INDIANAPOLIS (Jan. 2, 2015) – Marion County Sheriff’s Lt. Earl Thurman Sharp was off-duty and on-patrol, keeping an eye on a collection of Castleton area business complexes Dec. 25, 1988. When he didn’t show at 7 a.m. to hand off his private security car to the next man, a search was undertaken and the body of the jail supervisor was found behind a retaining wall on Priority Way.
Sharp had been shot three times and more than a quarter century later, investigators still don’t know for sure why the lawman died.
The cold case killing of Thurman Sharp marks the only Indy Unsolved murder of a police officer in Marion County since before the middle of the last century.
“I knew him well. I worked with him when I first came on the sheriff’s department,” said retired Homicide Lt. Steve Gibbs who was a burglary detective the morning Sharp died. “Earl spent a lot of his time helping people that were inside the jail at the time. In fact, I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about him.”
Sharp’s easygoing manner with offenders inside the Marion County Jail did not necessarily translate well onto the streets of Indianapolis where the veteran officer seemed to lack the sixth sense that road deputies rely on to stay alive.
“Earl didn’t have a real big perception of being in danger out here,” said Gibbs who recalled the slain deputy had broken up a burglary just a couple weeks before this killing. “He drove up on two guys breaking into an auto supply store and he just walked up on them and said, ‘What are you doing, fellas?'”
Gibbs recalled the murder scene on that morning in the deserted office park.
Shell casings littered the pavement, he said. A pool of blood marked the spot where Sharp’s body briefly rested. DNA was recovered from inside his car and one of the deputy’s socks and shoes were pulled off, indicating his body may have been dragged.
Sharp’s gun remained in his holster.
“He was struck in the face knocked down and shot multiple times while he was on the pavement,” said Gibbs, standing on the spot where blood stained the pavement for years. “He would have had to be so close to somebody in order to have somebody put him down.”
In the early 1990s a trio of dental office rapists and robbers allegedly confessed to and were charged with the killing.
Those counts were dropped.
A former city police officer who may have been Sharp’s rival at the security company was questioned on his death bed to no avail.
Did Sharp stumble on a Christmas morning criminal enterprise or walk up on an acquaintance with a grudge?
“This murder could’ve been over a lot of things,” said Gibbs. “It’s still within the realm of possibilities that there was a burglary crew here getting ready to do or had just done something that never got reported.
“Lieutenant Sharp may have interrupted some other kind of crime, a dope deal, a transition between a big league dealer and a local pusher, or a transit point, or perhaps someone dealing in stolen merchandise or hot merchandise of some kind.
“We do know that a lot of crime on the northeast side back in the day, robberies, were people coming down from Fort Wayne,” said Gibbs, “but on Christmas morning there’s not even anything to rob.
“Nothing was moving. Not even a mouse.”
Charles Sharp has waited decades for an explanation of why his father died.
“You know, I’ve thought about that now for like 26 years and I can tell you for a certainty that I believe that my dad didn’t get out of the car for no reason but whatever got him out of the car, it was non-threatening or it was someone he knew.
“In the way that he was killed you have to wonder…this almost seemed planned because…the FBI profile of my dad’s killing was such that they claimed that it was something that was very intentional and brutal. They almost likened it to a gang-style killing except for the fact that in most gang style killings they take something with them like a badge or something that shows, ‘Hey, I did this thing,’ but this was almost like an act of revenge.”
Sharp’s police radio was missing, either taken as a trophy or as an aid to help his killer’s keep track of the initial investigation.
“Nobody would have hated him,” said Sharp. “Who would have hated him that much to do that kind of a thing? It just doesn’t add up at all.”
IMPD cold case detectives tell FOX59 News that in reviewing the Sharp file, they believe investigators have once spoken with their suspect.
DNA evidence remains in the Marion County crime lab and property room waiting to be linked to the killer.
Occasionally tips and claims come to the cold case squad and the file is re-examined.
“The possibility is good,” said Gibbs, himself a former cold case detective when asked if Thurman Sharp’s killer or killers and their friends are still around. “The possibility is also good, considering the lifestyle that a lot of these people carry on, is that the people directly involved are deceased.
“People who work murder want those cases solved,” said Gibbs, who counts only two unsolved cases from his career investigating murders. “Sometimes it’s because it’s a debt to the families which we have. Sometimes it’s professional pride, but, yes, we want to clear those cases.
“Someone’s got to talk and someone’s got to tell the truth. Not made up facts.”
If you have any information about the murder of Deputy Thurman Sharp in an office park on Indianapolis’ north side on Christmas morning, 1988, call Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana at (317) 262-TIPS.
Your clue could be worth a $1,000 reward.