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Cops find, clear panhandler in slaying of Murray woman

Police say man who broke into victim’s home, killed her, set house afire is at large.

First Published Jan 31 2014 08:54 am • Last Updated Feb 07 2014 11:55 am

A transient panhandler sought in connection with the week-old beating death of an elderly Murray woman, a subsequent arson fire and theft of her car has been found — and cleared — in the case.

Murray police spokesman Kenny Bass said the man in photos that had been released on Thursday morning was located later in the day, questioned and released. Without releasing specific details due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, Bass said detectives continued to look for the man believed to have broken into the home of 84-year-old Shirley Sharp on Jan. 25, killed her and then starting a fire to cover up the crime.

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Bass said detectives reported that the panhandler had been "cooperative and provided useful information [and] the search for the homicide suspect continues."

Release of the panhandler’s photos generated many tips from newspaper readers and TV news watchers within hours of their release. The transient’s appearance was generally similar to that of the suspect, who was captured in grainy Utah Transit Authority video security camera images while driving Sharp’s stolen car.

"The panhandler was located [but] we have determined that he is not the person who was in the car, though he does have a resemblance to him," Bass said, noting that the suspect himself remained unidentified and his current whereabouts unknown.

Police declined to further identify the panhandler or discuss what, if anything, he may have provided in new information.

The UTA images show a suspect 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. He was briefly pulled over by a UTA police officer for driving in a restricted bus lane, but he took off before he could be questioned.

The UTA officer wrote down the vehicle’s license plate number and traced it to a Buick LeSabre registered to Sharp. Police were dispatched to her home at 20 E. Winchester St. (6400 South) only to see smoke pouring from the small, red-brick residence. They called firefighters to the scene, who doused the flames and discovered Sharp’s body inside.

An autopsy determined the woman, who lived alone, had died from blunt force trauma to the head.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call Murray police at 801-840-4000.

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Twitter: @remims

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