Exorcising ghosts of past New owner hopes to reopen resort haunted by 20-year-old slayings
Keddie, Plumas County — It had been more than a year since she ran screaming from the inexplicable, dark things she saw there, yet Ashley Conte still shivered as she stood in front of the battered little house.
“Anyone with any brains will never set foot in there again,” she said, mustering all the conviction her 16 years would allow. “You can never change what happened inside. The house should just be ripped down.”
She wrenched her gaze from the twilight shadows creeping onto the boarded up windows. “It’s haunted,” she whispered. “Everybody knows it. Rip it down.”
Whether the terrors Ashley and others say they saw inside Cabin #28 of the Keddie Resort — chairs and bodies floating mid-air, carvings disappearing from walls — were figments or genuine spooks is up for grabs. But what took place 20 years ago this spring is not.
Back then, a mother, her two children and a teenage friend were butchered here in a one-night frenzy so off-the-charts savage that to this day cops don’t like to step inside the house.
The murders ruined this northern Sierra mountain resort, a 3,205-foot- elevation enclave so popular people used to drive hundreds of miles just to eat at its log-walled lodge. In short order, appalled tourists began staying away in droves. And even now — spirits or not — the specter of the killings continues to keep this pretty resort empty.
“It’s spooky, a real ghost town,” said Scott Lawson, director of the Plumas County Museum in nearby Quincy. “Nobody goes there, really. And I doubt anyone will until they find out who killed all those people.
“But that,” he said, eyes going wide, “is the whodunnit of the century around here.”
Twenty years ago, Keddie Resort was in the latest of many heydays dating from its founding in 1910, a placid getaway where you could rent one of 33 rustic cabins or a room in the hand-crafted, two-story lodge. The streams had great trout fishing, and pine-studded trails beckoned all around.
The Keddie Lodge restaurant was packed most every night with customers who came from as far as San Francisco to dine on barbecued bear ribs, sherry- basted racoon steaks — all shot locally — and fine wines.
“It was always a special, pretty place to go, a real draw,” said Lawson.
Then came April 11, 1981. Sometime between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. that day, 15-year-old John Sharp and his buddy, 17-year-old Dana Wingate, were seen hitchhiking from Quincy to Keddie Cabin #28. John had been living there for months with his 36-year-old mother, Glenna Sharp — and once the two boys walked through the door, police say, the horror began.
A pair of killers either went in with the boys or were waiting with Glenna Sharp, and they tied up all three with duct tape and electrical wire. Soon after, John’s 13-year-old sister, Tina, showed up and was bound, too.
What followed was a night of torture.
By the time the killers left 10 hours later, they had used steak knives and a claw hammer to such effect that the victims were barely recognizable.
“Whoever did this stabbed the victims so violently they bent one knife totally double from the force,” said Sheriff’s Patrol Commander Rod DeCrona. “They stabbed and pounded on everything in sight — the walls, the people, the furniture. Everything.”
He shuddered at the memory of first walking into the murder scene. “There was blood sprayed absolutely everywhere,” DeCrona said. “You knew right away we were involved with a psychopath.”
The carnage was only discovered the next morning by John’s 14-year-old sister, Sheila, who had been at a sleepover next door. To the enduring surprise of police, nobody outside the charnel house had heard a thing.
And the mystery only deepened: Not only was the body of Tina, most likely killed at the scene, missing — but three near-toddlers sleeping in one bedroom had been amazingly left untouched.
Tina’s severed head was found three years later by a bottle-digger, 50 miles downhill at a waterfall. One of the children in the bedroom — two were Sharp brothers, the other a play-pal — remembered enough so police could make a sketch of two killers, but the boy was so young the picture’s accuracy is considered questionable.
Thousands of leads and suspects have been picked over since then by deputies, the FBI and state investigators — but nothing panned out, DeCrona said. A timeline of the case dominates three walls of the sheriff’s office, tips still come in, and DNA samples were sent to the state crime lab just two months ago, but nobody’s holding his breath.
“Usually in a crime like this, the killers get sloppy and leave more behind, ” said DeCrona, sighing. “I wish it were that simple. We have no motive, no suspects.”
Dana’s father, Gary Wingate, thinks there were so many police agencies involved that they “stumbled over each other and fouled up the case.” But he tries not to stew about it. He never even calls the Sharp family — who declined requests through intermediaries to be interviewed.
“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,” said Wingate, who lives near Quincy. “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.”
Ashley Conte and her neighbors think the evil is still there.
People began to shun the resort after the killings, and within a year it was empty. The owners put Keddie up for sale in 1984 for $1.8 million — and nobody bit.
Over the next decade or so, it rotted into a refuge for squatters and hobos, and the county condemned most of the buildings. But in the past few years longtime owner Gary Mollath has gone on a furious restoration campaign that has the old resort looking pretty much as it did in 1981 — sans people.
He’s rented out a couple of the best cabins, and says he hopes to rehab the rest enough to reopen in a year.
But first there is Cabin #28 — dubbed “The Murder House” by locals — to contend with.
The condemned building’s yellow-and-white paint is flaking, doors are nailed shut and most windows are covered with plywood. Bums and kids — including Ashley, Mollath’s stepdaughter — have often broken in for kicks, but by several accounts they all flee in a hurry.
Ashley said that aside from seeing murky forms and rocking chairs in the house, she once saw a pitchfork and the word “no” carved in the kitchen door. “When we went back a half-hour later, the words and the pitchfork were gone,” she said.
Other locals, including 22-year-old Forest Jones, said they heard moans, doors slamming and footsteps when the house was obviously deserted.
Others don’t buy all the spooky stuff.
“I hate it when people call this a ghost town,” said Lynn Seavy, 46, who lives next to The Murder House. “Keddie is a nice, peaceful place where you can hear the wind in the trees. I wish people would get over what happened.”
Mollath’s solution is just as his step-daughter suggests.
“That house has been such a negative point for so long that I intend to tear it down and put a park there,” Mollath said. “Then I’m going to open this place back up and cater to groups — with people traveling closer to home now, I think the timing will be just right.
“I want people to come and say, ‘Wow!’ when we start up again. Not be scared.”
Before he flings open the gates, though, he’d better do more than just raze The Murder House, maintains Annette Martin, a psychic in Campbell who advises police throughout the nation on murder cases.
The trouble in Keddie, she said, is that because the mayhem was so abhorrent, the victims’s ghosts are probably in shock and don’t know they are dead. So even if their house is demolished, “they’ll still be there, hanging out.”
“We often find this type of poltergeist activity in cases like this, especially if people were chopped up,” said Martin. “My guess is that the ‘no’ the girl saw was the victims still trying to say ‘no’ to their killers. There is unresolved business there.”
The only way to cleanse the area of spirits, she said, is to have someone spiritual perform a healing ceremony after the house is gone.
“Otherwise, whatever is in its place will be haunted,” Martin said. “And it will stay haunted.”