The 30-year anniversary of the infamous Keddie murders is a significant moment in Plumas County history by any measure, but the milestone seems more interesting given the release of a controversial documentary in late 2010 that markets itself as including a detailed confession to the murders.
That claim itself is in many ways symbolic of the entire documentary in that it tends to lead to more questions than answers.
April 11 marked the 30th anniversary of the 1981 crime which left Glenna "Sue" Sharp, 36; John Sharp, 15; and Dana Wingate, 17, dead; and 12-year-old Tina Sharp missing. Her partial remains were discovered near Feather Falls three years later.
The most compelling pieces of the narrative in "Cabin 28: The Keddie Murders Part II" focus on a man identified only as a Vietnam veteran named Marty, who lived very near the cabin where the murders occurred, and is clearly the primary suspect in the filmmakers' view.
If Marty was the murderer, then those interested in "justice" will be disappointed to learn that he is dead.
Marty's stepson, identified only as Justin, has long been believed by many to be the only person left alive who witnessed the murders.
Justin was one of three boys - including brothers Greg Sharp, 5, and Rick Sharp, 10 - who were miraculously left unharmed literally one room away from the most horrific murder in county history.
One of the last scenes in the movie depicts Ed Case, a college professor helping Justin write a book, explaining that the potential witness recently channeled his stepfather under hypnosis and admitted that Marty and his friend Bo, who was described by several commentators as having recently exited a veterans' mental hospital, were the culprits.
This claim is complicated by the fact that the documentary reveals Justin has changed his account of the events he witnessed that night several times throughout his life, although this last account is clearly the most interesting to an average viewer.
In many ways this contradiction sums up the entire film and the climactic report of a confession that follows later and is similarly complicated.
The film includes numerous interviews and police reports connecting the man named Marty to the crime.
His stepdaughter appears onscreen describing him as a violent and unstable person who threatened or attempted to kill her mother multiple times.
"I think he did it," she explained before responding "thank God" to the information that her stepfather was now deceased.
Police reports in the film indicate that Marty's wife contacted the police after the murders, explaining she felt her husband and Bo were both involved and that Bo liked young girls.
The last accusation alludes to the fact that one of the victims, Tina Sharp, was apparently abducted while several deceased victims were left at the scene with no attempts made to hide them. (A forensic anthropologist says in the film that Tina was killed not long after she was abducted and was not held captive for years.)
Later in the film, several police reports made by local citizens claim that Tina was pregnant.
Another woman, Nina Meeks, appears on the film explaining she was a friend of the victims and of Marty.
She said Marty was staying at her house the night after the murder and kept saying he had to get back to Keddie to "finish something," before leaving at 4 a.m. when everyone had gone to bed.
Dee Lake appears next, explaining he was a Vietnam vet and counselor for many of his peers in the county, as well as a friend of Marty's.
With tears in his eyes, Lake explained Marty told him at one point the police had 30 pieces of evidence they said connected him to the crime scene and asked him what he should do.
Lake said he didn't ask if Marty had done it and told him he should get on a bus out of town because his life would never be the same either way.
He added that in his heart he felt Marty didn't do it but while taking law classes in college he learned "murder is the one thing anybody is capable of, doesn't matter who."
"There's no criteria for it. If you look back at prior histories of people who committed the crime there is no common thread. None whatsoever. Didn't have to do with what status economically you are, ethnically like, nothing."
"Somebody got stupid, did something stupid," he concluded.
A police report soon after the crimes occurred showed Lake was interviewed by police at the time and told them he didn't think Marty was involved but he suspected Bo.
The documentary also featured audio recordings of Department of Justice interviews with Marty and Bo, both of which are extremely strange, to put it mildly.
Both men focused on very inane details of their nights, which seemed odd given the largest event to occur in the last few days before the interviews was a horrific murder.
Bo told the investigators he had only been in Keddie for a month and didn't know his way around.
He went on to claim that he couldn't even point out the cabin where the murders happened, which seems absurd given the size of the community and the amount of commotion and attention the general hysteria and police presence must have generated around cabin 28.
Marty told the detectives if he was going to kill someone he would do it more efficiently and cleanly than the murderers had.
In fact he seemed more concerned about the effect of the crime on him than the fact that his neighbors had just been mutilated.
"I'm under semi-treatment for stress, anxiety myself. I certainly don't need this, you know," he told the cops in a manner that would almost be comical if it weren't so disturbing.
The film also mentions that Marty's aunt told the police she received a strange call from him, telling her his neighbors were killed and explaining the murders in graphic detail, which made her concerned that he had lost his mind and done something to his own family.
The movie hits its peak when the filmmakers explain their discovery of a police report from relatively soon after the murders, indicating a local therapist reported that a colleague in Reno told him a man named Martin confessed to committing the Keddie murders.
The filmmakers tracked down the therapist who reportedly told his friend this story and they interviewed him.
In the interview, filmed in a darkened room, a man identified by the film crew as the same man mentioned in the police report explains he had a client at a VA hospital in Reno who sat with him through several sessions and eventually told him he killed the two female victims in the incident but not the two boys.
The therapist said Martin told him he killed the mother because she was friends with his wife and had convinced his wife to leave him.
He said Martin claimed he killed the girl because she was a witness.
The therapist told the filmmakers he reported this to the Department of Justice.
This begs the obvious question: Why the police didn't respond to this seemingly important information?
Referencing the police report about the therapist, the film explained that "there was no indication" the local police ever followed up on the report by the therapist's friend.
Even in that case, though, it seems strange that the Department of Justice wouldn't have acted on the therapist's information.
How could two police agencies, one local and one federal, miss two independent opportunities to follow up on a possible confession?
When questioned about this claim, the Plumas County Sheriff's Office allowed this reporter to view a later report, which appeared to be related to the first one.
The report indicated the therapist was interviewed by the Department of Justice in reaction to the original report.
The document explained the therapist told investigators he spoke with Martin several times but the vet never admitted to the killings, essentially denying that he told his friend he received a confession.
The report indicated Martin's wife called the therapist after the murders saying she thought Martin committed them but that Martin denied this later.
There is no way to know if the filmmakers somehow missed this second report or why it wasn't included in the film, but it seems to significantly blur the picture presented in the film.
We are left with three pieces of evidence: a report indicating a friend of a therapist was told that a confession occurred, a report indicating the therapist told the police there was no confession, and a modern-day interview with the therapist saying he did receive a confession and told the authorities about it.
Making matters more confusing, the filmmakers reported they had a falling-out with some members of the sheriff's office during the final stages of making the film, while the sheriff's office responds that the filmmakers rushed the documentary out before taking the time to consider all the information.
What began as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - a documentary film crew given the chance by a sheriff's department to have unprecedented access to the files related to an infamous case - has in many ways become a symbol of the convoluted and tragic mess the unsolved mystery has always represented in this county.
One would hope that time would make the case clearer rather than muddier, but for now this film is a mirror image of the Keddie murders themselves: depressing, messy and yet strangely captivating, a reflection of the type of confusing tragedy that many people simply can't turn their eyes away from, even though it seems to be one of those events we will never be able to truly make sense of no matter how closely we look.
For more information on the documentary, visit keddiemurdersfilm.com.
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