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Feb. 18, 2021

Ep. 23: The Keddie Cabin Murders

April 12, 1981. Keddie, California.
Sue Sharp, her teenage son John, and his friend Dana Wingate are found brutally murdered in the Sharp family's cabin at Keddie Resort in the Sierra Nevada. 12-year-old Tina Sharp is missing. And, shockingly, the...


April 12, 1981. Keddie, California.

Sue Sharp, her teenage son John, and his friend Dana Wingate are found brutally murdered in the Sharp family's cabin at Keddie Resort in the Sierra Nevada. 12-year-old Tina Sharp is missing. And, shockingly, the youngest children - Rick Sharp, Greg Sharp, and Justin Smartt - are found alive, sleeping peacefully in the room next door. 

Who killed Sue, John, and Dana? Why was there so much violence on the scene? Where was Tina? And why were the young boys left alive?

Carrie takes us through all the known parts of the story, from when the Sharps moved to Keddie to the horrifying massacre in Cabin 28, and then brings us to the theories around who may have committed this atrocious crime. 

As of February 2021, the Keddie Cabin Murders case is still officially unsolved. 
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Transcript

It’s been a minute since we explored a nitty-gritty true crime story, so I thought now would be a good time to dive into one that isn’t as well-known as some other unsolved mysteries. So today I’ll be discussing the story of the Keddie Cabin Murders. 

This story unnerves me in particular first because of its unsolved nature, and second because of the circumstances - the 4 victims of this homicide were staying at a cabin at the Keddie Resort in California when they were killed. The Keddie Resort was located in rural Sierra Nevada and was once a very popular resort destination, which had fallen into disrepair by the time of the murders, 1981. As someone who has stayed in cabins before, it’s especially creepy to hear about this crime. 

The four victims we will be discussing today are, spoiler alert, Glenna Susan Sharp, aka Sue, her daughter Tina Sharp, her son John Sharp, and John’s friend Dana Wingate. 

Sue Sharp lived in Connecticut until the fall of 1980, when she left the state and an abusive marriage to the father of her five children, James Sharp. Her children were the aforementioned John, 15, Tina, 12, and other kids Sheila, 14, Rick, 10, and Greg, 5. Sue decided to relocate to northern California to be near her brother, Don. Eventually she made her way to the Keddie Resort in the community of Keddie, which had recently converted their cabins into low-income housing, and began renting Cabin 28. 

In April 1981 she was still living there with her five kids. Many other families with children lived in the various other cabins in the area as well, and there was a lot of space for the kids to run around and enjoy the outdoors. The kids were described as normal and happy-go-lucky, enjoying spending time with friends. Cabin 28 itself had 3 bedrooms - Johnny took the unfinished basement, Rick and Greg took a bedroom, Sue and Tina shared a room, and Sheila had a bedroom. Sue was definitely struggling to make ends meet, as she only received $250 a month from her ex-husband and needed to use food stamps and welfare to survive. Along with taking care of 5 school-aged kids she attended business classes at the local community college. She was clearly a hard worker, and made excellent grades, but she was also looked down upon by some around her due to her being on welfare and dating around. There was even gossip that she was dealing drugs or was a sex worker. I mean, shitty stuff for a mom just trying to get by with a bunch of kids. This was a lady that was doing her best and looking forward to owning her own small business and finally getting a house big enough and safe enough for all her kids to live in comfortably. For these reasons Sue mostly kept to herself, but she did develop a close relationship with her next-door neighbors, the Seabolts, and Marilyn and Martin Smartt. Marilyn’s son, Martin’s stepson, Justin, became fast friends with the youngest Sharp boys, Rick and Greg.

Saturday April 11th, 1981, was a pretty normal weekend day for the Sharp family. Around 1:30pm Sue and Sheila drove to Gansner Park in Quincy, California to pick up John and his friend Dana Wingate and come back to Keddie. Around 3:30 John and Dana hitchhiked back to Quincy, possibly to see some friends, and were seen in the downtown area. A local woman named Donna Williams later claimed that she picked them up in front of a tire store and gave them a ride to another friend’s home, and they were seen attending a party at Oakland Camp. Meanwhile, Justin Smartt came over to spend the night, which was common practice for kids in the area. In fact, Sheila left Cabin 28 around 8pm to spend the night next door at the Seabolts, with Tina, who had been watching TV at the Seabolt cabin, returning home to Cabin 27 around 9:30. 

What, exactly, happened after Tina returned home remains a mystery, in fact THE mystery. So we’ll skip this chunk of time and move forward to the morning of April 12th. 

Around 7am Sheila returned home to Cabin 28 from her sleepover and, horribly, discovered the crime scene. In an episode of People Magazine Investigates on Investigation Discovery, Sheila described what she saw: “I was not sure who the bodies were. Everybody was tied together with medical tape and electrical cord. I scanned the room a little bit, I did not see my mom, there was a hammer and a bent knife. I wasn’t sure if anybody was still in there...I remember dropping my stuff, running back next door, screaming.” All the bodies were bloody, and she thought she recognized her brother Johnny. Sheila stayed with the Seabolts as they called the police, and the older Seabolt son Jamie went back over to the cabin to check things out, which was definitely a brave move. He carefully walked around the cabin, trying to figure out if anyone was still there, and looked into one of the bedroom windows. Incredibly, Rick, Greg, and Justin were all sleeping in the room, and still alive. Jamie quickly directed them to leave the cabin through the window so as to avoid the carnage in the main room. Soon after the 3 boys were recovered the sheriff arrived at the scene, with xSue’s brother Don right behind him. It took Don a few times of going in and out of the cabin, due to the emotional difficulty, but he was able to identify Sue and John Sharp and John’s friend Dana. Investigators searched the house and began to create a rough timeline. John had sustained a lot of injuries and it seemed a fight had taken place inside the cabin. They believed Johnny was probably trying to protect his mother, and fought back the hardest. The victims were all stabbed and beaten with two seperate hammers, with one being the one at the scene that Sheila had initially seen. The other hammer was missing. They felt this murder was personal, as there were stab marks on the walls and a degree of brutality that seemed to point to an act of anger. The killer or killers had also taken their time with what they had done. I say killers because it became apparent early on that it would make sense for there to have been multiple murderers in this case due to the fact that 2 hardy teenage boys, along with Sue, had all been subdued.

So we have 3 bodies here, and 3 surviving children sleeping peacefully in another room, seemingly undisturbed. But where was Tina?

Tina, who was described as an “angel” by those who knew her, was missing from the cabin entirely. Could there be a 4th survivor? Once they realized she was missing, they exhaustively searched the area, combing over roads and woods down to the Butte County line. An all points bulletin was put out and posters were put up all around the area. The FBI was involved in the early weeks of the case, but eventually handed it back to the sheriff’s office. The Keddie community was in a state of total terror, and investigators began to wonder whether this could possibly be a random crime...or a targeted murder. Of course they started with Sue’s ex-husband, James, because that’s where you always start - with the spouse. And Jim was known to be abusive to Sue, and she was terrified of him. There was also the fact that, as Sheila stated on the ID documentary, Jim had also sexually abused her and Tina before Sue had fled with them as well. Clearly, Jim was not a good guy. Investigators tracked Jim down and began to surveil him, hoping he maybe still had Tina alive since she was considered his “favorite”. Days go by, though, and there’s no sign of her either with Jim or in the area. Jim was questioned, but delivered a solid alibi placing him far away from Keddie at the time of the murders. So, for now, the first suspect has been crossed off the list.

Next the police began looking further into Sue’s life, especially with the gossip about her around town being what it was. Who would want her dead? More people were checked off the list...ex boyfriends, acquaintances, etc. Area serial killer duo Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole were also cleared of suspicion in 1983. Carla McMullen, a family acquaintance, later told detectives that Dana Wingate had recently stolen an unknown quantity of LSD from local drug dealers, though she was unable to provide proof of this claim. Anyway, no drugs were found at the cabin nor in Sue’s system, and the current sheriff feels these salacious theories don’t have anything to do with the murder. So they dug deeper.

Tina’s elementary school teacher at the time, Joel Lipsey, jumped in to assist with the search for Tina and had initially been questioned solely because he was her current teacher, but police started to develop even more interest in him as a suspect. Apparently, he had a fixation on Tina...like, having a picture of her on his desk and having a picture of her at home kind of fixation. Several people believed that he had abducted Tina. And I’m gonna say, having a picture of one of your current students on your desk AND in your house is...not great. According to witnesses Lipsey had been at the Keddie Bar the night of the killings, and looking at the initial report on Lipsey he dropped his date off before midnight, and told investigators he then returned home and went to bed. But did he? I don’t want to paint people with a broad brush, but he WAS later charged with committing lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14, and added to the sex offender registry. He was taken off the list once he established an alibi, but I don’t know...Tina left the Seabolts around 9:30 and I assume the murders took place late at night to early morning, before Sheila arrived home at 7am. Getting to Cabin 28 around midnight - after dropping off a date - seems a perfectly reasonable time to me to begin this crime, but then again, I’m unsure if Lipsey was living with anyone that could attest to him getting and staying home that evening.

Sheila, for her part, thinks the crime was directed toward her mom, and that Johnny and Dana arrived home from their party and interrupted whatever was happening. So let’s go back to what is known about the roughly 12 hours between when Sheila left the house and when she got back in the morning.

What time Johnny and Dad got back home from their party in Quincy was unclear, but it was after 10pm, as Ricky and Justin went to join the youngest, Greg, in the bedroom to sleep. Sue remained on the couch watching TV, likely waiting for the older boys to get home. Witnesses reported seeing John and Dana hitchhiking back to Keddie between 9 and 10 pm, and there were no signs of forced entry. 

Sue’s body was found under a yellow blanket, nude from the waist down, and gagged with a bandana and her own underwear. She had defensive wounds on her arms as well as a stab wound to the chest, slashed throat, and a head injury from an air rifle, deduced to be a Daisy 880 which was, apparently, an air rifle for kids. The rifle was also not found in the cabin. Though her underwear had been removed, there was no evidence for sexual assault. 

John’s throat had been cut and Dana had been strangled, with their ankles being bound together using an electrical cord and medical tape, the latter of which Sheila says they didn’t use and must have been brought by the murderer to the scene. The victims had all been beaten on the head with a hammer and blood spatter suggested the bodies had been moved to stage the scene, with the time of attack being placed between midnight and 2am. Again, fine enough timing for Joel Lipsey to swing by. Tina’s jacket and shoes were missing from the cabin, alongside a shoebox she had used for a school project. This is weird and interesting because it seems she had been allowed to take her project with her.

There were other odd things that were noticed by nearby residents the night of April 11th, which they recalled later for police. A dog was heard barking near Cabin 28 during the night, and those with cats noticed they paced in and out of the house all night when they usually slept. The back porch light of Cabin 28 was also on at 4am. A couple nearby had also heard muffled screams around 1:30am, but were unable to determine the source. Some people saw a brown Datsun parked at the cabin that evening, with others noting a green van. A single fingerprint on the handrail leading to the back door was all that was found in terms of evidence, suggesting the killer or killers mostly wore gloves. Despite the chaos of the murder scene, this lack of evidence seemed to point to the fact that this murder had been premeditated and prepared for. 

Because of the violence many thought these might be ritual killings, but the police rejected these theories, still intent on the belief that these murders were committed by people who knew the victims personally. And another suspect emerged that DID know them personally - the stepfather of survivor Justin Smartt, Martin. 

So, what was the deal with Martin? Well, apparently, he was a real piece of shit, known to be obsessed with the bible but also, as is typical, hypocritical when it came to his own morals. After an argument with his father Martin apparently purchased bomb-making equipment to blow up his house, frequently practiced his hatchet skills, and according to his wife at the time Marilyn was both a wife-beater and had tried to murder her multiple times. He even tried to run over both Marilyn and Justin with a car while in a jealous rage.

There was drug-related speculation about Sue, as we know, but Martin had confirmed ties to drug running. Having recently lost his job as a cook, Martin made money by selling and manufacturing hash and look charge of a large scale drug ring along with his friend, John Bo Boubede. Martin met Bo at a VA hospital in Reno, Nevada, when he was attending claiming he was suffering from PTSD after serving in Vietnam. He may have indeed had PTSD, but investigators also noted that he served as a cook during the war and was more likely attempting to obtain veteran’s benefits vs. actually dealing with trauma. But who knows, maybe it was both. Martin and Bo became inseparable after meeting at the hospital and Bo MOVED INTO CABIN 26 WITH MARTIN AND HIS WIFE. Bo already had convictions of bank robbery, breaking and entering, and home invasion, and was linked to the Chicago mafia. 

So what tie did Sue have to Martin aside from being a friendly neighbor? Some said that Sue was counselling Marilyn about dealing with Martin’s abusive tendencies, having gone through a violent situation herself, and was trying to convince her to flee the marriage. Others said that Martin was actually having an AFFAIR with Sue. Sheila disagrees, though, saying her mother would never have been involved with someone like Smartt. After the murders, Smartt told investigators that a claw hammer was missing from his cabin. Since the police hadn’t released the fact that a hammer was missing from the crime scene, this put Martin at the top of the suspect list.

There’s also the fact that Justin Smartt has given conflicting testimony as to what happened on the night of the murder. Because if you think it’s hard to believe that 3 kids wouldn’t wake up to the sound of 3 people being murdered in the room next to them, you’re right! It is pretty crazy, especially for ALL 3 of them. At first Justin stated he’d dreamed of the events before later saying he had witnessed them, and claimed at different points that one and two men were present. Under hypnosis, Justin said that he heard sounds from the living room while watching TV in the bedroom with Rick and Greg. Upon investigating he allegedly saw 2 men wearing sunglasses with Sue, and was able to describe them for a portrait artist - one portrait of which looked strikingly like Martin Smartt. While the 2 men were confronting Sue Johnny and Dana arrived home and a fight ensued. Tina also walked in on the fight and was taken out the back door by one of the men. However, the hypnosis sessions were conducted by Sheriff Doug Thomas after just two training sessions, and it seems clear by transcripts that Justin was led. Some thing, due to his fear of his abusive stepfather, Justin didn’t come forward with everything he saw or knew about that night.

Martin Smartt was still being looked at when, sadly, the body of Tina Sharp was found in April 1984. Around 100 miles away from the Keddie area a bottle collector combing around Camp Eighteen near Feather Falls in Butte County found the cranium portion of a human skull and part of a mandible. They were initially thought to be those of a Native American who had lived in the area. Following the discovery of the skull but before forensic identification, an anonymous tip came in to police that the remains belonged to Tina. The call was recorded but never entered into evidence, and was found at the bottom of a cardboard box at some point after 2013, 20 years later. The remains were indeed eventually confirmed to be Tina’s. Near the remains a blue nylon jacket, a blanket, Levi’s jeans with a missing back pocket, and an empty surgical tape dispenser were also found. Remember the medical tape found on the bodies? 

The mystery of Tina’s disappearance had been solved - but it just led to more questions. Tina had been dead for at least a year when her body had been found, allowing for the possibility that she had survived up to 2 years after the initial murders. Why was she found 100 miles from Cabin 28, and who did this? 

In 2008 Marilyn Smartt stated in a documentary about the Keddie murders that her now ex-husband Martin and Bo Boubede were responsible for the murders, saying she had even found a blood-stained jacket belonging to Tina in her basement at the time and handed it to police. Now, there’s no official records of this discovery, but this is what she says. Her reasoning is that apparently Martin hated John Sharp, the oldest son. Why, I’m not sure, I wasn’t able to find any reason aside that Boubede didn’t think highly of Johnny Sharp, calling him a “Punk.” Sheila also said that Martin despised her brother, though didn’t know why aside from possibly because Johnny could sometimes be a smart-mouth. Marilyn testified that she left the local bar to go home around 11pm with her husband and Bo staying behind to keep drinking. Around 2am she woke up to find Martin and Bo burning an unknown item in the stove. Apparently, Martin also asked Marilyn to invite Sue Sharp when they were at the bar that night, as a possible date for Boubede. Bo may have asked Sue himself. Either way, Sue rejected the invitation. After the murders Martin left Marilyn and Keddie behind, moving to Reno Nevada. From here he sent Marilyn a letter reading, in part, “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?” Again, this letter was never officially entered into evidence despite police being aware of it, and was found along with the recording of the tip about Tina’s remains. Bo bizarrely told investigators that he had previously been a police officer (he hadn’t) and that he’d been shot in the line of duty and was rendered impotent (he wasn’t) so he would’ve had no interest in Sue Sharp anyway. 

Sheriff Doug Thomas for his part praised Martin Smartt’s cooperation and declared he wasn’t a suspect, emphasizing the fact that he had passed a polygraph test...though, in future conversations with a PTSD counsellor, Smartt said he “beat it”, not passed it. To quote, “Those things are easy to beat! I was lying, and they let me go!” According to the counsellor, Smartt admitted that he had “killed Sue and Tina but had nothing to do with the boys. Tina had to be killed because she had seen everything”. The counsellor allegedly told the Sheriff’s Office what Smartt had told her, but there is no evidence of that statement ever being taken.

Martin and Bo were friendly with the local police officers, and someone in the sheriff’s department allegedly tipped them off that they were suspects, which precipitated both of them peacing out of California. Perhaps the police also covered up the pair’s involvement or just let them go once they left Cali. Not that I’m saying that’s the case, but a lot of people believe that. There is even speculation that Boubede was a protected informant by the Department of Justice because of his relation to the Chicago mob, and that possibly the DOJ hampered the Keddie investigation because of this. There is even some speculation that Marilyn Smartt was involved in the massacre as well, with the website keddie28.com calling her a key conspirator and fellow murderer. Boubede died in Chicago in 1988, and Smartt died in Oregon in 2000. 

Cabin 28 was demolished in 2004, though reports of paranormal activity persist in the area, much like other famous murder sites. In 2016, a hammer was found in a pond near Cabin 28. Who located this hammer varies from source to source - some say it was an anonymous tip, some say it was a family member of John Boubede, another source says the information came from a metal detectorist. Any way, it matched the description of the hammer Martin Smartt had claimed to have lost. In April of 2016, a knife was also recovered near the scene. As of these discoveries, the current sheriff, Greg Hagwood was actively investigating 6 different suspects. In 2018 Plumas County Special Investigator Mike Gamberg, who at the time of the killings was told to stay away from the case or get fired, stated that DNA evidence recovered from a piece of tape at the crime scene matched that of a known living suspect, though did not disclose who that suspect was. 

Gamberg and Sheriff Hagwood have no problem with declaring the investigation into the Keddie cabin murders as corrupt, saying clear admissions of guilt had been made by Martin Smartt and ignored. Gamberg states that the entire massacre was “covered up” and it appears that instead of arresting the suspects, the police told them to leave town. Sheriff Thomas had even, according to Smartt’s counselling sessions, lived with Martin Smartt at Cabin 28 before the Sharps moved to Keddie during a time of marital strife between Martin and Marilyn. Thomas insisted to People Magazine that, “Martin Smartt was not a friend of mine. At one point, he and his wife were having marital problems, and they came to my office when I was sheriff and wanted me to counsel them. First of all, I had just gone through a divorce at that time. I told them, ‘Why would you want me to counsel you?” 

While the Sheriff Hagwood does not state it on the record, the theory that Tina Sharp was kidnapped by a paedophile, one linked to powerful local men, has been made. It was a theory that was backed by some in the FBI, with criminal profiler John Douglas of Mindhunter fame shockingly saying that Tina may have been involved with what transpired in the cabin, with the killings being an afterthought and not premeditated. Douglas feels the crime was committed by a single individual who groomed her into a relationship, and Tina left willingly. He notes how Sue was covered with the blanket to be made decent, which seems to contradict the level of violence at the scene. He thinks that perhaps Tina was the one to cover her mother up. If this is indeed the case, it makes you wonder even more how long Tina lived after the murders, and what happened to her during this time that led her to her eventual fate.

There is one person who directly confessed to the Keddie murders, Robert Silveria Jr, the Boxcar Killer. Silveria is believed to have killed up to 14 people while living on freight trains throughout the US, and was arrested in 1996. At the time of the murders he had lived in nearby Quincy, and upon being pressed by police confessed to the crime. Despite this, it was soon revealed that he had already been in police custody at the time for stealing the car, giving him a pretty airtight alibi and making it impossible for him to be at Cabin 28 on the night of the murders. 

Though the case was likely subjected to heavy tampering and has remained officially unsolved for just about 40 years, Sheriff Hagwood and Mike Gamberg want to close the case and bring comfort and closure to the Keddie Community. Hagwood recently stated, “It’s my belief that there were more than two people who were involved in the totality of the crime–the disposal of the evidence and the abduction of the little girl. We’re convinced that there are a handful of people that fit those roles who are still alive. I have a measure of confidence that we’ve identified some of them and… we’re gonna be coming. It could be next month, it could be next year, but really the focus in our priority is getting the truth — getting the answers.”

Since the murders we’ve gotten the 2008 home invasion horror film The Strangers, which some say is based on the case though the film and filmmakers themselves don’t make claim to this - though it was marketed as having been inspired by true events. The same year an indie film called Cabin 28 was released, which bore the tagline “Based on the true life murders which inspired The Strangers” which I just think is so funny. There have also been various documentaries and true crime series episodes on the case, 

And that’s the end of our investigation into the Keddie Cabin Murders. What do you think Sean - could it have been a pedophile teacher? 2 lowlife neighbor creeps? A conspiracy or cover-up, like Sheila Sharp herself believes? Something else? 


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NEWS

Today, we’re Cryin’ Saucers!

The Sun U.S. reports that, thanks to a Freedom of Information act request, the Pentagon has confirmed that it has been holding and testing wreckage from UFO crashes, with the findings possibly enough to “change our lives forever” according to researcher Anthony Bragalia, who had submitted the request.

Bragalia wrote to the Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA, requesting details on all of their UFO material. In response, the DIA shared 154 pages of test results, including reports on a mysterious "memory" metal called Nitinol, which remembers its original shape when folded. The documents reveal that some of the retrieved debris possesses "extraordinary capabilities" including the potential to make things invisible or even slow down the speed of light. Bragalia stated, "They have been able to learn some things about the materials of construction which hold tremendous promise as futuristic materials which will change our lives forever." The tests on the materials were carried out by Bigelow Aerospace, one of the Department of Defense’s independent contractors that are based in Las Vegas, Nevada. All Bigelow Aerospace employees were laid off in March due to the pandemic, and Bragalia thinks the UFO material was probably returned to the Pentagon after this. 

The Freedom of Information request was first made in 2017 and took 3 years to fulfill, in which time the Pentagon revealed they had been studying UFOs under the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program or AATIP. He told The Sun, "Material evidence such as UFO debris has been a focus of my research. My Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was very specific, seeking the test results of UFO/UAP debris, not material already known to science." He believes some of the material that’s being tested could be the remnants of the 1947 Roswell Incident, since the memory-metal description of Nitinol corresponds to some witness testimony from Roswell. 

Though the DIA seems forthcoming in this response, they did hold back certain details about the materials, including any information about if they could be of alien origin. Portions of the 5 documents released to Bragalia were redacted, and according to him omitted information on the chemical and elemental composition of the material as well as its origin. 

We’ll continue keeping you posted on anything alien!

 

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ENDING

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