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The Keddie Murders: California's infamous quadruple homicide

Keddie is a tiny settlement in Plumas County on the outskirts of Quincy, California. Keddie had been a bustling resort town since its revival in 1978. At the centre of its hub was Keddie Resort, a collection of 33 rustic cabins which could be rented out long term for around $170 per month. The stream was perfect for fishing and the pine-studded trails were a favourite amongst hikers. However, on April 11, 1981, this quaint settlement was rocked by a brutal quadruple murder that still remains unsolved. 

The site of the former cabin 28 where the murders took place | Wikipedia | 3ternalist01

It was a bright spring morning on the 12th of April, 1981, when 14-year-old Sheila Sharp entered cabin 28 on Keddie Resort Road after attending a nearby sleepover. The Sharp family had been living in cabin 28 for the past five months after moving to Keddie from Quincy. Upon opening the front door, Sheila was met by a grisly scene. At some point during the night, somebody had entered cabin 28 and ruthlessly murdered Sheila’s mother, Glenna Sue Sharp, her 15-year-old brother, John Sharp, and her brother’s 17-year-old friend, Dana Wingate. Sheila ran screaming back to the neighbouring cabin where she had spent the night, cabin. A member of the Seabolt family in cabin 27 ran to the lodge at Keddie Resort and co-owner, Jan Albin, placed a call to police, alerting them to the murders. As police were on their way to the crime scene, Sheila remembered that her two younger brothers, 10-year-old Greg Sharp and 5-year-old Rick Sharp, were still inside the cabin along with their friend, 12-year-old Justin Smartt. Miraculously, all three boys were all unharmed. The Seabolt family and Sheila helped the boys climb out of the bedroom window. Seemingly, they had slept through the entire massacre.

Deputy Hank Klement was the first office on the scene. All three of the victims had been bound with electrical wire and medical tape before they were systematically bludgeoned to death with a claw hammer. The murders had been particularly vicious. In addition to being bludgeoned, Sue and John had been stabbed numerous times with a knife and their throats had been slashed. Sue had additionally been bludgeoned with the butt of a rifle and she had defensive wounds on her arms indicating that she had put up a fight. She was also found nude from the waist down with her underwear stuffed in her mouth. Dana’s autopsy concluded that in addition to the wounds caused by the claw hammer, he had been manually strangled. Discarded in the living room nearby the bodies was a knife which had been used during the attack. Chillingly, it had been used with force that the blade had bent.

It had been a violent and frenzied attack yet nobody had heard a thing

The blood at the scene wasn’t confined to just the floor or the victims. Blood was additionally discovered on the wallpaper, in one of the bedrooms, on the living room ceiling and spattered across the furniture. The bottoms of Sue’s bare feet and the soles of one of the boy’s shoes were also covered in blood which indicated that they were mobile at some point during the attack and had stepped in the blood. There had even been blood discovered on both of the bedroom doors and outside on the handrails of the back steps.

It was soon discovered that Sheila’s younger sister, 12-year-old Tina Sharp, was missing from the cabin. Tina had wanted to stay overnight at the Seabolt’s cabin with Sheila but Sue hadn’t allowed her. Members of the Plumas-County Search and Rescue team scoured the Keddie area for the missing child but to no avail. An all-points-bulletin was put out to Lassen, Butte and Sierra Counties and Reno, asking to keep an eye out for Tina. She was described as having long blonde hair and of slight build. She was wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt when she was last seen the night before. The bulletin also asked the same areas to check with local hospitals to see if anybody had come in during the last 48 hours with knife injuries. They had speculated that with such a violent attack, the killer or killers must have harmed themselves in the process.

The gruesome murders sent shockwaves throughout the quaint community. Investigators tried to piece together the last known movements of the victims. Witnesses said that they saw John and Dana trying to thumb a ride near the corner of Crescent Street and Lawrence Street in Quincy, near the Gold Pan Motel. This was at some time between 9PM and 10PM on the night of the murders. Their whereabouts afterwards is unknown. At some point over the next ten hours, however, the teenage boys ended up back at Keddie Resort where they were murdered. Early on in the investigation, robbery was ruled out as a motivation since nothing from the cabin appeared to be missing. Investigators had surmised that the murders had been somewhat planned and had been perpetrated by two or more assailants, one of which had brought along a claw hammer and then used an additional hammer and two knives found inside the cabin. What perplexed investigators most was that it had been a violent and frenzied attack yet nobody had heard a thing; not Greg, Rick, Justin or the neighbours who lived a mere 10 feet away.

While it was initially reported that Justin had slept through the entire ordeal, he later gave conflicting stories to investigators about that night. While first of all, he said that he witnessed nothing, he later claimed that he had witnessed the murders from the bedroom door. Later, however, Justin changed his story once again and relayed that he had just dreamt of the murder. Under hypnosis, Justin recalled his dream. He described two men in the home; one had a moustache and long hair while the other had shorter hair and was clean shaven. Justin recalled that one of the men had a pocketknife in his right hand which he used to cut Sue in the chest. In his dream, this same man had a hammer in the other hand. In another hypnosis session, Justin described Tina waking up and walking into the living room to see what was going on. According to Justin, a man then snatched Tina up in his arms and carried her through the kitchen and out to the back steps. Moments later, the man then returned on his own. A psychologist evaluated Justin’s description of the dream and came to the conclusion that Justin had witnessed the murders and then as a defence mechanism, he had converted what he actually saw into a dream. 

For the first few weeks of the investigation, the Plumas County Sheriff’s Department had eight investigators working on the case around the clock. They implemented a Secret Witness program to try and gain leads. They subsequently released sketches of two men who were seen in Quincy the week before the murders. 'They’re still not necessarily suspects, but they were around the area and vanished shortly before the crimes. They were seen by more than one witness,' said Plumas County Sheriff, Doug Thomas. The two men were never identified and eventually, the tips dwindled to a trickle before diminishing almost completely. 'By the time a year had elapsed, we would react and investigate leads as they came in,' said Plumas County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Wright.

There was much speculation over the years that the killer or killers had wanted to get to Tina for sexual purposes. Some even clung to the hope that Tina was alive somewhere and being held hostage. Then in April of 1984, a bottle hunter stumbled across human remains near Feather Falls, northwest of Oroville, around 50 miles from Keddie. The remains were sent to a laboratory for analysis and identification. Using dental records, the remains were identified as Tina. According to the medical examiner, Tina had died sometime after 1 November, 1981, six months after the Keddie murders. Due to advanced decomposition, her cause of death could not be determined but it’s accepted that she too was murdered.

Since then, theories as to who committed the quadruple murder and why have abounded. There were many potential suspects over the forthcoming months and years – very few of whom were publicly identified – but there was never enough physical evidence for anybody to be charged. 

John and Dana walked in on the slayings and became victims themselves

One theory that was put forward by investigators early on was that the people who had picked up John and Dana in Quincy were the people responsible for the murders. A potential scenario was that after dropping John and Dana at the cabin, the killers then forced their way in to the cabin or had potentially even been invited in by the teenagers. Another theory was that the driver had nothing to do with the murders. Under that scenario, investigators speculated that John and Dana walked in on the slayings and became victims themselves. Earlier in the evening before John and Dana had hitchhiked back to the cabin, they had attended a party at the home of a well-known Quincy family. However, there was said to be illicit drug use at the party so potential witnesses refrained from coming forward. Investigators had also considered that the killers had been at that same party and then followed Dana and John back home. In fact, there had been reports that there was a pair of men at the party that were said to be acting very peculiar but the two men were never identified.

There had been rumours early on that the murders were the work of a cult but that was ruled out early on in the investigation. Then in 1996, Robert Joseph Silveria Jr. was looked at as a potential suspect. He had lived in Plumas County in the mid-1980s and was known as a courteous man who decorated envelopes with intricate drawings during his time as a county employee. He was arrested in 1996 and suspected of at least 17 murders. For 15 years, Silveria had drifted throughout the United states on railroads, killing other drifters he came in contact with. Following his arrest, he confessed to 28 murders, including the Keddie murders although he would only be convicted of two of those murders.  It would later be uncovered that Silveria had been in custody at the time for grand theft auto.

Among the first suspects to emerge in the case were Martin Ray Smartt and John Boubede. Over the years, Smartt and Boubede have remained lead suspects. In fact, Justin had been the step-son of Smartt and the family lived in the cabin next to Sue. At the time of the murders, Keddie had a drug problem and one of the key players was allegedly Smartt. On the night of the murders, Smartt and Boubede showed up at a local Keddie bar wearing three-piece suits and sunglasses, almost as if they were trying to draw attention to themselves. Other patrons of the bar recollected that they were 'acting weird.' Both men had criminal records and Boubede had ties to organized crime in Chicago. Before her murder, Sue was said to be counselling Smartt’s wife, Marilyn, about leaving her husband because he was allegedly abusive and was having affairs behind her back. At the same time, however, there were rumours that Sue and Smartt had been having an affair. 

'I’ve paid the price for your love and now I’ve bought it with four people’s lives.'

There had been speculation among investigators that Smartt had learned that Sue and Marilyn had been speaking. Smartt was an extremely jealous and possessive man and according to some investigators, so was Marilyn. Some of the investigators had speculated that it wasn’t just Smartt and Boubede who were involved in the slayings but instead, a number of other local people. Based on this, many investigators have reached the conclusion that the intended victim that night was Sue and that the others were murdered simply because they were witnesses. Shortly after the murders, Smartt was questioned about the murders and had informed investigators that a hammer of his had recently gone missing. Shortly thereafter, Smart and Boubede both left Plumas County for Klamath Falls, Oregon. Here, Smartt wrote a letter to Marilyn in which he professed his love for her and concluded the letter with: 'I’ve paid the price for your love and now I’ve bought it with four people’s lives.'

Murder weapons found at the scene of the crime

In 2016, it was revealed that an anonymous counsellor at the Veterans Administration in Reno came forward with information that implicated Smartt in the Keddie murders. According to the counsellor, Smartt had confessed to the brutal murders while a patient just several weeks after the murders occurred. He claimed that he wanted to clear his conscience and admitted to killing Sue and Tina, who by this point still remained missing: 'I killed the woman and the daughter, but I didn’t have anything to do with the boys,' he allegedly said. The counsellor pressed further and asked why Tina didn’t run away; Smartt replied that he had 'incapacitated her' and later had to kill her because she was a witness. As for a motivation, the counsellor claimed that Smartt believed that Sue was responsible for Marilyn wanting a divorce. The Department of Justice would dismiss the allegations as 'hearsay.' Both Smartt and Boubede passed lie detectors during the original investigation. Neither was ever arrested and both have since died.

Despite an exhaustive investigation, the Keddie murders still remain unsolved today. 'It’s unusual for someone to get away with killing four people,' said Rod DeCrona, the patrol commander for the sheriff’s department. 'It bothers me. It is still very creepy to me. I still feel uneasy when I drive through there when I go on patrol.' The Keddie murders are regarded as Plumas County’s greatest mystery. The massacre marked the downfall for the northern Sierra mountain resort. With the killer never being identified, paranoid tourists began staying away from Keddie in droves. Today, Keddie is little more than a derelict ghost town. The only visitors are those with a morbid fascination, seeking out cabin 28 which was demolished in 2004. While the murders have remained unsolved for almost four decades, the investigators still hold cling to the hope that one day, justice can be served: 'I think it will be solved. It’s just that the killers are still lucky after all these years…' said Deputy Lt. Don Stoy.