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Crime

Inside the Keddie Cabin Murders: Daughter Remembers Finding Mom and Brother Dead at Age 14

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More than 35 years after a teenage girl came home to find her family brutally slain in their resort cabin, police say the cold case is heating up. Subscribe now to PEOPLE, or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands now, for more on this case. 

In the quiet calm of a Sunday morning on April 12, 1981, 14-year-old Sheila Sharp returned from a sleepover to her family’s cabin in their mountain resort town and found a horror that changed her life forever.

On the living room floor just inside cabin 28 in Keddie, California, were three dead bodies bound with tape and electrical wire. “They were tied up with blood all over their face,” Sheila tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newsstands now.

Her brother Johnny, 15, was face up; near him was his best friend, Dana Wingate, 17. A third body, Sheila’s 36-year-old mother, Sue, was covered by a yellow blanket.

All three had been stabbed multiple times and attacked so violently around their heads with a hammer that blood splattered the walls and ceiling; a bent steak knife lay on the floor.

• Watch our new true crime show, People Magazine Investigates, which continues with an episode on the Keddie cabin murders on Monday, Nov. 28, at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.

Sheila’s screams alerted her neighbor’s brother, who approached the cabin and found Sheila’s two youngest brothers and another friend alive but asleep in a bedroom — separated from the carnage only by a closed door.

Missing was Sheila’s 12-year-old sister, Tina, whose severed skull was not found until three years later, on the anniversary of the slayings, in a wooded area in another county more than 50 miles away.

The crimes ended a trusting way of life in Keddie, but no one was made to answer for them. “I gave up,” says Sheila, 50, now a married mother of three and grandmother of two. “I pretty much thought, I’m going to my grave not knowing.”

Thirty-five years after her wrenching discovery, the cold case is back in the headlines: Who murdered the Sharp family?

Sheila Sharp at the Keddie Resort in April 2016.
Julian Dufort

• Watch the full episode of the People Magazine Investigates After Show on the Keddie case, available Nov. 28 on People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the app for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, Xfinity, iOS and Android devices.

The renewed investigation is the work of Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood. Elected in 2010, Hagwood surveyed the shoved-aside boxes of files and evidence he inherited from the case and, in 2013, brought retired investigator Mike Gamberg in to help organize them with an eye toward a fresh look.

Since then, the two say they’ve recovered a possible murder weapon, plus an overlooked tape recording of an anonymous 911 caller who identified the skull as Tina’s before the medical examiner confirmed it. Both are being analyzed.

Gamberg has also encountered two apparent confessions — one in a handwritten letter discovered in the case file, another reported by a therapist who counseled a onetime suspect — that he thinks may at last close the case.

But the now-retired sheriff at the time of the killings, Doug Thomas, tells PEOPLE he discounts the latest claims of resolution, and he says the suspects under fresh scrutiny were investigated early on. With no evidence to convict them, neither was ever charged, Thomas says. (Both are now dead.)

Still, Sheriff Hagwood believes the survivors — Sheila and her brothers, Rick and Greg — deserve answers. “Unfinished business is completely unacceptable,” he says.

And that gives Sheila hope. “Finally,” she says, “I have somebody that cares.”

People Magazine Investigates‘ episode on the Keddie cabin murders airs Monday, Nov. 28 (10 p.m. ET), on Investigation Discovery.