Lieutenant Thurman E. (Earl) Sharp, 55, was found face-down in full uniform behind a small barrier at an office park at 9300 Priority Way, West Drive, on Christmas Day 1988. His body was discovered by a fellow officer who had come to relieve him from an off-duty security job at Castleway Management Corp. just before 8 am on December 25.
Lt. Sharp had been shot three times at point blank range. His own service weapon was found snapped in his holster on his gun belt. The coroner, Dennis J. Nicholas, described the killing as an execution, with one of the shots a contact wound made as Lt. Sharp laid on the ground mortally wounded.
Lt. Tharp was working a part-time security job near 96th Street and Keystone Avenue early Christmas morning, with plans to return home later in the day to celebrate the holiday with his family. Something occurred to cause Lt. Sharp to leave his car. A shooter or shooters killed him sometime between 4 and 6 am in the driveway to the office building at 9300 Priority Way. The killers dragged his body behind a barrier and hid his patrol car behind a building, parking it near heavy equipment.
Still unsolved, the scene of Lt. Sharp's death provided little evidence of what occurred. In a December 1991 interview with the Indianapolis Star, Lt. Joie K. Davis noted, "There were no witnesses, no crime scene, not a lot of stuff to go on. It was Christmas morning and nothing was open. No one was around." Davis continued, “This case is constantly on my mind. Constantly. It is one of the most frustrating cases we've ever worked.”
Through the years, leads relating to a number of suspects have been developed; however, motivation for the crime remains unresolved. Investigators have suggested Lt. Sharp either surprised burglars at a nearby gun store or was killed by someone who knew him, possibly a former inmate seeking revenge. Investigators have called Lt. Sharp's death an assassination that was ruthless, cold, and vicious. The investigation continues in the Indianapolis Metro Police Cold Case Unit. Investigators have re-interviewed original witnesses and resubmitted forensic and DNA evidence for additional testing.
Lt. Sharp was in charge of security for Castleway Management Corp. and had worked there eleven years. Part of his job was to schedule security workers. He had taken the Christmas morning shift so other deputies could be with their families. The Castleway Management Corp. and a local gun store owner offered a reward for help finding Lt. Sharp’s killer or killers.
Sheriff Joseph G. McAtee said: “He was a good person, a good police officer, a good family man.” And George Stuteville, a reporter for the Indianapolis Star, wrote: “Lt. Earl Sharp was one of the first policemen I ever knew. It really hurts that he is dead. The world is a little bit meaner now without him around to soften the hard edges.” He was remembered by Father Donald L. Schmidlin, a longtime friend and family priest, as a “dedicated lawman, loving father, caring humanitarian.” Through the years, Lt. Sharp and his wife cared for 30 to 40 foster babies until they were ready for adoption.
Four hundred mourners attended mass on Wednesday, December 28, at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church. In his eulogy, Brother J. Patrick Sheehy said of Lt. Sharp: “In many ways, he was too nice to be a cop. He’d share cheer, confidence and happiness in our lives. . . He was an ordinary man who lived life in an extraordinary way.” A three-mile long procession drove past the Marion County Jail and then traveled to the Lincoln Memory Gardens in Lebanon.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated from Northwest High School in Indianapolis, Lt. Sharp joined the Marion County Sheriff’s Department on September 1, 1966. He was survived by Dorothy, his wife of 39 years, and six children ranging in age from 15 to 38. He had 18 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild born just a few weeks before his death.
Quoted in the 1991 interview, Lt. Davis stated, "This case will always be active. It has never been shelved, it never will be. We are constantly aware of it." The IMPD Cold Case Unit should be contacted by those who may have additional information relating to the investigation.
Sources: Indianapolis Star, December 26 - 29, 1988; December 23, 1991. The IndyChannel.com, November 8, 2007; December 24, 2010.