Originally published 10/22/2004
The estranged husband of Jan Scharf, a Cameron Park nurse, was found guilty Thursday of murdering her and hiding her body, which has never been found.
An El Dorado Superior Court jury found Glyn Wolfgang Scharf guilty of first-degree murder after deliberating about two days and rejecting a lesser second-degree option. He faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison and will return to court for sentencing Nov. 30.
"I'm just incredibly relieved," said Jan Scharf's sister, Becki Bloch, after hearing the verdict. "What remains of our family can start to heal now. This has been holding us hostage."
Never miss a local story.
As the verdict was read, Glyn Scharf, in a tan sports coat, sat motionless.
Jan Scharf's family, including her only daughter, Aimee Bautista, 26, wept as they clung to each other.
Without details of how or where 45-year-old Jan Scharf was killed, El Dorado County prosecutors unfolded a monthlong largely circumstantial evidence case against the rangy paramedic, attempting to show how he refused to accept that his marriage was over and that he was the only person who had any reason to kill her.
Jan Scharf disappeared from her home after arriving home from work in May 2002 on a night Glyn Scharf admits he was in the Cameron Park home they had shared. Even though her car was found a few days later at a fitness club, neither the house or the car ever revealed any clues about where she was or what happened to her.
Investigators did not arrest Scharf until a year after she disappeared.
The two married in 1988. But the marriage had soured, the two had separated and Jan Scharf had had divorce papers sent to Glyn Scharf about the time she disappeared, according to court testimony.
Scharf initiated relationships with other women, moving to Amador County where one of them lived. But he kept a key to his Cameron Park home to do laundry, he told investigators.
He claimed he did laundry the night Jan Scharf was last seen and that she and her car were gone in the morning when he awoke. Even though her daughter and family grew frantic over her disappearance, Glyn Scharf busied himself removing her pictures off the walls and switching the utilities to his name - and inviting his girlfriends in, according to court testimony.
Months after Scharf was arrested, the Celtic cross Jan Scharf routinely wore and a ring of hers were found in a plastic film canister under brush in the front yard of Scharf's former girlfriend in Amador County, a woman Jan Scharf never met.
The recovered necklace became the jewel in the crown for the prosecution.
Dennis Bietz, 54, the jury foreman, also a registered nurse, said Thursday that for at least 11 on the panel, it was the smoking gun. But he said the rest of the case weighed heavily enough that he believed the same verdict would have emerged, but maybe slower.
El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy, who came to the Placerville courtroom to hear the verdict, said: "We knew it was a significant piece of evidence."
In bypassing the option of second-degree murder, the jury concluded that Glyn Scharf plotted and planned to kill the woman who was rejecting him, possibly secreting drugs from his job to overwhelm her.
In the courtroom, Jan Scharf's sister, who took a leave from her job in Oregon to attend the trial, smiled through tears.
Later, as she prepared to return home to Oregon, Bloch reflected on the end of a long ordeal that began with a phone call about her sister's disappearance.
"I feel we can close this door. I can go home and look up and say to Jan, 'We did it and God, we miss you.' "
She and the rest of the family are not clinging to hope that Scharf will tell them what he did with her sister, that they will finally have a grave site.
"I don't believe he will ever tell us," she said.
A criminal law professor said murder trials without a body or weapon are ancient in origin, but in California, a 1959 state appellate court ruling on a Southern California case sealed the concept in a case that bears some similarities to the one against Scharf.
"What was decided is that it is perfectly legal to convict someone without a body," said David Miller, a professor at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.
On May 16, 1955, exactly 48 years before Scharf was arrested, a wealthy 63-year-old woman disappeared from her Bel Air home. Her husband of six years, L. Ewing Scott, claimed he left the house for an errand and when he returned, his wife and her car were gone.
While her many friends tried to reach the missing woman by phone and letter, her husband emptied her bank account, courted two women and gave away her possessions.
Then, his wife's eyeglasses and her denture were found discarded next door, according to court documents.
Like Scharf, Scott was arrested almost a year after his wife disappeared and he was convicted largely on his behavior.
In upholding his first-degree murder conviction, judges wrote then, "The evidence of appellant's guilt was convincing. We can only regard the verdict as a reasonable and just disposition of the charge that appellant murdered his wife."
Jan Scharf's daughter, Bautista, had testified during the trial, relaying how she and her mother - her only parent - talked daily about her upcoming wedding, which was delayed.
The plans are moving forward again for a November wedding.
During a break in the trial, it was Bloch who accompanied her niece for a wedding gown fitting, a bittersweet task.
"There's no way," she said, "I can fill her mother's shoes."