Courtesy of – Dan McDonald Managing Editor firstname.lastname@example.org and The Mountain Messenger
The Keddie murders remain the most infamous cold case in Plumas County history.
But the case might not be cold much longer.
Thanks to new technology and recent efforts by a sheriff’s special investigator, the mystery of who killed four people at a Keddie cabin 35 years ago could soon be solved.
“We’re arriving at points where we are going to be taking some next steps,” Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood said.
Hagwood said there are people — some still living in the county — who know what happened and were possibly involved “whether directly or after the fact.”
The sheriff declined to name the persons of interest. He said some have already been contacted.
“We want to make it clear to those individuals who are monitoring what’s going on with this case that we are making progress,” Hagwood said. “And we are going to continue.”
Hagwood was a 15-year-old Quincy High School student on April 11, 1981, when the bloody bodies of Keddie residents Glenna “Sue” Sharp, 36, John Sharp, 15, and Dana Wingate, 17, were found in cabin No. 28 at the resort near Quincy. All three were bound and had been stabbed repeatedly with a knife and beaten with a hammer.
Sue Sharp’s 12-year-old daughter, Tina Sharp, wasn’t found until three years later. Her decomposed remains were scattered near Feather Falls in Butte County.
Remarkably, three young boys — two of Sue Sharp’s sons and a neighborhood friend — were discovered unharmed in the cabin’s small back bedroom. They somehow slept through the massacre that took place just feet away.
The horrific crime traumatized the community. Most consider the Keddie murders the worst act of violence ever committed in Plumas County.
No one has ever been charged in connection with the murders.
Two men who lived in Keddie (cabin No. 26) — Martin Smartt and John Boubede — were considered suspects at the time. Both men had criminal records.
They were questioned, but never arrested. Although there was circumstantial evidence, there was never enough to charge either man with the murders.
Both men have since died of natural causes. Boubede, who was 50 years old when the murders happened, died in Illinois in 1988 and Smartt, who was 32, died in Oregon in 2006.
When Smartt and Boubede died, many of the victims’ family members assumed the chances of solving the case died along with them. But Hagwood said the investigation never stopped.
Two years ago, the sheriff decided to step up the effort. He brought in retired detective Mike Gamberg as a special investigator to work the case exclusively.
Gamberg, who was a deputy sheriff in 1981, said he was fired by then sheriff Doug Thomas two weeks before the Keddie murders happened.
“I called him a liar on public radio,” Gamberg said. “I probably would have fired myself if I would have done the same thing.”
Although Gamberg was later reinstated, he said he was never allowed to investigate the Keddie murders. “I was told if I came anywhere close to this case I would be fired again,” he said. “I was never given a reason.”
Gamberg said the Keddie case has always haunted him. So when Sheriff Hagwood asked him to take over the case in June, 2013, he jumped at the chance.
Gamberg moved into the room at the sheriff’s office that has long been dedicated to the Keddie murder case. He said the first thing he did was sift through all the files and re-examine every piece of evidence. He wanted to start fresh.
“When I came back, the case was just a mess,” Gamberg said. “It was a huge volume of material and very fragmented.”
Gamberg has been assisted by the California Department of Justice, the FBI and a Butte County cold case investigator who was also a detective when the murders happened.
“He’s just a bulldog. I mean a great investigator,” Gamberg said of his Butte County colleague. “He was an investigator when they found Tina’s remains down in Butte County (in 1984). This case has always bothered him. I called him and he just jumped at the chance to work (the Keddie case).”
Help from the Internet
According to Hagwood and Gamberg, one of the most helpful investigative tools didn’t exist in 1981. … The Internet.
At least four Internet chat rooms are dedicated to the Keddie murders, which have “developed almost a cult following,” according to Hagwood.
Much of the content on the websites is produced by arm-chair sleuths who are quick to speculate and offer conspiracy theories. But Gamberg said some of the contributors have credible information. And a few seem to have first-hand knowledge of the crime.
“People on the Internet have been really helpful,” Gamberg said. “I’ve been working closely with some of them.”
Hagwood called some of the newly discovered information “amazing.”
“There are a handful of individuals who have done very credible and in-depth research that has proven very beneficial in putting together timelines of not just persons of interest, but individuals assigned to the investigation those many years ago,” Hagwood said. “And there’s been some startling discoveries and revelations related to — not just persons of interest in this case — but individuals who were a part of the law enforcement community and had involvement in this investigation from the beginning.”
Hagwood and Gamberg said they don’t fault everyone at the sheriff’s office for the way the investigation was handled in 1981. But Gamberg said some of the sheriff’s “more accomplished investigators could have been better utilized.”
“It’s not so much what they did, it’s what they didn’t do,” Gamberg said. “They didn’t follow up on a lot of information they had. It was kind of a shotgun approach.”
Hagwood and Gamberg both said they were surprised to discover the Department of Justice assigned an organized crime unit to the case.
“Why would investigators from the state, who specialized in organized crime, be sent to remote rural northern California for what ended up being a quadruple homicide?” Hagwood said. “There has been speculation and accusations on some of these Internet sites that, in the past, I took a lot of exception to. But as information is coming in, I’m of a mind to certainly take a look at that now more than I was in the past.”
Gamberg said he is questioning the DOJ to try to find out why it suspected the murders had something to do with organized crime.
Hagwood said if the Keddie murders happened in 2016, someone likely would be in custody by now.
“It’s really not a reflection of the individuals at the sheriff’s department back then, it’s just the measure of (technological) progress that has been made over the last 35 years,” Hagwood said. “When it comes to processing a crime scene, developing finger prints, the ability to utilize finger prints. … The ability to bring DNA comparisons into the arena didn’t exist then.”
Why haven’t witnesses come forward?
Gamberg said “in 1981 there was a big question in the public about how trustworthy the cops were.” He said people in the community who had information were also shocked and scared. The Keddie murders changed the way people live to this day.
“People didn’t lock their doors at night,” Gamberg said. “My kids would have 15 or 20 friends sleeping on our front lawn during the summer. You know, just a big sleepover. … After the murders happen ed, (the sleepovers) never happened again. The kids would not do it. They were afraid.
“So, if they were afraid, you can imagine somebody who has information regarding this case. They were possibly afraid to say anything for fear that they could end up like the people in cabin 28.”
Gamberg said he wants people who have information about the murders to know they can trust him. “I’ve always been able to deal with people. They trusted me as a cop,” he said. “I’m hoping that when they find out I’m working this case — and that I was trustworthy with them — they will come forward and talk to me.”
Gamberg said he has also worked to gain the trust of people who have been offering information on the Internet.
Persons of interest
Gamberg said, thanks to information from the Internet chat rooms, he has identified the location of at least six “persons of interest” connected to the case.
“I believe there are other people who assisted in disposing of Tina (Sharp’s body),” Gamberg said. “And I believe I have them identified.
“I have contacted some of them,” he added. “I’m at the point where I’ve got enough information, I can go out and rattle their cage to see what I can get from them.”
Gamberg and Hagwood encouraged people who might have information about the Keddie murders to call a hotline number (283-6360) at the sheriff’s office.
“People who have information — no matter how slight it might be — we will look into it,” Gamberg said.
The Plumas County sheriff is asking anyone with information about the 1981 Keddie murders to call special investigator Mike Gamberg at 283-6360.