Unsolved Mysteries: The Murder and Corruption of Keddie Cabin

How an Alleged Police Cover-Up May Have Allowed Quadruple Killers to Walk Free for 40 Years

Michael East
Nov 2, 2020 · 25 min read

Cabin 28. An innocent two words. A note on a sign, perhaps. A statement on a door. Yet to the small rural community of Keddie in Northern California, it is two words that bring back memories of revulsion and horror, ones that many would like to forget. The cabin is the scene of one of the most brutal murders in American history, with three people mercilessly slain within its walls and a fourth, a twelve-year-old girl, being seemingly kidnapped. With confessions and suspects in abundance, why has the case remained officially unsolved for forty years?

The reasons lead us down a dark path in the California backwoods, with allegations surrounding drugs, child abuse and police corruption that led to the downfall of an entire community in a vacuum of suspicion, paranoia and revulsion. One of the darkest tales in the history of American crime, the consequences of what happened one horrific night in 1981 continues to spread its evil tentacles into the present, with investigations still ongoing to bring some measure of closure and justice to all those affected.

Murder

Glenna Susan Sharp’s life had not been a happy one, yet things were looking up. Having recently suffered at the hands of an abusive husband, James, she had taken the life-changing decision to relocate across the country with her five children to be closer to her brother Don Davis. Moving from Connecticut to first the Carolinas and then finally California, Glenna moved into a mobile home at the Claremont Trailer Park, with her husband visiting in 1979. He didn’t stay, and there were accusations that he had become sexually abusive toward his own daughters. That November, she began renting a cabin at a resort in the Sierra Nevada community of Keddie. This former railroad town was named after its founder: railroad surveyor Arthur W. Keddie. With a tiny population, the location was rural and remote.

The former site of Cabin 28 where a quadruple murder occurred in 1981 in Keddie, California. The cabin was demolished in 2004. | 3ternalist01, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Glenna had been born in Springfield, Massachusetts and had recently celebrated her thirty-sixth birthday. Despite only having a modest income of $250, she doted on her children and was determined to make a new and better life. She enrolled in a California Education Training Act program and took a part-time job at the Quincy Elks Lodge. Commonly known as Sue, the ages of her children spanned from five to fifteen, with each one having far different needs and interests. Yet at Keddie, there was no shortage of adventure for outdoors minded children, with forests, ponds, a river and rugged mountainous terrain.

There was even an opportunity to make friends, with Sue meeting Marilyn and Martin “Marty” Smartt on her training course. Their boy, Justin, soon became friends with her own young children. You could be forgiven for thinking that it was a perfect all-American idyllic getaway. Keddie, however, had fallen on hard times after the railroad terminal was shut down in the 1970s and wasn’t quite the ideal many of those staying had imagined, with desperation forcing the owners to let out the cabins to increasingly nefarious characters.

As Sue would discover, the backwoods often have a dark underbelly.

Victims: Sue Sharp, John Sharp, Tina Sharp and Dana Wingate | Wikimedia Commons, enhanced by author

It was on April 11, 1981, that Sue and her fourteen-year-old daughter Shelia drove the five miles from Keddie to the town of Quincy. They’d gone to pick up her sixteen-year-old son John and his friend Dana Wingate. However, just two hours later, both John and Dana were seen hitchhiking back to Quincy, with a local woman having given them a ride to a friend’s home. The two were seen attending a party at Oakland Camp later that day with other minors. Alcohol flowed freely, and there were reports of drug use.

Back at Keddie, Shelia decided to spend the night in the adjacent cabin with the Seabolt Family, with Sue staying at home with her other sons Rick and Greg. They were aged just ten and five. Staying with the boys for a sleepover was their friend Justin Eason. Sue’s final child, twelve-year-old daughter Tina, was watching television at the Seabolt cabin. Shelia would depart to join her around 8pm but found she’d already left. Where Tina was before she headed home at 9:30 was never firmly established.

The Sharp cabin at Keddie Resort | plumasnews.com

Around 7 am on April 12, Shelia made the most horrific discovery imaginable. To her horror, she entered Cabin 28 to discover that her family had been murdered in the night, with blood covering the floor. Sue, John and his friend Dana lay dead, all three having been tied up with wire and tape. Tina was missing. Rick, Greg, and Justin, meanwhile, were thankfully unharmed in one of the bedrooms.

“The most vivid image I have is of my brother laying there. The neighbours say I came back screaming. They said I said it was Johnny. But I don’t remember that. It’s a little bit confused. It could have been that I blocked it out, and the shock of it all, too.”

Shelia Sharp, People Magazine

The alarm was raised at the Seabolt residence and James Seabolt rushed to the cabin, entering initially through the backdoor to check if anyone was alive. Having judged the scene, he then retrieved the three boys through the bedroom window, ensuring they wouldn’t have to walk through the human slaughterhouse in the living room. While it is sometimes reported that the three children had slept through the entire incident, this was not the case. At least Justin is believed to have witnessed some or all of the crime taking place. One of the first on the scene was Sue Sharp’s brother and the children’s uncle Don Davis, having been called by Shelia. The first police officer to arrive was Hank Klement, followed soon after by Under-Sheriff Ken Shanks and Sgt. Jerry Shaver. Davis positively identified the victims as Sue, John and Dana.

The killing shocked investigators with their brutality, with at least two knives and one hammer utilised against the defenceless victims, the weapons found at the scene. Police believed there was another hammer which was missing from the cabin. One of the knives, a steak knife, had been welded with such force that the blade had bent.

The crime scene was covered in blood | Plumas County Sheriff’s Office, Public Domain

Sue’s body had been covered with a blanket, her body laying close to the sofa. She was on her side, and there is some evidence that her body had been rearranged. The rearrangement interestingly had made her more decent, Sue having been naked below the waist. She had been gagged with a bandana and her own underwear. There were defensive wounds on her arms, and she had received a stab wound to the chest, a slashed throat and a head injury from an air rifle. She had suffered far more extensively than the other victims, suggesting she either angered the assailants by fighting back or there was personal vindictiveness against her. Despite the removal of her underwear, there was no evidence she had been sexually assaulted.

The air rifle used to assault Sue was deducted to have been a Daisy 880. Interestingly, it is described as “ideal for young shooters” and designed “for the inexperienced”. Put plainly, it is a children’s weapon. It was not found at the scene.

John, meanwhile, also had his throat cut and his friend Dana had been strangled, their ankles bound together using an electrical cord. All three victims had been extensively beaten about the head with a hammer, and blood splatter suggested the bodies had been moved, the scene being staged. Investigators put the time of the attack as between midnight and 2am. There was blood on the walls of the bedroom Sue shared with her girls. There was blood on the ceiling and furniture of the living room. It was on the bedroom doors and the outside stairs handrail. There was even blood on the soles of the victims’ feet, suggesting they were moving during the attacks. Death was far from quick.

Crime scene photo from Plumas County, California police department showing a knife and hammer suspected to have been used in the Keddie murders | Plumas County Sheriff’s Office, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Police immediately began a significant investigation, not only into the shocking triple homicide but also the disappearance of Tina Sharp. Tina’s jacket and shoes were missing from the cabin alongside a shoebox that she had made for a class project. She had a particular attachment to the box, and the fact she had seemingly been allowed to take it is important to future conclusions. Being a possible abduction, the FBI was asked to investigate.

Questioning residents at Keddie Resort, they discovered that a couple nearby had heard muffled screams around 1:30am but were unable to determine a location. Neither Sheila nor the Seabolt family had heard anything. Other witnesses had seen a brown Datsun parked at the cabin that evening and others noted a green van. Further afield, witnesses reported that John and Dana had been seen hitchhiking back to Keddie after their party, the time being at some point between 9pm and 10pm. Evidence from inside the cabin itself was merger, with no signs of forced entry and only a solitary fingerprint found on a handrail leading to the backdoor. The killer or killers had ensured that they would not be interrupted during their orgy of violence, taking the telephone off the hook, turning out the lights and closing the drapes. The lack of fingerprints suggest they mostly wore gloves. Despite the chaos of the scene, the murders were seemingly well thought out as opposed to a momentary explosion of rage. In fact, were it not for the carnage, there was no evidence there had been intruders at all.

Police began to look toward suspects and identified a man who had left Keddie for Oregon shortly after the killings. Arrested and put under a polygraph, he passed and was dismissed with some ease. A family friend claimed that Dana Wingate stole LSD from local drug dealers which may have served as a motive, but the police recovered no evidence that this was true and found no drugs at the cabin. Despite rumours and innuendo, police also rejected theories surrounding ritual killings, believing that the answer to the case lay far closer to home. One of the Sharp’s neighbours at Keddie Resort would become a focus of some interest in the case, his name became linked to the murders for nearly 40 years. That being Martin Smartt, the stepfather of Justin Eason.

Martin Smartt

Smartt was a very dangerous individual. Known to be obsessed with the bible and preaching about other people’s loose morals, he was almost stereotypically hypocritical. Once, following an argument with his father, he was known to have purchased bomb-making equipment to blow up his house. He had tried to buy guns and was known to practice his skills, utilising a hatchet as a weapon. Since the time of the murders, his ex-wife Marilyn has claimed that he was not only a wife-beater but had tried to murder her on several occasions.

Having recently lost his job as a cook, Martin was supporting his family by both selling and manufacturing hash, being in control of a large scale drugs house with his own runners. Having seemingly moved quickly in the drugs game, he likely felt he’d found his calling. Perhaps his quick aptitude was thanks to his friend, John “Bo” Boubede.

According to later statements by Martin, he and Boubede had first become friends when the two men were patients together at the Veterans Administration hospital in Reno, Nevada. Smartt had attended the hospital while claiming to suffer from PTSD from his time serving in Vietnam. While its possible this might have been true, investigators noted that he served as a cook and it was more likely he was attempting to obtain veterans assistance and other potential benefits.

After meeting at the hospital, Smartt and Boubede became inseparable, with Boubede even moving into Cabin 26 at Keddie alongside Martin and his wife. Marilyn didn’t object, fearful of what her husband’s reaction might be if she rejected the unexpected house guest. While the focus of the investigation might well be Martin, it was likely Boubede who called the shots in their odd relationship. He was a far bigger deal than the criminally illiterate Martin, having convictions for bank robbery, breaking and entering and home invasion. He was linked to the mafia, and the notorious Chicago Outfit made famous by Al Capone. However, while that may sound impressive, others say he was little more than a two-bit hoodlum.

There is some debate over the nature of the relationship between the Smartts and Sue Sharp. Some say that Sue was counselling Marilyn over her violent husband, attempting to convince her to flee as she had done. Others say that Martin Smartt was, in fact, having an affair with Sue. Others still say both these facts are accurate. For her part, Shelia Sharp doesn’t believe her mother would have been involved with a man like Smartt, despite the fact Martin had a reputation for playing away from home.

“My mom’s character has been subject to all manner of cruel supposition, including accusations that she was a drug addict, drug dealer, prostitute, or at the very least an unfit mother. For the record, she was none of these things. She was a kind and loving mother who was doing her very best to raise five children alone. She was dutiful in her attention to each of us, and while we lived in relative poverty, we also lived in a home of love.”

Shelia Sharp, People Magazine

Interviewed following the murders, Martin Smartt claimed that a claw hammer was missing from his cabin.

His stepson Justin Eason, meanwhile, gave conflicting accounts of his experience on the night of the murder, at first saying that he had dreamed of the events before later stating that he’d actually witnessed them. There were also conflicting accounts of Justin’s whereabouts. While it’s now accepted that he had been in the bedroom with Rick and Greg, most earlier versions only list two boys as having been in the room. Equally, he claimed both one and two men were present. Undergoing hypnosis, he said that he had heard sounds from the living room while watching television with Rick and Greg. Getting up to investigate, he allegedly saw two men with Sue, both wearing sunglasses. The first he described as having a moustache and short hair and, oppositely, the second being clean-shaven with long hair. During the confrontation, John and Dana arrived, and a fight ensured. Tina walked in on the chaos and was bundled out of the backdoor by one of the men.

Composite drawings of possible perpetrators of the Keddie murders | Plumas County Sheriff’s Office, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Forensic hypnosis has been widely used by US agencies since the Second World War. However, it has since been debunked by critics as a pseudoscience. Experts have said that there is no evidence that “repressed memories” actually exist, nor that memory can be improved over time. They also state that a witness can be easily led through suggestion and, reversely, hostile witnesses can direct the course of an investigation through easily perpetrated fraud while claiming to be “under hypnosis”. The sessions were conducted by the then County Sheriff, Doug Thomas, after he attended just two training sessions and transcripts clearly show Justin was led.

By April 29, the FBI was already backing off the case, stating that those involved were already doing an adequate job and their presence was unnecessary. No ransom demand had been issued, and doubts began to be raised over the theory of a kidnapping at all, with many fearing Tina was dead. Despite searching a 5-mile radius with dogs and jeeps, nothing was found of the twelve-year-old. That was until April 22, 1984, strangely exactly three years after she vanished from Keddie and over 100 miles away. A bottle collector by the name of Ronald Pedrini was walking in the woods near the hamlet of Feather Falls in the neighbouring Butte County when he came across part of a cranium, investigators later finding part of a mandible and eventually other bones. The remains belonged to Tina. She’d been dead since at least the previous autumn.

Despite the find, the police investigation continued in the same manner as it had since day one, with very little evidence springing off the pages of the case file. Police noted in particular that, despite appeals, nobody came forward to say they had been at the party in Quincy with John and Dana. Others say they saw the two men described by Justin Eason, also in Quincy. Yet, nobody could put a name to the faces. Despite only Sue Sharp being gagged during the murders, nobody apparently heard a thing, even though all the houses were incredibly close together. People were silent, and there were dead ends everywhere. Despite an entire room being kept open at the Plumas County Sheriff’s Department long after the murders, the trail seemed to have gone cold.

Corruption

While many unsolved cases go cold simply because of a lack of evidence or the killers managing to cover their tracks, that was not the case with the Keddie cabin murders. And, in fact, arrests and prosecutions should undoubtedly have been made. While frustrated investigators faced a lack of resources, they were also sabotaged by actors close to their own investigation.

The wife of Martin Smartt, Marilyn, has claimed that she found a blood-stained jacket belonging to Tina in the family basement and handed it to police. However, this claim is disputed, and no official records of this discovery exist. Whether these records have vanished or the suggestion is simply not valid is open to conjecture, and it’s worth noting that police found a blue nylon jacket near where Tina Sharp’s skull was found. The coat was found alongside a blanket, a pair of Levi’s with a missing back pocket, and a used reel of surgical tape.

While we might put the claims down to a vindictive ex-wife, police error or simple misremembering, the suggestions might just gain a little more weight considering other “lost” evidence that was subsequently found. Following the discovery of Tina Sharp’s skull, police received an anonymous tip that the remains belonged to Tina before the pathologist had made a formal declaration. This call was recorded but never entered into evidence. It was found languishing at the bottom of a cardboard box at some point after 2013.

“CALLER: Hello I was watching the news, and they were talking about the skull they found at the Feather Falls, and they asked for any help.

DISPATCHER: Uh-huh.

CALLER: And I was just 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?”

Call Transcript, Published by CBS Sacramento

In 2008, Marilyn Smartt stated in a documentary on the case that her husband and John Boubede were responsible for the murders, Martin having hated John Sharp. Marilyn stated that she left a local bar around 11pm, leaving her husband and his friend still drinking. Around 2am, she awoke at her house to find both men burning an item in a stove. Reports agree that Martin Smart and John Boubede had arrived in Keddie’s Back Door at 10pm in the company of Marilyn, with separate reports suggesting they may have also been in the bar later, wearing sunglasses and suits while being raucous. However, what many reports don’t reveal is that Martin had asked Marilyn to invite Sue Sharp, with Boubede having apparently taken a shine to her. While it’s likely that the romantic interest was actually on Martin’s part, this would seem to contradict claims that the killings were premeditated or that there was intense animosity between the four, despite Sue rejecting the invitation.

Following the killings, Martin left both his wife and Keddie, travelling to Reno, Nevada. There he penned a letter to Marilyn which stated “I’ve paid the price of your love & now that I’ve bought it with four people’s lives, you tell me we are through. Great! What else do you want?” Once again, the letter was never entered into evidence despite the police being aware of it. Sheriff Doug Thomas, did not think Smartt was a suspect, praising his cooperation and having provided “endless clues” that “[threw] the suspicion away from him”. Thomas pointed out the fact that the suspect had passed a polygraph test, and, while this is true, in future conversations with a counsellor, Smartt said he “beat it”.

“Those things are easy to beat. I was lying, and they let me go!” — Martin Smartt

Seemingly destined to be a case that would forever remain unsolved, the investigation was given new impetus when Greg Hagwood became Plumas County Sheriff. Hagwood had been sixteen at the time of the killings and knew the Sharp family personally, working on a painting crew at the county fair with John Sharp and Dana Wingate the previous summer. He reinterviewed old suspects, took new witness statements and poured over the case-files. He even finally identified how John and Dana got home from the party they had attended, interviewing a woman who picked them up while hitchhiking.

His determination to see justice was aided in 2016 with the discovery of what he believes is the missing murder weapon. This second hammer, which investigators had long known must have existed, was found in a local pond following a tip by a family member of John Boubede. Other sources say this tip was made anonymously. A third source says the information came from a metal detectorist. No matter how it was found, Hagwood acknowledged that it had been put there deliberately, stating that “the location it was found… It would have been intentionally put there. It would not have been accidentally misplaced.”

Plumas County Special Investigator Mike Gamberg, who had been friends with Dana Wingate back in 1981, believes that Smartt and Boubede were undoubtedly responsible for the killings.

“The alleged killers who lived here did they have any problems with law enforcement prior? yeah, both of them had records… here are things that were done–but I think most importantly there are things that were not done that are hard to explain”

Mike Gamberg, CBS Sacramento

Both Hagwood and Gamberg have no qualms about declaring the local investigation into the Keddie cabin killings corrupt, with the two men revealing that clear admissions of guilt had been made by Martin Smartt and ignored. Gamberg states that the entire massacre was “covered up” and it appears that instead of arresting the suspects, the police told them to leave town. As we know, Martin Smartt quickly ended up in Reno. Intriguingly, the day the murders were discovered, Marilyn also moved out of her cabin.

“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” — Greg Hagwood, CBS Sacramento.

During his time in Reno, Smartt is said to have confessed to a Reno Veterans Administration counsellor who subsequently reported his claims to Department of Justice (DOJ) officials working on the case with Sheriff Thomas. In fact, he confessed again. And again. He claimed that Sue was the target and that the others got in the way. Nothing was filed. There is only so much incompetence that can be claimed before it becomes complicity.

“I killed the woman and her daughter, but I didn’t have anything to do with the [boys]” — Alleged confession of Martin Smartt

With Sue Sharp allegedly trying to help Marilyn leave her husband, resulting in Marilyn wanting a divorce, and Martin certainly hating John, either one could potentially have been the initial target of the attack, if not both. If Justin Eason’s testimony was correct, a drunken confrontation ended in a moment of violent carnage. Yet, this fails to explain the seemingly premeditated actions of the killers, perhaps even going as far as to stage alibis at Keddie’s Backdoor Bar and, for the most part, wearing gloves.

Cabin 26, the home of the Smartt family | Plumas News

While it may seem that Martin Smartt and John Boubede are the likely killers at Keddie Cabin, it might not be so simple.

In April of 2018, it was revealed by Mike Gamberg that DNA evidence from a piece of tape at the crime scene had been successfully linked to a living suspect. Martin Smartt had died in 2000 and John Boubede in 1988. The presence of DNA linked to a living individual would fly in the face of the evidence given by Justin that stated only two suspects were present, bringing his entire testimony into doubt.

Following the initial “hypnosis” sessions with Sheriff Thomas, the young Justin Eason had extra professional sessions with Dr Jerry Dash, a psychologist at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. These sessions revealed the claim that Tina had entered the room while her mother was being assaulted. After being bundled out of the backdoor, one of the men returned to retrieve a knife. However, like the initial sessions, these events show a shocking level of leading toward the child witness and the validity of hypnosis remains in doubt.

Why Justin Eason would have been allowed to stand and watch events unfold has never been adequately explained, nor why, by his own telling, he was the one who covered Sue’s body and made her decent. Equally, the theory does not explain why Tina’s shoes, coat and favourite shoebox were missing if she was removed in haste, nor why Martin would have only have removed Tina’s body from the scene. While we might suggest that a man of self-delusional morality could not face having killed a child or simply didn’t wish it to be known to his accomplices, this comes close to manipulating the facts to fit a preconceived idea.

Hagwood and Gamberg believe that the long believed version of events recanted by Justin is unsound and the real motive behind the case may be a kidnapping of Tina Sharp.

“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” — Greg Hagwood, Sacramento Bee.

While Hagwood does not state it on the record, the theory that Tina Sharp was kidnapped by a paedophile, one linked to powerful local men, has been made. It was a theory that was backed by some in the FBI.

Tina Sharp | FindAGrave.com, Author enhanced

John E. Douglas, a special agent and unit chief with the FBI, shockingly believed that Tina may in fact have been involved with what transpired in the cabin. One of the first criminal profilers in the United States, Douglas thought that the killings were an afterthought and not premeditated, noting the domestic application of the weapons. Those determined to commit a crime had ready access to better tools. Douglas believed that the crime was committed by a single individual and Tina left intentionally. He thought this person was likely involved in a relationship with the twelve-year-old girl, having successfully groomed her. While the murders were never planned, once they happened Tina was enlisted into assisting in the atrocity. The profiler notes the repositioning of the bodies and how Sue was covered and made decent. This care seemingly stands against the wanton and explosive violence. It is unknown whether Douglas was aware of Justin Eason claiming to be the one who had covered the body.

Given the conflicting and unreliable accounts of Martin, Justin, Marilyn and almost everyone else associated with the case, it’s not hard to feel a little of the frustration that must have faced investigators. Either way, Hagwood and Gamberg believe that more than two people were involved in the killings and that a wider conspiracy was a work to cover up the crimes involving at least six people.

John “Bo” Boubede, date unknown, enhanced by the author

One theory that has been suggested is that Boubede was protected by the DOJ, having been an informant against his Chicago mob affiliates. The men who were sent to Keddie by the DOJ were from organised crime, not homicide. We can only speculate whether missing evidence, such as a logbook detailing how the investigation proceeded, came at the behest of the DOJ or those involved in the killings. Still, fingers have been pointed in the direction of Sheriff Thomas.

In fact, during his counselling sessions, Smartt alleged that Thomas even used to live with him in Cabin 28. The two men apparently lived together before the Sharp’s arrival during a period of marital strife between Martin and Marilyn. They were said to have been friends, some even suggesting that the two men were involved in low-level cons together. However, Martin has denied the claims that he was friends with Martin, stating that he merely offered one session of marital advice to the couple, nothing more. He denies that he ever lived with Martin or had any further contact before the killings, putting speculation down to “people’s imaginations [going] wild”.

“Martin Smartt was not a friend of mine. At one point, he and his wife were having marital problems, and they came to my office when I was sheriff and wanted me to counsel them. First of all, I had just gone through a divorce at that time. I told them, ‘Why would you want me to counsel you?”

Sheriff Doug Thomas, People Magazine

Marilyn, likewise, has no recollection of the two men being friends and denies that her husband had ever stayed with him. Sheriff Thomas believes that claims of conspiracy are the imaginative work of online conspiracy theorists who wish to make a case of simple brutality into something more profound. He denies any accusations of corruption.

“There was no shortage of suspects, but suddenly now everybody 35 years or so later have all figured out what happened, and that all of the investigating officers were corrupt. It’s laughable, is what it is.”

Sheriff Doug Thomas, People Magazine

Six weeks after the killings at Keddie, Sheriff Thomas moved to a new job with Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). This agency governs all law enforcement operations in the State of California and establishes the standards expected for the selection, training and suspension for police officers. The job was under the auspices of the DOJ.

No matter what the truth really is or down what avenues it might take them, Hagwood and Gamberg remain determined to bring some measure of justice to the remaining members of the Sharp family.

“It’s my belief that there were more than two people who were involved in the totality of the crime–the disposal of the evidence and the abduction of the little girl. We’re convinced that there are a handful of people that fit those roles who are still alive. I have a measure of confidence that we’ve identified some of them and… we’re gonna be coming. It could be next month, it could be next year, but really the focus in our priority is getting the truth — getting the answers.”

Greg Hagwood, CBS Sacramento

There is no shortage of theories as to why Sue, her children and their friend died that night. Having involved herself in the affairs of the dangerous Smartt family, was the target Sue herself? If it was a drunken argument that simply exploded, had John Sharp finally angered Martin once too often? Was there a drugs angle? The possible victim of a paedophile, was kidnapping Tina the real motive all along? Just how long did she live before her bones were found three years later? And, most devastatingly of all, were some of the children involved in the killings?

While most believe that those who carried out the brutal killings at Keddie Resort is not in dispute, there were two other suspects during the case that are worth noting.

Joel Walker Lipsey was a special education teacher at Tina’s school, and the girl attended his class part-time. Working from the theory of FBI Special Agent John Douglas, some investigators have suggested that Lipsey was the man who groomed Tina before engaging in the killings, discounting Smartt and Boubede. Lipsey kept a picture of the young girl on his desk and even had her photo in his own home. Most damning, however, is the fact that the teacher was already a known child abuser, having been convicted of committing lewd acts with a child under 14. When he was brought in for questioning, however, he seemingly had a solid alibi. Lipsey died in 2015.

Eliminated as a suspect, despite actually confessing to the Keddie murders, was Robert Joseph Silveria Jr., the so-called “Boxcar Killer”. Silveria Jr. is believed to have killed between 9 and 14 people while living a transient lifestyle on freight-trains throughout the United States. Following his arrest in 1996, police looked at the killer for the Keddie case, despite his regular motivation being robbery. At the time of the murders, he had lived in the nearby Quincy. Despite his confession, it was soon revealed that he had already been in custody for stealing a car at the time, making it impossible that he any potential role in the massacre.

The failings of the investigation into the killings in 1981 also has many explanations. Were the police faced with DOJ sabotage? Or were they actively involved in covering up what really happened themselves? Or, is the truth that much of the “missing” evidence never really existed. While conspiracy theories are often attractive and help the mind come to terms with coincidence, human incompetence and an inability to act, they often serve to suggest malfeasance where none exists. With so many lies, conspiracy theories and individuals covering for others, the truth moves ever further into the distance.

That said, if the evidence and confessions truly existed, the killings in Cabin 28 seemingly had no reason not to be officially solved, with the guilt falling at the feet of Martin Smartt. With both Smartt and Boubede now long dead, the chances for justice for Shelia, Rick, Greg and the family of Dana, may seem both remote and hollow. Questions remain and the “official” resolution that has been offered doesn’t entirely satisfy. Yet, Greg Hagwood and Mike Gamberg are determined to offer that small piece of comfort, to cleanse the wound that was dealt to the entire community of Keddie.

What did tear this family apart that night in 1981? | People.com, enhanced by the author

Following that fateful night, things quickly fell apart. Within the space of a year, people began to sell up and move away. The owners of the resort tried to sell in 1984, nobody was interested. Vagrants began to occupy the now deserted cabins and while there were some attempts to rebuild, they all came to nothing. Cabin 28 was finally demolished in 2004.

Similar to other brutal multiple killings, the rumours of paranormal activity began almost immediately. Teenagers would regularly break into the cabins over the coming years, with stories of ghosts writing on walls and poltergeists moving furniture. While the former owner claims to have wanted the place exorcised, the truth is that the only spectre that haunted Keddie was the memory of what happened that fateful night.

“Nobody has the faintest idea who killed my son, so I long ago had to let this thing go, or it would eat me alive. I don’t think about it, I don’t go to that ghost town, and I have no idea if ghosts exist there. But I do know this. There is evil in this world, and evil was in that house that night.”

Gary Wingate, father of Dana Wingate, San Francisco Gate

As in the case of Lilly Lindeström, it is all too easy to accept tales of the supernatural, organised crime or phantoms in the dark rather than accept the truth of our own humanity. We would rather believe in order and organisation or outright fantasy than accept the sordid reality of what we are really capable of.

The killings at Keddie Resort didn’t just affect the Sharp family, they had a profound effect throughout the area, with the dark underbelly of Keddie bubbling to the surface and engulfing an entire community. From whispers and gossip to outright accusations, the local area fell prey to suspicions and fear. The moments of senseless, bloody, violence in Cabin 28 killed four and destroyed countless other lives. The pain and suffering felt by those involved has only been compounded by four decades of lies and silence. They at least deserved to know why. Demolishing the cabin will not take that darkness away and, as Hagwood and Gamberg know, only the light of truth can finally cleanse Keddie of its real ghosts, those being the secrets buried for over forty years.

I am a freelance long-form writer who writes on true crime, politics, history and more. I am entirely self-funded and if you liked this article, please consider a donation via Patreon as a token of appreciation or directly via PayPal. You can join my mailing list for the latest articles and also like my Facebook page. I’m also active on Twitter. I can be contacted for projects through my website MichaelEastWriter.com where you’ll also find lots more content.

The Mystery Box

Unsolved mysteries from the deep ocean to space and from antiquity to present day

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By The Mystery Box

A selection of the best unsolved mystery stories published in the past month Take a look.

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Michael East

Written by

Freelance writer. Writing on true crime, mysteries, politics, history, and more. | https://linktr.ee/MichaelEast

The Mystery Box

A publication about unsolved mysteries from the deep ocean to space and from antiquity to present day.

Michael East

Written by

Freelance writer. Writing on true crime, mysteries, politics, history, and more. | https://linktr.ee/MichaelEast

The Mystery Box

A publication about unsolved mysteries from the deep ocean to space and from antiquity to present day.

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