubede, an ex-con he met at the VA, to live with him and his wife in Cabin #26. Based on the evidence, investigators believe there had to be more than one killer. Both Marty Smartt and Boubede have since died.

But Sheriff Hagwood doesn’t believe that the story is over, just because his main suspects have since passed away. Hagwood stated to People: “There are individuals … that they either participated after-the-fact or they have firsthand information…I believe we’ve identified some of them, and we know who they are, and we know where they are… [The ongoing investigation] is going to lead us to them, and we’re coming.”

Hagwood also stated that there are at least six “persons of interest” identified, all of them still alive. “I believe they at minimum have firsthand information, and at a maximum participated in or assisted in destroying evidence and disposing of Tina’s remains.”

Who knows, in small towns where everyone knows everyone, people tend to be good at keeping secrets. Yet one can only hold out hope that with enough time having passed, this horrific mystery could be solved by someone who wants a clear conscience.

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