By chris conrad
A brutal and unsolved mass murder that took place in Northern California on April 11, 1981, has become a magnet for sleazy true crime paperbacks and Internet conspiracy theories.
However, for Sheila Sharp, who as a young girl discovered the bodies of her entire family that day, the incident remains a monumental, though not defining, moment in her life.
Sharp, 46, came to live in Jackson County following the murders and graduated from high school in Medford in 1985.
She has written a book about her experiences since the murders and hopes it will help people who have experienced severe trauma take control of their lives and not let tragedy rule them.
Sharp and her husband, Richard Whittle, wrote “How to Survive Your Visit to Earth” over the summer, and it is now for sale on Amazon.com and on their website, www.freespiritbooks.com.
“People always wonder why they feel the way they do, and they often blame these things on their childhood,” Sharp said during a phone interview from her home in Salem. “But you can’t blame your childhood. You have to move on to function normally. I’ve done it.”
The murders occurred at a resort near Keddie, Calif., in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Sharp’s family had been renting a cabin at the resort, and while she was at a sleepover in another cabin, the murderer or murderers entered the cabin and killed Sharp’s mother, sister and brother, and a friend of her brother.
They had been bound and executed with a knife and claw hammer. The remains of Sharp’s sister Tina were not discovered until years later in another campsite around 30 miles from the murder scene.
Sharp, who was 14 at the time, entered the cabin the next morning and found the gruesome crime scene.
Despite a flood of tips that poured in during the investigation, police have not made an arrest in the case.
Sharp rarely speaks about the murders, so writing the book was a big step for her, she said.
“I’m a shy person, and I don’t do well speaking publicly,” she said.
The book was written as a self-help manual that includes some of Sharp’s impressions of the murders and the follow-up investigations.
In it, she talks about her descent into drugs as a young woman. She says the trauma was taking her down a path that would leave her life in shambles.
“I then realized that the drugs weren’t going to do anything good for me, so I left that behind,” Sharp said. “Also, I had a kid at the time, and I thought it wasn’t fair for him to suffer for my actions.”
Sharp said she has her own theories about what happened that night, but she wants readers to take in the book and make their own judgments.
Sharp said she has received positive reactions about the book.
“This book is my personal philosophy and is primarily for helping people,” she said.
Sharp no longer participates in Internet forums or documentary movies made about the murders.
“People just say things on those forums that aren’t true or are insensitive,” she said. “I don’t pay attention to them anymore.”
Whittle said people are amazed that his wife endured such an experience and has gone on to live a normal life.
“People come up to her and say that she’s a brave woman to survive that emotional roller-coaster ride,” Whittle said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.