Cabin in the Woods: Who Killed The Sharp Family?

November 28, 2016
By: Leigh Egan

Photo by: Sue Sharp and her children [Plumas County Sheriff's Office]

Sue Sharp and her children [Plumas County Sheriff's Office]

It’s been 35 years since Sheila Sharp, only 14 at the time, walked into her family’s rented cabin and found her mother, brother, and her brother’s friend, senselessly beaten and murdered. The incident still haunts her today, and even worse, the case remains unsolved.

What Happened in the Keddie Cabin?
On April 11, 1981, Glenna “Sue” Sharp, a 36-year-old mother of five children, settled down for the night at Cabin 28, in Keddie, a small community surrounded by mountains in Northern California. Three of Sue’s children were with her, — Tina, 12; Ricky, 10; and Greg, 5. A neighborhood friend, Justin, 12, was also there, spending the night with Ricky.
Sue’s oldest son, Johnny, 15, was seven miles in Quincy, a nearby mountain resort. Fourteen-year-old Sheila was spending the night with a friend in a nearby cabin.

Nothing seemed amiss in Cabin 28 that night. Keddie was the type of place where people rarely locked their doors and everyone knew each other. There was no indication that anything remotely violent would happen in the tight-knit community, despite the area being known for petty theft and drug use.

Photo by: A crime-scene photo [Plumas County Sheriff's Office]

A crime-scene photo [Plumas County Sheriff's Office]

The following morning, at around 8 A.M., Sheila arrived back to the cabin, hoping to enjoy time with her family after being gone for the night. Instead, she walked into the most horrific crime scene to ever happen in Plumas County. Massive amounts of blood covered the living room floor, knife marks made scratches across the wall, and lifeless bodies lay bound up, in plain sight.

Three people were murdered, including Sue, Johnny, and Johnny’s friend, Dana Wingate, 17. Apparently, Johnny and Dana had returned to the cabin at some point after hanging out in Quincy. It was later speculated that Dana and Johnny either led the suspects to the cabin, or walked in on a crime in progress, and suffered terribly for showing up at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

The three younger boys, Ricky, Greg, and Justin, were still sleeping. After Sheila ran frantically to a neighbor’s house, she returned to the cabin, woke the boys up, and helped them escape through a window. Surprisingly, not even one boy heard as much as a peep while the brutal murders took place. Justin would later recall having had nightmares that eerily resembled the killings, but nothing ever came of it.

When detectives arrived and began taking inventory of the crime scene, they were taken aback by the heinous killings, so much so that they didn’t notice Tina was nowhere to be found. Instead, they concentrated on the evidence staring back at them in the small cabin.

This Was Personal
The nature of the attacks were so severe that detectives immediately suspected that the murders weren’t random, nor a botched robbery. According to the autopsy reports, all three victims had their hands and feet tied up with electrical cords. Sue and Johnny were beaten mercilessly with a hammer and stabbed numerous times with a steak knife. Dana had been strangled to death before being stabbed and bludgeoned in the head.

Detectives started interviewing anyone and everyone who knew the victims, starting with Sue’s ex-husband, Jim. Sue had recently left Jim (the father of the five children) after patterns of physical abuse. But with an airtight alibi thousands of miles away, Jim was quickly dismissed.

Sue was a quiet woman who didn’t get into partying. She didn’t have any enemies to speak of, and no one had any information that would lead detectives to believe that Sue was involved in anything that would’ve caused such a tragic ending for her. She hadn’t been raped, and nothing was taken from the cabin.

Photo by: Tina Sharp [Plumas County Sheriff's Office]

Tina Sharp [Plumas County Sheriff's Office]

Investigators then turned their attention to Tina, who, at that point, still hadn’t been found. Tina, was her “teacher’s pet.” Joel Walker Lipsey was a special-education teacher at Tina’s school, and she attended his class part-time. Authorities found it extremely creepy that he kept a picture of Tina on his desk, and even had her photo displayed in his home. To make matters worse, Joel was a convicted child molestor. California court documents indicate he had been convicted of lewd or lavicious acts with a child under 14.

But again, detectives hit a roadblock in the case when the teacher produced a solid alibi. They were back at square one, but there was also another, more pressing issue: the crime scene had been botched.

A Compromised Investigation
One of the most crucial pieces of the puzzle was Tina’s disappearance. Allegedly, the police officers who arrived to the scene didn’t even know who Tina was or that she was missing from the home. It’s been said that the officers refused to listen to Justin when he told them Tina was missing. The discrepancy resulted in the first crucial hours of Tina’s disappearance being compromised; a time in which authorities may have been able to locate her.

In 1984, Tina’s remains were found in Feather Falls, around 29 miles from Keddie. An anonymous caller told police a skull was found. The caller said that the skull was part of Tina’s remains, well before she was positively identified. Dental records later indicated that it was indeed Tina.

Authorities had also apparently failed to secure the crime scene properly upon arrival, and a lot of the evidence obtained was later ruined when rain seeped into a leak at the sheriff’s office and contaminated the items.

Regardless, there’s one sheriff who can’t get the murders out of his head, and vows to keep the case going until it’s solved. Plumas sheriff’s investigator, Mike Gamberg, knew the Sharp family well. His children had played with Sue’s children. He was Johnny’s martial-arts instructor, and Dana had been over at his house just a day before the murders happened.

Gamberg didn’t get to work the case in 1981. In fact, he was told that if he went near the case, he’d be fired. In 2010, however, Gamberg reopened the case, and by 2013, he revived numerous boxes of evidence, which, according to him, was no small task.

“When I came back, the case was just a mess,” said Gamberg. “It was a huge volume of material and very fragmented.”
Shortly after taking over the case, Gamberg learned that an anonymous person had called the sheriff’s office and claimed that the murder weapon, a claw hammer, was found in a nearby pond. The recovered hammer matched the murder weapon exactly. It’s currently being tested for DNA evidence. “You can see that it’s a good quality hammer,” Gamberg said. “Nobody throws away that kind of hammer.”

Person of Interest
Prior to Gamberg taking over the case, detectives eyed Marty Smart as a person of interest. Marty lived in Cabin 26 with his wife Marilyn, and her two sons, one of which was Justin. According to Marilyn, her huband, a disabled veteran, had a mean streak and would often abuse her, both mentally and physically. The day after the murders happened, Marilyn left Marty, but she was adament that they had nothing to do with the killings.

Marty reportedly took and passed a lie detector test in 1981. Yet, 10 years later, a VA counselor came forward and told authorities that Marty had admitted to the murders during a counseling session. The counselor withheld the information for so long that Marty had passed away in the meantime. The counselor also indicated that Marty bragged that the polygraph test was easy to pass, and that he killed Sue because she was trying to convince Marilyn to leave him. He never admitted to killing Johnny and Dana, at least to the counselor.

Still Unsolved
Although the case remains unsolved, Gamberg is hopeful that the hammer will give the answers desperately needed to solve the case. “You see the rust on that hammer? It’s my hope that when that gets chipped away it has a suspect’s name under it,” Gamberg said. “That would be too good to be true.” The California Department of Justice is currently analyzing the hammer.

Meanwhile, Gamberg is looking into the anonymous phones calls to the sheriff’s office, which were never properly analyzed. In fact, according to Gamberg, the calls weren’t even investigated. Gamberg thinks that whoever made those calls holds another key to help solve the crimes. Today’s voice-recognition technology can play a vital part in determining who the caller was.

Anyone with any information is urged to call the Plumas County Sheriff’s office at (530) 283-6360. A “secret witness” is offering $5,000 for information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of anyone responsible for the murders. Text tips are also welcomed at 847411 (TIP411). The keyword is SW.

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