Murray police on Thursday released photos of a transient panhandler sought for questioning in the beating death of an elderly woman, a subsequent arson fire and theft of her car last weekend.
Murray police spokesman Kenny Bass said Thursday that the man who appears to be in his mid- to late-50s, 5-foot-10 to 6-foot, of medium build and with a long, graying-blond beard is believed to be the same man spotted driving 84-year-old Shirley Sharp's Buick LeSabre shortly before officers found her body inside her home on Jan. 25.
The man has reportedly frequented the area of State Street and Interstate 215, waiving a sign soliciting donations at passing motorists. His identity and current whereabouts were unknown.
An autopsy earlier this week confirmed that Sharp, whose body was found Saturday in her burning home, had "died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head," Bass said.
The transient now being sought is believed to be the same man whose image was caught on video when he was briefly pulled over by a Utah Transit Authority police officer. The man initially exited the vehicle but then jumped back inside and drove away.
The UTA officer got the vehicle license plate number and authorities soon traced it to Sharp's small, red-brick home at 20 E. Winchester St. (6400 South). Police noticed smoke coming from the home when they arrived about 6 a.m. and called firefighters to the scene. After the flames were doused, Sharp's body was found.
Police suspect that Sharp, who lived alone, may have been surprised by an intruder who then killed her and set a fire, perhaps intent on destroying any evidence.
Sharp's car was found abandoned near 4800 S. 500 West around noon on Jan. 25.
In a statement released Thursday, Sharp's family urged the public to be on the lookout for the potential suspect and to immediately call Murray police at 801-840-4000 if they have an information.
"As a family we urge the public to not forget about Shirley Sharp and the suspect they are pursuing. Please examine the photos and video and get a clear picture of who this person is. Keep a watch out for him and report any tips to the Murray Police Department," the statement read.
"You don't know how much this would mean to us as a family to get him off the streets. The next victim could be one of your loved ones," Sharp's family said.
The Family Statement for Shirley Sharp
On behalf of the family members of Shirley Sharp we would like to express our deepest heartfelt gratitude for all of the sincere expressions of love, concern, and condolences expressed in our behalf. Since the tragic death of our beloved mother and grandmother our lives will be changed forever.
We would like to express our gratitude to the UTA officer who alertly discovered the suspect and acted according to his promptings. We thank the first responders from multiple agencies who acted quickly in suppressing the fire and providing for the needs of the family. We would especially like to thank the Murray City fire and police departments, the Unified Police Department and the Salt Lake County Sheriffs Office for their dedication and diligence to this case. We are sure they have spent countless hours examining evidence and we have confidence they will find the guilty party. We also extend our appreciation to the media for respecting our privacy and allowing us to grieve the passing of Shirley.
As a family we urge the public to not forget about Shirley Sharp and the suspect they are pursuing. Please examine the photos and video and get a clear picture of who this person is. Keep a watch out for him and report ANY tips to the Murray Police Department. You don't know how much this would mean to us as a family to get him off the streets. The next victim could be one of your loved ones.
This shattering event will not define our memory of Shirley Sharp's life. She loved her family with all her heart. We find comfort in knowing that she has returned to be with her beloved husband, Rich, who passed away about 14 years ago. After being married over 53 years she has been longing to be with him. We are sure there was a great reunion. She was a wonderful friend to everyone she met, even those she met walking in the Fashion Place Mall. We will forever treasure the hundreds of ceramic pieces she made for us. At Christmas we will prize the Santa mugs she gave each family member. We will continue to strive to live a life that exemplifies hers. We know she would want us to move forward and love others as she did.
The Sharp Family