Cold Case: The most brutal murders in Plumas County history occurred on April 11, 1981 in Keddie, California, a down on its heels resort town that time had passed by. No one was ever charged with the crime.
by Jeni Johnson
Keddie is a small town in the mountains of Northern California, about 87 miles from Reno, Nevada. It was once a thriving resort community that drew people for its natural beauty and the convenience of the railway that transported people between Salt Lake City and Oakland, California. Made up of log cabins, the town was an ideal place to raise a family.
In 1981, Keddie was a tight-knit community where everyone looked after each other’s children and residents never bothered to lock their doors at night. By this time, the town had drastically gone downhill since its formation in 1910 when a hotel and lodge were built for those traveling through Keddie.
By the 1980s, the owner of the resort, Gary Mollath, had no option but to rent his cabins to mostly low-income families. It was also rumored that there was some drug use in the area that consisted mostly of marijuana and hashish. Nevertheless, residents still considered it a decent place to raise a family with minimal earnings. Unfortunately, the murders of four people shocked the residents of Keddie and changed all of that in a matter of hours.
On April 11, 1981 Glenna “Sue” Sharp, a 36-year-old mother of five, was at her home in Cabin 28. She had agreed to let a neighborhood child and friend of her children, Justin, spend the night with her sons Ricky, 10 and Greg, 5. Her 12-year-old daughter, Tina, was also home at the time. Sue’s oldest daughter, 14-year-old Sheila, was just a few feet away staying the night at a neighbor’s house. Sue’s oldest son, 15-year-old Johnny and his friend Dana Wingate, 17, who was known as somewhat of a trouble maker, were in the nearby town of Quincy hanging out with friends for most of the evening. It all seemed to be an ordinary and relaxing night for the Sharp family. But by the next morning news of the murders would rip through Plumas County.
No one knows exactly why or how the murders took place. It is highly believed that Johnny and Dana hitchhiked home and either led the killers to the house or walked in on the killers attacking Sue. What is known is on that night Sue Sharp, Johnny Sharp and Dana Wingate were brutally murdered, Tina Sharp was kidnapped and murdered, and their killers have gone unpunished for over three decades.
Most Vicious Crime in Plumas County History
The crime was the most vicious attack in Plumas County history. The police found stab marks in the walls of the cabin and a large amount of blood on the living room floor. The autopsy reports showed all three victims were tied at the hands and feet, with Sue’s bindings being especially tight. Sue and Johnny were bludgeoned with a hammer and stabbed repeatedly. Dana was strangled to death and also stabbed.
Because the attacks were overkill and seemed personal in nature, many believed that the Sharp family knew their killers. The police concluded that Tina was taken from the house that night. While processing the scene they found a small amount of blood on the sheet of her bed. They also found a bloody fingerprint on a wooden post outside in the backyard. In 1984, three years after she was abducted, Tina's skull was found in Feather Falls at Camp 18, about 29 miles from Keddie, officially making this a quadruple murder. Examination of the skull showed Tina was likely killed the night or soon after she was kidnapped. The manner in which she died is unknown.
When Sheila Sharp came home the next morning she opened the front door and found the gruesome sight of her mother’s body lying under a yellow blanket. She also saw the lifeless bodies of Johnny and Dana lying close to Sue. The boys were tied together at their feet with tape and electrical cord. Sheila noticed what she thought to be a pocket knife lying near the bodies. It was later determined to be a steak knife that was used to kill the victims. The attacks were so savage that the force from the stabbings bent the blade backward approximately 25 degrees.
Sheila ran from the house and yelled at the neighbors to call the police. Incredibly, Justin, Ricky and Greg were unharmed during the vicious attack. Sheila returned to the cabin to help Justin and her brothers climb through the bedroom window. When interviewed, Ricky and Greg claimed to have slept through the ordeal while Justin's statements about that have been inconsistent through the years. At times, he has claimed to have seen the killers, but other times he says he only had a dream about seeing the murders take place. In this dream he said he covered Sue up with a blanket and tried to stop the bleeding by placing a cloth on her chest. In another story, he has claimed to have seen nothing at all that night. Police did believe Justin touched at least one of the bodies because blood was found on the outside doorknob of the boy’s room. The bedroom door of the boy's room was also partially open when the Plumas County Sheriff's Office arrived at the scene.
A Person of Interest
The Plumas County Sheriff's Office interviewed a number of people and this did produce a person of interest, Martin Smartt. Marty, his wife Marilyn and her two sons (one of the boys being Justin) lived in Cabin 26 just down the road from Cabin 28. Marty also had a friend staying with the family named Severin John "Bo" Boubede, whom Marty had met a few weeks earlier at the VA hospital where he was being treated for PTSD. It is known that Bo, Marty and Marilyn stopped by Sue’s cabin on their way to the local bar earlier in the evening.
Marilyn claimed to have asked Sue to go for drinks with them but Sue declined the invitation. At the bar Marty became angry over the music that was playing and spoke to the manager about it. The three left with Marty still upset and returned to their cabin. Marilyn claimed to have watched TV and then went to bed. Marty said he made a phone call to the bar to complain about the music once again and then he and Bo went back to the bar.
Soon after the investigation started, the Plumas County Sheriff's Office called in the Department of Justice, which was based in Sacramento, California. Detectives for the Department of Justice questioned all three of them and concluded that they were not involved despite the fact that during the interview Marilyn told the investigators that she left Marty the day after the murders. She also mentioned Marty had a violent temper and often abused her, both emotionally and physically. The Department of Justice administered a polygraph to Marty Smartt on April 17, which he is said to have passed.
The interviews of Marty and Bo, however, reveal a half-hearted attempt by the DOJ detectives, Harry Bradley and P.A. Crim Jr., to examine the two in any depth, asking each of them a series of easy, leading questions and not following up when discrepancies did arise. During the interview with Bo, Detective Crim mentioned that Bo was a retired police officer – something he never was. This false assumption seemed to lead the detectives to treat Bo with undue deference.
At the start of the interview, Bo indicated he knew which one of the cabins was the one where the murders were committed, but toward the middle of the interview, he said he did not know. Detective Bradley just said "Oh, I thought you'd know. Well, we'll point it out to you on the way back." For reasons unknown, Bo lied and said Marilyn was his niece when, in fact, they are not related in any manner. Bo told the detectives he had lived in Keddie a month when in fact he’d only been around for 12 days. When Bo claimed Marilyn was awake when he and Marty returned from the bar the second time, the detectives said nothing about Marilyn saying she was asleep when they returned. Bo also lied when he said he had never met Sue Sharp. In Marilyn Smartt's interview she stated she and the two men had gone to the Sharp house on the night of the murders.
Additionally, Bo stated they arrived at the bar between 9:30- 10 p.m. but later changed this time to 12 a.m. to fit his alibi.
During Marty’s interview with the DOJ detectives, the careless, lackadaisical questioning continued. Marty told the investigators that Sue’s son, Justin, could have seen something the night of the murders "...without me detecting him..." This remark gravely implicated Marty in the murders, but the detectives made nothing of it. Marty followed that incriminating comment up by adding that he had heard a hammer was used to beat the victims before they were stabbed to death. Then, without prompting, he voluntarily told Crim and Bradley his hammer had "gone missing" before the murders. Marty talks a lot about the victims deaths being overkill. He goes on to describe how he would have killed them fast and gotten out of the house as quickly as possible. Crim and Bradley never questioned him further on this either.
After interviewing Marty and Bo, the DOJ investigators did not do any follow-up interviews and they let Marty – a prime suspect – move out of town and relocate in Klamath, California. Bo went back to the Reno VA hospital. In July, Plumas County Sheriff Doug Thomas announced his resignation for unknown reasons. In 1976, Thomas became an insurance salesman and a part-time instructor at Feather River College in Quincy, Ca.
The month after the Keddie murders, Marty called a therapist and told the doctor he was being blamed for the killings. Ten years after Marty’s death in 2000, his therapist came forward and told the Plumas County Sheriff's Office that Marty had confessed to killing Sue Sharp. He also told the police that Marty was a friend of Plumas County Sheriff Doug Thomas and that Marty once let Thomas live with him. The therapist admitted that Marty told him that beating the polygraph was easy. Additionally, Marty said the reason he killed Sue was because she was trying to talk Marilyn into divorcing him. According the therapist, Martin Smartt did not confess to killing Dana, Johnny or Tina and he never said who was responsible for their murders.
The revelations by the therapist caused the sheriff’s office to take another look at solving the case, but with Martin Smartt long dead and Bo having died of natural causes in 1988 nothing came of this.
A Botched Investigation
After the murders of their mother and siblings, the surviving Sharp children went to live with their father. The chatter eventually stopped about the murders and soon no one thought much of the brutal slayings. That is until 2002 when a filmmaker Josh Hancock took on the challenge of making a documentary about what happened in the small town of Keddie. The film included interviews with members of the Sharp family and Wingate family, with Marilyn and Justin and with various members of Plumas County law enforcement. Hancock said his motive for making the documentary was to train a spotlight on a cold case that was apparently swept under the rug. By doing that he hoped to bring justice to the victims and their families. Hancock believes that the Plumas County Sherriff's Office did careless work regarding the investigation of the crime. On his website it states, "Exposing the truth, one liar at a time. Hold Plumas County Sheriff's Office accountable!"
Many questions and rumors abound regarding this murder case. Only one person reported hearing a scream coming from the area of the cabin; yet, all of the cabins in Keddie sat literally feet away from one another. Why didn't anyone else hear a struggle or screams coming from Cabin 28? Furthermore, how could the children in the house sleep when three people were being brutally tortured and murdered right in the next room? Why was Tina the only one taken that night? Why were the three younger boys left unharmed?
The crime scene was substantially botched. The sheriff's office did not properly secure the scene and failing to call the Department of Justice immediately upon arriving. What may be most damning of all is the Plumas County Sheriff's Office did not realize Tina had even existed or had been kidnapped. Arriving officers refused to listen to Justin even after he told the sheriff's office Tina was taken from her bed on the night of the murders. Because of this discrepancy, the sheriff's office wasted precious hours which should have been spent searching for Tina.
Some believe the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office was too inexperienced for a crime of this magnitude. Others believe the sheriff’s department intentionally bungled and hid information to protect the assailants’ identities. This belief was bolstered in 2010 when Martin Smartt’s therapist revealed that Marty had once allowed Plumas County Sheriff Doug Thomas to live with him for a while.
To this day the sheriff’s department refuses to discuss the case and will not look into it further. The sheriff’s department also will not accept assistance from other law enforcement agencies. Regrettably, much of the evidence collected was either lost by law enforcement or destroyed due to a leak in the roof at the sheriff’s office. Furthermore, after three decades nothing has been done with the bloody fingerprint that was collected from the scene. Lastly, many wonder why the sheriff’s department let Marty and Bo go.
After the murders, Marilyn married and then divorced Marty's best friend. Reportedly she is still living in Plumas County.
If you were to ask most people, they would probably say they have never heard of Keddie, the small town in Plumas County, California. After the murders, the community lived in shock and fear. The atmosphere had changed. The once quiet and peaceful Keddie was all but abandoned by most. Cabin 28 became a horror house of sorts. Although at least one family lived in the cabin after the murders, locals say the house sat abandoned for years. In 2004 Cabin 28 was bulldozed to the ground. Today there are only a handful of residents that call Keddie Resort home.
The tragedy of these murders was compounded by the botched investigation that allowed the murderers to escape justice and for the case to grow so cold it will most likely never be solved.