Keddie, California, was a small town of only 66 people. But in 1981, the nation was captivated by Keddie for the brutal murder of four people. A mother, two of her children, and one of her child’s friends were all found dead in their home. The initial police investigation went cold and has remained a mystery for about 40 years.
More recently, the local sheriff’s department reopened the case to give the town and remaining family members some closure. As investigators seem to get closer to finding an answer, let’s review what we know about the Keddie Cabin murders.
The town of Keddie, California, was the definition of a small rural town. It was best known for being a Sierra Nevada resort town, home to the Keddie Resort, and having a population of 66. That number went up when the Sharp family moved there in 1980.
Glenna “Sue” Sharp had gotten married in Connecticut and raised five children there: John (15), Sheila (14), Tina (12), Rick (10), and Greg (5). But Sue was in an abusive marriage and needed to leave. So, the family picked up and moved to California, where they settled in a Keddie Resort cabin, #28.
The community was relatively close-knit because of its small size, so the Sharps knew and were friends with many of their neighbors in surrounding cabins. Between the evening of April 11 and the morning of April 12, 1981, all of that changed when the Sharps’ cabin became a brutal crime scene.
Sue, John, and John’s friend Dana Wingate were found brutally killed in the cabin while Sue’s daughter Tina was missing, presumably kidnapped by whoever murdered them. Sue’s younger sons, Rick and Greg, and their 12-year-old friend Justin Eason were also in the house but hadn’t been physically harmed.
Sue’s daughter, Sheila, returned to her house the morning of April 12 after a sleepover at a nearby friend’s house. The house, belonging to the Seabolt family, was only fifteen feet from the Sharps’ cabin, but Sheila and the Seabolts were adamant that they didn’t hear anything that night.
Sheila entered her family’s house only to be met with an overwhelming smell and the gut-wrenching sight of several slain family members. She ran out screaming for help. Sheila and a Seabolt helped get the younger boys out of the house through a back window as they waited for the police.
Police arrived on the scene not too long after they received the call. The Plumas County Sheriff’s Office handled the initial investigation into the quadruple homicide. Deputy Hank Klement was one of the first officers to arrive, but he didn’t secure the crime scene.
Justin Eason attempted to let officers know that Tina was missing, but he was ignored. This was the beginning of a list of errors that would lead to a grossly mishandled investigation. When Deputy Klement entered cabin #28, he saw three bodies in the living room: John Sharp, Dana Wingate, and Sue Sharp.
Upon examination of the victims’ bodies, officers made several notable observations. First was how each body was found. John Sharp was found lying face up with his hands tied tightly together with medical tape and his ankles tied with an electrical cord.
Dana Wingate was closest to John but faced down, and his head was partially on a pillow. Dana’s ankles were securely bound together with the same electrical cord connecting the two of them. Sue Sharp’s body was the last one found in the cabin by officers.
Sue Sharp was the only one covered with a blanket. She was found next to the couch on her side, and evidence suggested that she had been moved from a lewd position. Sue was found semi-wearing a robe with her airways blocked with her own underwear and a bandana.
Medical tape, the same found on her son John, covered Sue’s mouth and her arms had defensive marks. Like John and Dana, Sue’s ankles had an electrical cord wrapped around them which also wrapped around her head.
Officers believed that John and Dana’s bodies had actually been moved and positioned in the way they were found. The blood on the bottom of one of the boys’ shoes and Sue’s foot suggested that before they were overpowered, they stepped in it.
John and Sue Sharp had been stabbed numerous times on their upper bodies and necks. All three of them had blunt-force trauma from being beaten with a hammer. Autopsies found that Dana died from strangulation while Sue and John died from their stab wounds and head injuries.
Klement and his team also found a number of objects thought to be murder weapons. There was a bent steak knife on the ground plus a claw hammer and butcher knife, both covered in blood, on a table in the entryway.
In addition to the tools, the ceiling and walls were covered in splatter patterns from the force used to carry out this heinous crime. They also found marks from a knife in some of the cabin’s walls and a bloody footprint outside in the yard.
Remember how Justin Eason tried to tell investigators that Tina wasn’t anywhere to be found? Well, when they made it to her room in the cabin, they finally took note that no one knew where the 12-year-old could be.
They found blood droplets in her bed, which led them to believe she had been kidnapped. Rape was the investigators’ leading explanation for why the kidnappers were motivated to remove Tina from the Keddie Resort cabin rather than leave her there with the other three victims.
Tina Sharp was missing for three years before there was any news about her disappearance. On the third anniversary of the murders and her disappearance in April 1984, a person in the woods near Feather Falls in Butte County found a skull and some other human bones.
This was nearly 60 miles southwest from Keddie. Soon after this discovery, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous phone. The caller made several suggestions, including linking the human bones to the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl from Plumas County.
The informant’s way of speaking made it seem like they knew more about what took place in Keddie than what they were letting on. This call was recorded, per protocol, and copied onto a tape.
The tape was then packaged, sealed, and then placed at the bottom of the evidence box for the Keddie Cabin murders case. There seems to be no record of any follow-ups by the sheriff’s department, and no one attempted to open the sealed packaging until 2013, almost 30 years after the fact.
As they collected evidence and a rough timeline of the events, the entire department began to interview everyone and anyone who could’ve given them any information. This would help them to come up with their initial list of suspects. The sheriff’s office spoke to Martin Smartt, Justin Eason’s stepfather.
Martin was married to Marilyn, Justin’s mother. The Smartts lived two cabins down from the Sharp family, and their children were friends, which would explain why Justin had slept over in cabin #28 the night of the murders.
Martin mentioned to investigators that he had recently misplaced a claw hammer and become friends with John “Bo” Boubede. The two met while they were getting treatment for PTSD from alleged army service. What really struck the sheriff’s office was Bo’s felon past and his connections with the Chicago mafia.
Not to mention, he was staying at the Smartts’ house. Apparently, Bo had gotten Martin into the drug business when their friendship began. But even more, as this friendship formed, Martin had reportedly shown some concerning behaviors.
Martin had a reputation for being obsessed with the Bible and lecturing people whom he considered immoral. Reports also pointed to Martin being abusive towards his wife, Marilyn. Supposedly, this led her to confide in Sue Sharp about their home situation since Sue had left an abusive relationship to come to Keddie.
All of these issues led the Plumas County Sheriff’s Department to call the Sacramento Department of Justice. This DOJ branch sent two additional investigators to administer added interviews with Martin and Marilyn Smartt and Bo Boubede.
Marilyn confirmed the reports that Martin had been abusive and that the day after the murders, the two of them had officially separated. All three of them were polygraph tested and interviewed. After the results came in, the DOJ investigators determined that none of them were involved, and they were free to leave.
Afterward, Marilyn alleged that she found a bloodied jacket that she thought belonged to Tina Sharp and gave it to the sheriff’s department. However, there’s no proof that this exchange ever happened.
After not being charged with anything, both Martin and Bo took “free to leave” almost too literally as they moved out of Keddie. Martin uprooted and headed to Reno very quickly after he finished with all of the interviews and passed the interviews’ polygraph test.
Bo returned to Chicago, where he died in 1988. From Reno, Martin Smartt moved to Portland, Oregon, where he passed away in 2000 from cancer. Neither one of them was ever charged with anything, and neither lived long enough to see the case reopened.
Despite multiple leads and a compiled suspect list in 1981 and in the years afterward, there were never any charges filed for the case. Justin Eason, Martin Smartt’s stepson and one of the boys who survived that night, was also given a polygraph test.
In fact, Justin was one of the people who was administered the most polygraph tests during this investigation because the young boy kept altering his story. Initially, Justin told investigators that he couldn’t offer any information because he had slept through the whole night.
When they brought him in for another interview, he described what he called a dream. John Sharp and Dana Wingate, two of the victims, were in Justin’s dream fighting a grown man carrying a hammer with black glasses, a mustache, and long black hair.
Justin also described Sue Sharp, in the same dream, as having a knife in her chest, which was consistent with what actually happened. Unsurprisingly, Justin was brought back into the sheriff’s office for an additional polygraph test. This time, he said that he saw what had happened.
This time around, Justin claimed that a loud noise startled him awake and that he peered through the door to see what was going on. He explained that he saw two men, the first with brown hair and army boots and the second with dark glasses and black hair.
They were fighting with John Sharp and Dana Wingate in the living room. Dana got hit with a hammer by the brown-haired man while trying to escape out of the back, and John was attacked by the black-haired man.
While he saw the men tying up the boys’ ankles, Justin claimed he hid behind the door right when Tina Sharp entered the living room as the black-haired man stabbed Sue Sharp. When the men saw Tina, Justin said that they quickly picked her up and ran out the back with her.
He suggested that she tried to yell for help but that the man muffled her voice. Despite his changing stories, some of the things that Justin described were consistent with what officers saw at the crime scene.
Investigators brought in someone to make a sketch based on Justin’s description, but the man who drew them didn’t have a background in anything artistic, never mind forensic sketches. This “artist” was only a volunteer with the local police department.
It begs the question of how the sheriff’s office chose to go with an amateur volunteer when they had the Department of Justice’s skilled artists at their disposal? It was almost like the sheriff’s department wasn’t thinking through their decisions, kind of like when they didn’t secure the crime scene…
After Martin Smartt and Bo Boubede’s polygraphs cleared them and Justin Eason’s descriptions gave police a sketch, the investigation seemed to slow down and come to a stall. The sketches were distributed, and some interviews were conducted, but everything led to a dead end.
There are many who believed that members of the Pluma County Sheriff’s Department were part of a cover-up with this case. Allegations that Marty and the former sheriff were friends surfaced. The former sheriff also claimed he offered marital counseling to Martin and Marilyn.
During the years following the murders, Marilyn was even more forthcoming with information and her thoughts about Martin’s potential environment. In 2008, there was a documentary made about the Keddie Cabin murder case.
Marilyn was featured in it and shared with the interviewers that Martin hated John Sharp, one of the murder victims. She admitted that she saw Martin burning something in their fireplace early on April 12, 1981. She shared her feelings about the case and suggested that Martin Smartt and John “Bo” Boubede were to blame.
In 1981, a serious lack of forensic technology made any investigation tough to crack. With the turn of the 21st century, new department heads in the Pluma County Sheriff’s Department, and the introduction of new types of evidence like DNA, the Keddie Cabin Murders case had new hope.
Current Pluma County Sheriff Greg Hagwood and Pluma County Special Investigator Mike Gamberg rose in the ranks and wanted to reopen this specific case in 2013. Their biggest motivation was to provide the living family members with answers.
Both of these men also had personal connections to the case and the victims. Sheriff Hagwood knew each of the victims personally from living in Keddie, and SI Gamberg used to train John Sharp and Dana Wingate in martial arts.
Sheriff Hagwood and SI Gamberg agreed that even before the gross mishandling of the initial murder investigation, Keddie residents weren’t confident or trusting in their sheriff’s department. After the Keddie Cabin Murders, the trust and confidence levels of the department managed to drop even lower.
Sheriff Hagwood and SI Gamberg started by reviewing what had already been collected and done during the initial investigation. What they found was beyond frustrating. Hagwood and Gamberg found that much of the evidence that was collected was never checked and was largely ignored.
Most of the physical evidence taken from Cabin 28 was in storage when the sheriff and investigator reopened the case. This included the carpet from the cabin living room, sections of the wall, and other things that had either blood or other possible evidence.
It seems like a good amount of evidence had already been collected, right? Not quite… unfortunately, they encountered large issue after larger issue. When Hagwood and Gamberg first started going through the evidence that had been collected in 1981, it had been left completely disorganized.
This made it even more difficult for them to assess what they actually had to work with. In addition to that mess, and perhaps even more disheartening, was the state of evidence meant to be placed in a freezer for preservation purposes.
Hagwood and Gamberg found that sometime between 1981 and 2013, someone had turned off the freezer, or the county lost power. They had no information when this power outage occurred, but it would have made little to no difference: the collected evidence sampled had been contaminated.
Not ones to give up, Sheriff Hagwood and SI Gamberg pushed forward with their investigation. Thankfully, they discovered uncontaminated evidence, but their gratitude went away quickly. The men were absolutely appalled to find out that the evidence had never even been entered.
This meant that not a single item had been officially processed and entered into evidence which is one of the most important steps in any criminal investigation. They knew that reopening this case wasn’t going to be easy, but they weren’t expecting such a tough start.
In addition to their rocky start with evidence, Hagwood and Gamberg discovered that the initial investigation had procured a good number of leads. The catch was that not one member of the 1981 investigation followed up on any of them.
This was what Sheriff Hagwood and SI Gamberg had to work with. To say that they were disappointed with how the former investigative team handled everything would be an understatement. But once Hagwood and Gamberg took ownership of the case, their team began to make headway.
New pieces of evidence, an increase in DNA samples, and additional interviews all provided more information to get them closer to solving the case. As recently as 2018, Hagwood and Gamberg concluded that there’s a high likelihood that up to six people were involved.
This involvement could’ve been with the murders themselves and the subsequent cover-up. With their findings, this theory could very well be correct. Until Hagwood and Gamberg took over, any efforts to solve the case were foiled by the overwhelming lack of traceable DNA or fingerprints left at the crime scene.
This suggested premeditation as the killers came prepared with gloves and didn’t leave any of their own fluids in cabin #28. According to Gamberg, one piece of evidence that was collected in 1981 was a piece of medical tape.
This strip of medical tape was found near Sue Sharp’s body and was one of the few items recovered from the scene that had DNA on it that could be tested for. When the results came back, it matched the DNA of a suspect who’s still alive.
Gamberg said that the DNA had been on file for a number of years, but the department had only recently gotten specific samples. Along with the piece of medical tape, Gamberg found notable items in an old box of evidence.
One notable item was a letter written by Martin Smartt to his then-wife Marilyn. In the letter, Martin wrote that he had paid the price for her love with four people’s lives and was upset it wasn’t enough to stay together.
When Gamberg followed up with Marilyn about the letter, she claimed that she didn’t remember receiving it but did acknowledge that she recognized the handwriting as Martin’s. This letter, which could be used in court as an admission of guilt, was found at the bottom of the evidence box.
The audio recording of the anonymous call about Tina’s skull in 1984 was discovered by Gamberg after more than 30 years of sitting in an evidence box. In 1984, there wasn’t any voice analysis technology to be able to match it with any of the possible suspects.
Because they didn’t follow the lead, the recording sat idle in a sealed package and largely unmarked. It offered a lead that Hagwood and Gamberg’s team could possibly identify the caller and potentially find one of their six assailants.
During his 1981 interview, Martin Smartt had mentioned that he had lost a claw hammer, similar to the murder weapon found at the crime scene. Forensics, however, suggested that more than one claw hammer was used during the killing.
In 2016, the investigative team had another break in the case. A claw hammer with a blue handle, matching Martin’s exact description, was found in a pond near the Keddie Resort. It was tested for DNA, but they weren’t able to identify anything because it had rusted too much after 35 years.
One critical interview that Gamberg has administered since taking over the investigation was with Martin Smartt’s old therapist. When Martin fled Keddie for Reno in 1981, he began having sessions with a therapist there. According to the therapist, Martin confessed to them that he had participated in the murders.
The therapist had then shared Martin’s confession with law enforcement, but that confession was never used against Martin, nor did the therapist hear about any follow-up. That is until Gamberg and Hagwood’s involvement in the investigation.
Sheriff Hagwood and Special Investigator Gamberg are even more dedicated and determined to close this case with the influx of completely new evidence and reexamining the old evidence. In April 2021, they gave a TV interview sharing all their findings since they reopened the investigation.
Though their primary suspects died before the case was reopened, Hagwood and Gamberg reconfirmed that they believed many of the people who were involved are still alive; and they’ll finally be held accountable for their involvement in the Keddie Cabin case.