A gruesome 1981 murder case that has haunted rural Plumas County is once again an active investigation, with new information about the quadruple homicides coming to light almost daily.
After decades of dormancy, Sheriff Greg Hagwood said he believes analysis of evidence collected 35 years ago, combined with the fresh details, will lead to identification of a suspect – or suspects.
“We’re convinced there is an individual out there somewhere who knows who did this, and how and why,” Hagwood said.
Two suspects were identified and questioned in 1981. Both were released and are now dead. But Hagwood said he and Mike Gamberg, a retired deputy hired as a special investigator, have identified six people of interest. All are alive, “and we know exactly where they are,” Gamberg said.
Never miss a local story.
The first three of the murders that shocked the community occurred late on April 11, 1981. Early the next morning sheriff’s deputies were called to Cabin 28 in Keddie, a railroad resort town 5 miles north of Quincy. In the front room of the cabin they found the bloody bodies of Glenna “Sue” Sharp, 36; her son John, 15; and Dana Wingate, 17.
All three were bound with medical and electrical tape. Sue and John Sharp were stabbed repeatedly, and Sue was bludgeoned with a rifle. Wingate was manually strangled and bludgeoned with another weapon.
Three young boys, two of them Sharp’s sons, were discovered unharmed in a small back bedroom of the cabin. They apparently slept through the massacre in the room several feet away.
Tina Sharp, Sharp’s 12-year-old daughter, was missing. Her skeletal remains were found scattered in a remote area of the Plumas National Forest exactly three years after the Keddie murders.
The grisly case has disturbed Hagwood for decades, he said. At the time, he was a 15-year-old student at Quincy High School, where his classmates included John Sharp and Dana Wingate. The three boys had spent the previous summer working together at the Plumas County fairground.
You put two and two together. That wasn’t done before – and you wonder why.
Investigator Mike Gamberg
Tina Sharp was a student in Hagwood’s mother’s Quincy Elementary School class.
As sheriff, Hagwood is now in a position to investigate the case. He hired Gamberg, who was a deputy in 1981. Then-Sheriff Doug Thomas fired Gamberg two weeks before the Keddie murders. Gamberg said he was later reinstated but forbidden to work on the case.
Three months after the Keddie murders, Thomas resigned to take a job with the Department of Justice in Sacramento.
As special investigator, Gamberg took over a small room in the sheriff’s offices and began sifting through the evidence, which includes 12 or more boxes and “a freezer full of stuff,” all stored in various places around Quincy. He also obtained access to evidence collected in Butte County, where Tina Sharp’s decomposed body was found.
Gamberg confronted what he called “a very poor investigation. … It’s not what was done. It’s what wasn’t done,” he said.
Using DNA, high-tech voice analysis, Internet chat groups and other tools not available in 1981, he began piecing together a case that is focused on determining who committed the murders, who assisted and why. Among the documents Gamberg found are several apparent confessions by Martin Ray Smartt.
Smartt and John Boubede, who were sharing a cabin next door to the Sharps at the time of the murders, were considered suspects. On the night the crime occurred, they showed up in a Keddie bar in the middle of the night wearing three-piece suits and sunglasses, “and acting weird,” Gamberg said. Both had criminal records And Boubede had ties to organized crime in Chicago, he said.
Smartt’s wife, Marilyn, was friends with Sue Sharp, who was counseling her to leave her husband, Gamberg said.
Neither suspect was arrested. Smartt died in Oregon in 2006. Boubede died in Illinois in 1988.
Shortly after the murders, Smartt left Keddie and drove to Reno, where 16 days later he wrote a letter to his wife. The handwritten letter, which professes his love for her and alludes to some difficulties in their marriage, concludes by stating, “I’ve paid the price of your love & now I’ve bought it with four people’s lives.”
Gamberg said the letter was “overlooked” and never listed as evidence.
We’re convinced there is an individual out there somewhere who knows who did this, and how and why.
Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood
Other evidence includes Smartt’s apparent confession to a Reno Veterans Administration counselor, who reported it to the Department of Justice officials working on the case with Thomas. No written report was made of the counselor’s statement, Gamberg said.
During interviews with the Department of Justice, Smartt mentioned that he was missing a hammer, which he identified as an all-metal tool with a blue rubber handle. “That was almost a confession,” Gamberg said.
While several Internet chat groups dedicated to the Keddie murders have kept speculation alive, it was a Feather Publishing Co. story in March that triggered new details about the case. Among the recent information Gamberg received was a report from a man who found a rusty hammer in a pond near the scene of the crimes. Gamberg found the hammer and has sent it to a Department of Justice lab.
“I hope when they chip all the rust off we’ll find a name, maybe a Social Security number,” he said jokingly.
He also received information that led to recovering a knife near the old Keddie store. The rusty 6-inch blade has also gone to the Department of Justice for analysis.
Hagwood and Gamberg said they believe several people were involved in the Keddie murders beyond the two dead suspects. The evidence has led them to think that the motive for the cabin murders was related to the abduction of Tina Sharp, Hagwood said.
“If you kill three people in a front room and extract the little girl from a bedroom, a motive has to be attributed to her. … There’s no end to speculations on why,” he said.
The case is personal for Gamberg as well as Hagwood. Gamberg knew the slain teenage boys well. One of them was in his home the day before the murders. As a law enforcement officer with a commitment to resolving crime, he said he has always been bothered by the way the case was investigated.
While he acknowledged that he now has access to tools that were not available in 1981, tools that were available were simply not used, he said: “You put two and two together. That wasn’t done before – and you wonder why.”
Before hiring Gamberg to reopen the case, Hagwood said he had always been defensive of the efforts of law enforcement officers. “Now I understand the speculation by so many people out there. You can’t make this stuff up,” he said.
A $5,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.
Tips or information about the Keddie murders can be given anonymously by calling the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office at 530-283-6360; the Secret Witness program at 775-322-4900; sending a text message to 847-411 Keyword SW; submitting information online at www.secretwitness.com; or emailing Gamberg at Gamberg@pcso.net.