New evidence discovered links living suspect to grisly scene
Case file update is a new column featuring previous cases involving Plumas County and its people. If anyone has information concerning a cold case, please contact Victoria Metcalf at 283-0800 or [email protected], or contact the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office at 283-6300 with tips or leads on active cases.
Editor’s note: This story contains information that some readers might find unsettling or objectionable.
New evidence has surfaced in the infamous 37-year-old Keddie murders case. And more developments are anticipated.
DNA taken from a strip of white medical tape consistent with that used to bind the victims’ hands and ankles, and to cover the mouth of one victim, has revealed much as the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office moves forward in its efforts to solve the quadruple murder case.
A segment of tape containing identifiable DNA was found on the floor near the body of Glenna “Sue” Sharp, 36, in 1981, Plumas County Sheriff’s special investigator Mike Gamberg said recently.
The DNA matches that of a known living suspect, according to Gamberg. He’s had the DNA for several years, but it wasn’t until recently that he obtained needed samples and found the match.
Until now, lack of fingerprints and identifiable DNA left at the scene by the perpetrators has stymied investigative efforts. Those who were inside Cabin 28 the night and/or early morning hours of April 11 and 12, 1981, were somewhat prepared, according to Gamberg.
It’s suspected that someone brought a hammer, the one recovered in a nearby pond in 2016, as well as using a hammer and knives found in the home.
It’s also believed medical tape was brought along, and there’s some evidence that an 880 BB or pellet rife was there, but was not recovered at the scene.
Both Gamberg and Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood believe that possibly as many as six people were involved in one capacity or another in the murders or the cover-up.
Most of the suspects wore gloves, Gamberg said. Identifiable footprints were not recovered inside. Apparently, as the suspects bludgeoned and stabbed their victims to death, none of the suspects were injured or left their own blood at the scene.
Every bit of evidence that can still be recovered is important to this case, according to Gamberg as he continues to search for leads and re-interviews anyone linked to the Keddie murders.
Those left dead at the scene included the mother, Sue Sharp; her son, John Sharp, 15; and his friend, Dana Wingate, 17.
It’s known that Sue Sharp was home with her daughter Tina, 12, and her two sons, Rickey, 9, and Greg, 5. Justin Smartt Eason, 12, one of three boys left alive in a second bedroom, was allowed to spend the night. His home was just a short distance away in Cabin 26. He lived there with his mother and stepfather, Marilyn and Martin “Marty” Smartt, and his brother.
It’s known that John Sharp, and his friend Dana were in Quincy and caught a ride home sometime between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m., Gamberg said.
Although it’s been a mystery as to who gave the two teens a ride home, Gamberg has identified the individual and has interviewed her.
It was April 11, 1981 when Sheila Sharp, 14, opened the door to her family’s two-bedroom cabin and discovered the bodies of her mother, older brother and family friend in the small living room.
Sheila ran screaming back to the neighboring cabin where she had spent the night. This was Cabin 27 where the Seabolt family lived. That family included James Sr.; his wife, Zonita; daughters Alysa and Paula; and son, James “Jamie” Jr.
At 8:05 a.m., Sunday, April 12, the sheriff’s dispatch received a call from Jan Albin, co-owner of the Keddie Resort. She reported the possibility of a homicide in Cabin 28. The Seabolts didn’t have a telephone. Someone from that cabin ran to the lodge and reported the crime.
While the crime was being reported, Jamie Seabolt, Sheila Sharp and possibly Zonita Seabolt helped the three young boys out a side bedroom window of the cabin.
Deputy Hank Klement was the first to arrive on scene. When he opened the front door he saw the bodies on the green-carpeted floor, according to Gamberg.
Although someone had covered the body of the mother with a blanket, it did little to relieve the horrific scene the teen and law enforcement encountered.
Although Sheila wouldn’t realize it until later, the order of the bodies was her brother, John, who was closest to the front door. He was lying face up with his blood-covered hands bound together securely with medical tape.
Dana was found next on his stomach with his badly damaged head resting partially on a sofa pillow. His ankles were firmly tied with electrical cord that linked him to John whose ankles were also bound.
Sue Sharp was found lying very close to the sofa. Although she was lying on her side, naked from the waist down, there’s evidence that someone rearranged her from an indecent position. That’s probably when she was covered. She was also tightly gagged. A blue bandana and her panties were used first and medical tape then applied. Defensive injuries would be discovered on her arms.
Lone pools of blood on the living room floor and on the sofa pillow indicate the boys’ bodies were also moved and staged, Gamberg said.
Blood wasn’t confined to the floor and on or around the victims. It was discovered on the once cheerful, ivy patterned wallpaper and on some bedding in the bedroom Sheila and her sister, Tina, shared with their mother. Blood was also found on the living room ceiling and furniture. The bottoms of Sue’s bare feet and the soles of one of the boy’s shoes were also covered in blood suggesting they were mobile and stepped in it at some point.
Blood was discovered on both bedroom doors and outside on the handrail of the steep back stairs.
All three victims sustained brutal blows to the head with a hammer or hammers, and they were stabbed, sometimes repeatedly.
An imprint matching that of the butt of an 880 rifle was also left on Sue’s head. The throats of Sue and her son were cut. Dana suffered multiple head injuries and was manually strangled.
The three other children present in a second bedroom escaped physical harm.
A fourth victim, Tina, was missing. It would take those at the scene at least several hours to realize that fact.
While two of the lead suspects — Martin Smartt and his friend John Boubede — are now dead, others are alive and have been identified, said Hagwood recently.
As word spread through Keddie and the rest of Plumas County of the murders, it’s clearly a crime that not only affected Shelia Sharp and her remaining brothers and the boy who was spending the night, it deeply affected some members of the sheriff’s office and the community, Gamberg said.
“Life changed dramatically in 1981 for this whole community,” Gamberg said meaning not just Keddie, which is six miles west of Quincy.
“Everybody was suspicious of everybody and afraid of everybody else,” he said. It haunted people. And there were few reassurances from the sheriff’s office that they were doing everything possible to catch the killers.
Although Gamberg was a deputy, he said his young sons began locking the doors to their house at night. They’d never felt the need to do that prior to the murders.
Both Hagwood and Gamberg said residents had very little trust or confidence in the sheriff’s department before the murders. In many ways there was even less trust following the deaths.
Dropped the ball
In recent interviews, both Hagwood and Gamberg said the sheriff’s office and the California Department of Justice blew it in 1981. Leads weren’t followed and evidence wasn’t checked. Some of the evidence was ignored.
In Gamberg’s opinion, “You could take someone just coming out of the academy and they’d have done a better job,” of investigating the case.
That said, he understands that some of the individuals who had the experience to work the crime scene and follow the leads weren’t allowed to do their jobs in 1981. The California Department of Justice was immediately given the case and then didn’t follow through, said Gamberg. And both Hagwood and Gamberg can pinpoint their errors and omissions.
The FBI was also involved because it was believed that Tina Sharp was abducted.
According to Gamberg, right after the murders, Sheriff Doug Thomas contacted the DOJ in Sacramento. DOJ sent two men, special agents Harry Bradley and P.A. Crim from the division’s organized crime unit — not from homicide — to investigate.
The only way this decision by DOJ makes sense is in considering the background of one of the suspects. Severin John “Bo” Boubede, Smartt’s friend. He had known connections with organized crime in Chicago.Boubede also had at least two known aliases as Bobby Lake and John DeSantis, according to the Keddie 28 online site administrator dmac. Although he prefers not to share his identity, dmac has been heavily investigating the Keddie murders for many years.
He’s also shared some important information with the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office. Although dmac and Gamberg have some differences of opinion of just what happened in Cabin 28, Gamberg has come to respect dmac’s work.
For some reason, the DOJ had an interest in Boubede, according to Gamberg. He wonders if DOJ protected him.
Along with special agents Crim and Bradley, Spiro Vasos, a finger print expert, and Bruce Palmer, an evidence expert, also arrived from DOJ. Although a lot of potential evidence was collected and catalogued, very little worthwhile information was realized from the scene.
Remember, this was 1981 and DNA collection and processing at crime scenes didn’t begin until 1985. DNA — deoxyribonucleic acid — is now considered the most reliable physical evidence. Investigators now seek any biological material including skin, hair, blood and other bodily fluids at crime scenes, according to Randy James in a 2009 feature on DNA testing for TIME.
Moving forward, DNA might still be retrievable from evidence collected at Keddie Cabin 28 if it hasn’t been compromised and DNA testing facilities are notoriously backlogged. Gamberg said he was fortunate in that he was able to get his piece of DNA processed in a timely manner.
Gamberg was a deputy with the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office prior to the murders, he said. Then he got fired. When he was reinstated, Thomas kept him out of the investigation. Even his leads in the case were ignored.
As a Quincy deputy who knew many of the area residents, understood and had experience in homicide investigation, and as someone who knew at least two of the victims, he believes his input should have been taken seriously.
Re-launching an investigation
It was 2013. Hagwood, in his third year of office, had many priorities to contend with inside his department and in the county. His department was short of funding and he was short staffed.
But the unsolved murders of a woman, two teenage boys and a girl still haunted him. These were boys he went to school with. Hagwood personally knew them. He was also familiar with Cabin 28 in Keddie. In earlier years, before the Sharps moved in, he spent nights there with a friend and his family.
Hagwood would graduate from California State University, Sacramento with a degree in criminal justice. He became a deputy in his hometown in 1988. And as a deputy he knew what was and wasn’t happening with the case. Although still open, it wasn’t a priority.
The Keddie murders, as the case became known, had become infamous as one of the county’s leading unsolved crimes. That and his personal connections led Hagwood to resurrect the case; to provide the resources and time needed to solve it.
That’s when Hagwood asked Gamberg, a private investigator, if he’d like to take over the investigation.
Gamberg also knew the two boys. He was their coach in martial arts and other activities. Dana Wingate was at his house just the day before he died.
Gamberg still had strong opinions about what had and hadn’t happened 32 years earlier. He accepted the job and the challenge of following the evidence and leads that still existed.
What Gamberg first encountered was the Keddie murders crime scene room. It’s here he would roll up his sleeves and begin going through the evidence.
Box after box of evidence, file drawers filled with information and other evidence were all in disarray.
What has made this case particularly hard to organize is that the original case history log — who did what and on what date — is gone. Gamberg said he has hunches about what happened to it, but it hasn’t been recovered.
Gamberg also said that much of the physical evidence taken from Cabin 28 is still in storage. This includes the living room carpet, wallboard and other items marked with blood and other potential evidence. The problem there is that it’s become disorganized.
And some of the evidence in storage is contaminated. Some of the evidence was placed in a freezer to preserve it. The freezer got turned off, Gamberg said.
“This case is as screwed up as a soup sandwich,” Gamberg said recently. “It’s not about what was done, but what was not done.” And that was plenty.
He also compared the available evidence in 1981 to someone firing a shotgun loaded with evidence and no one followed up on all of it as it spread out like pellets. It was just left scattered. It wasn’t followed, he said.
As he sorted he found one bag of evidence that was never opened. The items inside were never entered into evidence — a crucial part of the chain of evidence necessary in crime investigation.
Another piece of perhaps vital evidence that Gamberg discovered was in an envelope that was never opened. It contained a tape recording of an anonymous caller to Butte County dispatch.
The call came just after someone discovered a skull and a few bones about 80 miles down the Feather River Canyon in a spot known as Camp 18 about 5 miles from Feather Falls. The discovery came three years after Tina’s disappearance by a man out hunting bottles.
Gamberg shared the contents of the tape with “People” magazine in 2016 when it featured the crime in two magazines and in a news documentary aired on CBS.
The anonymous caller said he was watching the news about the discovery at Feather Falls —down Highway 70 from Keddie. He said, “And I was wondering if they thought of the murder up in Keddie up in Plumas County a couple years ago where a 12-year-old girl was never found.”
Although Smartt and Boubede fled Plumas County shortly after interviews with DOJ, it’s known that Smartt allegedly lived in Paradise at the time of that phone call, according to dmac’s research. Another person of interest also lived in Butte County.
Gamberg is having professionals analyze the tape recording comparing that male voice to recorded voices of others identified as potential or known suspects. As with other related evidence, the process of scientific evaluation is slow. And a crime that was committed so many years earlier doesn’t have the priority recent crimes receive, he said.
Gamberg thinks the tape was deliberately ignored when it arrived at the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office.
“I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but there are facts and circumstances — the number and the nature of which — I can’t ignore anymore,” Hagwood told “People” magazine.
Although two of the main suspects, Smartt and Boubede are dead, they were alive at the time of Tina Sharp’s discovery. Boubede died in 1988, according to Gamberg. He would have been in his 50s during the murders. Smartt died in 2006. Smartt would have been in his early 30s at the time of the Keddie murders.
Since 2013, Gamberg has followed the evidence that should have been investigated 37 years earlier.
Gamberg is no stranger to homicide cases. From 1974 until his retirement in 1994, he worked all but one of Plumas County’s cases. The one he missed — or more accurately wasn’t allowed to cover — was the Keddie murder case, he said recently.
Just three years after reopening the case, Gamberg was talking to the media about new evidence that was recovered — namely a hammer that matches one Smartt said went missing before the murders, and a hunting knife, recovered in Keddie. And now two years after that, he’s announced that there’s more that links a living person or persons to the crime.
Neither Hagwood nor Gamberg are willing to divulge specifics on whom they’re watching, but new evidence has given them solid leads.
“There are people locally who know more than they’ve said, and I believe we’ve identified some of them, and we know who they are, and we know where they are. And I have every confidence that they either participated after the fact or they have first-hand information … It’s obviously a worthwhile pursuit. There is not an expiration date on homicides, and to the extent that we have surviving siblings and family members, it is our fundamental obligation to them to understand who did this and why,” Hagwood said in 2016.
Anyone who has any information on the Keddie murders is asked to call the Keddie murders hotline at 283-6360.