Provo • For the last 41 years, Leah Scharp thought her older sister Marla had been killed by notorious serial killer Henry Lee Lucas.
That belief, like her sister’s untimely death, was a hard truth to swallow, but knowing the person responsible for the slaying had been caught gave her some sense of justice.
That all changed last month, when Karra Porter with the Utah Cold Case Coalition presented the Scharps with a thick stack of investigative files and a PowerPoint presentation that convinced them Marla’s death couldn’t have been committed by Lucas.
The Provo Police Department was apparently similarly persuaded. They have reopened the case, Porter announced Saturday outside police headquarters — and she called for departments in 27 other states where Lucas confessed to murders to reopen their cases, too.
“Because every case that Henry Lee Lucas falsely confessed to is a cold case,” Porter said. “It really has not been solved.”
Lucas had confessed to hundreds of murders, but later recanted, The New York Times reported at the time of his death in 2001. Many of those cases were never reopened.
The Times reported that Lucas “attributed the confessions to a steady diet of tranquilizers, steaks, hamburgers and milkshakes fed to him by investigators, along with crime scene clues that he said he had parroted back to detectives.”
One of the cases he confessed to was the June 29, 1978, rape and murder of Marla Scharp, 26.
Marla Scharp, a former BYU student, lived in a Provo house with roommates, but on that June day, she found herself alone for about half an hour. That’s when the assailant struck.
Police closed the case in 1984 when Lucas confessed. But in looking through the investigative file, Porter came across evidence that she thinks proves that Lucas couldn’t have killed Scharp.
For one, all the information Lucas knew about the case were details that had been given to him by police. Lucas himself admits this in a letter he wrote to the “people of Provo," saying, “I never killed the [Scharp] girl.” He said he was in Maryland that year and that police played a “guessing game” with him about the facts of the case until he got them “straight.”
Porter provided a copy of the letter to The Salt Lake Tribune and other media.
Second, Porter said, police found forensic evidence at the scene that she says Lucas couldn’t have produced.
Now, more than four decades after Marla Scharp was killed, her family members are again trying to find the person who did it. Leah Scharp said she just wants to know the truth.
“I don’t believe in closure, because for something like this, there is no closure. You don’t get any closure for something like this," Leah Scharp said, "But somebody killed my sister and they need to be brought to justice.”
The revelation that Lucas may not have killed Marla Scharp didn’t come as a surprise to some in the family, Leah Scharp said.
Marla’s brother Craig Scharp said he never thought Lucas was responsible. Leah Scharp’s two daughters also had doubts.
The family says they’re confident the police will get to the bottom of the case, and are thankful investigators were willing to reopen it.
“What Henry Lucas did by claiming that he had murdered these people is he stopped these investigations, and that’s a horrible thing,” Craig Scharp said. “So by the Provo police being willing to reopen this — that’s huge.”
At the Saturday news conference, Porter presented a piece of evidence that was found at the murder scene, hoping it could jog some people’s memories: a unique Budweiser beer tap.
She said the 6-inch tall tap was found at the homicide scene, and that it was very unlikely it belonged to Marla Scharp or her roommates.
Anyone with information can call Provo police at 801-852-6210.