Sharpe family murders
The Sharpe family: Anna, John and Gracie
|Date||23–27 March 2004|
|Location||Mornington, Melbourne, Victoria|
|Cause||Shootings by spear gun|
|Motive||Resentment of his wife's second pregnancy|
|Convicted||John Myles Sharpe|
Life imprisonment x2;|
with a non-parole period of 33 years
The Sharpe family murders was a March 2004 Australian double murder, in which John Sharpe killed his wife Anna (who was five months pregnant with their son Francis) and his 20-month-old daughter Gracie, in the Melbourne suburb of Mornington. For his part in the crime, he became generally known as the 'Speargun killer' or the 'Mornington Monster'.
Sharpe repeatedly fired a spear gun into the heads of his victims, later exhumed the body of his wife from a shallow grave, dismembered her, then disposed of her body in a landfill. Claiming his innocence, he later appeared in emotional interviews on television seeking information on his family's whereabouts. Sharpe eventually confessed to the murders and was sentenced in 2005 to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 33 years. He will be eligible for parole in 2037.
John Myles Sharpe was born 28 February 1967 in Mornington and grew up there. Sharpe met his New Zealand-born wife, Anna Kemp, when they worked together at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. They married in October 1994. They then lived together in various locations around the Mornington Peninsula area south of Melbourne. Their daughter, Gracie Louise Sharpe, was born in August 2002. She was born with a condition called hip dysplasia, a congenital abnormality in her hips which required orthopaedic treatment by a corrective harness for the first three months of her life. She cried often and had difficulty sleeping, a situation which appeared to place some strain on the marriage. Even after the harness was no longer required, Gracie still had difficulties with feeding and sleeping, for which Anna sought professional assistance.
In 2003 Sharpe purchased a high-powered speargun and an additional spear at Sport Philip Marine, a local shop in Mornington. He had not previously shown an interest in spearfishing. He practiced firing the speargun in the backyard of the couple's residence, in order to become familiar with its operation. Later that year, the Sharpes purchased a house at 116 Prince Street, Mornington. In November 2003, when Gracie was about 15 months old, Anna became pregnant again. Sharpe later told police investigators that this pregnancy came as a surprise to him. Sharpe apparently decided that he did not want another child—in his mind, one was enough of a burden—and he began to resent Anna and the unborn child.
On 21 March 2004, Sharpe and his family attended a nephew's birthday party. Others present at the party noticed no tension or arguments between the couple. On 23 March, Sharpe and his wife argued before retiring to bed. He later left the bed and retrieved the speargun from the backyard garage. Returning to the bedroom, Sharpe fired the spear from a distance of a few centimetres into his wife's left temple. Noticing his wife was still breathing, Sharpe fired a second spear into her head, killing her. He then covered the body in towels and went downstairs to sleep on a sofa bed.
The next day, Sharpe attempted to remove the spears from his wife's head but failed, removing only the shafts by unscrewing them from the heads. That same day Sharpe took Gracie to, and then collected her from, her childcare centre. He also lied to a TV serviceman who came to the house to prevent his finding his wife's body which, at that stage, was still in the bedroom. He later buried his wife in a shallow grave in their backyard. Some time after his wife’s death, Sharpe returned to Sport Phillip Marine (accompanied by his daughter) and purchased another spear for the speargun.
On 27 March 2004, Sharpe put his daughter Gracie to bed in her cot and then drank several glasses of whiskey and Coke in order to "numb his senses". He retrieved the speargun from the garage, loaded it with the newly acquired spear, and fired at his daughter's head, penetrating her skull. With his child wounded and screaming loudly, Sharpe retrieved the two spear shafts which he had earlier removed from his wife's head and returned to the bedroom. He fired both into Gracie's head, but she was still alive, so he withdrew one spear from his child's head and fired it again, finally killing her. He returned to Gracie's bedroom the next morning and pulled the spears from her head whilst holding a towel in front of his face to avoid looking directly at the dead child. He wrapped her body in garbage bags and a tarpaulin and bound her with black duct tape. He then disposed of her body at the Mornington refuse transfer station. At the same time Sharpe discarded the speargun, the spears and some of Gracie's clothes and toys.
Aftermath and deception
On 29 March 2004, Sharpe visited a local Bunnings Warehouse hardware store in Frankston, where he purchased a roll of duct tape, two tarpaulins, and an electric chainsaw. The following day he exhumed the body of his wife and cut it into three pieces. He then wrapped the remains in a tarpaulin and disposed of them, along with the chainsaw, in waste collection bins at the Mornington Transfer Station. On the same day he sent a forged e-mail to Anna's family in New Zealand to create the impression Anna was alive and well. Rather than comfort the family, his e-mail raised further concerns, and Anna's mother reported her disappearance to police in Dunedin, New Zealand. Sharpe later told police that Anna had moved to the nearby Melbourne suburb of Chelsea with their daughter, and denied any knowledge of or involvement in her disappearance. He also arranged for flowers in Anna's name to be delivered to his mother-in-law on her birthday.
During May 2004, Sharpe gave several media interviews, and appeared on national television speaking of his wife and child's disappearance. In part of his appeal he said: "Anna, our marriage may be over but I still love you and you are the mother of our beautiful daughter Gracie, whom we both adore more than anyone else". Sharpe then said he had spoken to his wife a week earlier and he asked for anyone with information to come forward. He however also maintained that she had run off with another man.
Arrest and conviction
On 20 May 2004, New Zealand Police requested Victoria Police to conduct enquiries into the apparent disappearance of Anna Kemp and her daughter, Gracie. The same day police from Mornington attended the Sharpe home and spoke with him. On 10 June, he was again interviewed by police at Mornington but he maintained the story that Anna had left voluntarily on 23 March. On 22 June 2004, police arrested Sharpe and interviewed him twice: during his first interview, he continued to deny any knowledge of their whereabouts, but during the second, having spoken to his family, he admitted to both murders. He told police he killed his wife because she was "controlling and moody" and their marriage was unhappy. He also told police he "was thinking of taking care of Gracie by myself and just amongst all this madness ... that's when I lost the plot". According to some family members, Sharpe may have also killed his wife because she discovered his abuse of Gracie. The claim comes as family letters reveal Sharpe had a history of sexually abusing children.
Police undertook a massive search lasting three weeks of the Mornington landfill site, and eventually recovered both bodies. Sharpe appeared in the Supreme Court of Victoria where he was arraigned and pleaded guilty to the murders of Anna and Grace Sharpe. On 5 August 2005, the Court sentenced Sharpe to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 33 years. Sharpe resides in protective custody while incarcerated, due to threats on his life from fellow prisoners.
Anna and Gracie are buried in Green Park cemetery under Anna's maiden name.
The Sharpe "disappearance," appeals, confession, search, body recovery, and trial were all major news items in the Australian print and television media of the time. The murder also received general media attention in New Zealand, and sparked the interest of the New Zealand Police. Some examples include:
- Sharpe's murders were the focus of the 2005 Crime Investigation Australia Season 1 episode "The Mornington Monster," in which the crimes and Sharpe's actions were re-enacted.
- The murders also appear in the 2005 book 12 True Crime Stories that Shocked Australia by Paul Anderson, which "deconstructs twelve of Australia's most intriguing and hideous crime cases" Sharpe's police confession is also highlighted in the 2008 book Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis, by Brent E. Turvey.
- In August 2009, the case was again reviewed on the 60 Minutes programme episode "Unmasking the Truth," about human lie detectors who can unmask killers "tearfully pleading for help in finding a missing loved one. And all the time, they know their husband, wife, even their own child, is already dead."
- The case was discussed in a section of the book Why Did They Do It? Inside the Minds of Australia's Most Unlikely Killers. The book explores Sharpe's pathology, particularly his avoidant personality disorder.
- R v Sharpe  VSC 276 (5 August 2005), Supreme Court (Vic, Australia)
- "Speargun killer jailed for life". The Age. 5 August 2005.
- "12 True Crime Stories that Shocked Australia". Retrieved 6 September 2009.
- "Gracie and her mum laid to rest". The Age. 21 August 2004. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
- "Mother's remains uncovered". The Age. 6 July 2004. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
- "Man pleads guilty to double murder". Television New Zealand. AAP. 1 February 2005. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
- "How killer's family helped trap him". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. 8 August 2005. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
- "Father Pleads Guilty To Murders". Adelaide Advertiser. 2 February 2005. Archived from the original on 14 September 2009. Retrieved 6 September 2009.
- "Murders Act Of 'Bloody Madness'". Adelaide Advertiser. 4 November 2004. Archived from the original on 14 September 2009. Retrieved 6 September 2009.
- "Sharpe's Secret Family Letters Reveal A History Of Sexual Abuse". Sunday Herald Sun. 13 November 2005. Archived from the original on 14 September 2009. Retrieved 6 September 2009.
- "Man admits killing wife, daughter". The Age. 1 February 2005.
- "Mystery of missing daughter 'just didn't add up' for Kiwi officer". New Zealand Police. 23 June 2006. Retrieved 11 September 2009.
- Robbo (21 June 2010). "Crime Investigation Australia". Aussie Criminals and Crooks. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
- Turvey, Brent E. (2011-08-29). Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis. Academic Press. ISBN 9780080569352.
- "Unmasking the Truth". 60 Minutes. 16 August 2009. Archived from the original on 16 August 2009. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
- Galer, Kit (15 August 2015). "Why did they do it?". The Mercury. Tasmania.