Sheri Lee Martin would have been 35 years old on Sept. 2. She could have been married and could have had children.
But Sheri Martin died 17 years ago, one of several young women who died at the hands of the McCrary clan - a nomadic Texas family that wandered from state to state, sadistically robbing and raping and killing as they went.Crime was much more than a way of life for Sherman McCrary, his wife, a teenage son, a daughter and her husband, Carl Taylor. It was a family affair.
"They're no kin of mine," intoned the matriarch of the family when asked why she allowed her husband and sons to viciously rape and murder. The women usually would wait in the car, usually watching, as the menfolk raped and killed.
The McCrarys were not America's first serial killers. Nor were they the most notorious.
But they were among the first in what has become a growing list of grisly serial killers to leave bloodstains on Utah. They were followed by the likes of Ted Bundy, Joseph
Paul Franklin, Arthur Gary Bishop, Henry Lee Lucas and Christopher Wilder.
Sherman McCrary, the leader of the clan, will not kill again. He committed suicide last week in a Colorado prison cell. In a suicide note, he said he had grown weary of serving his life sentence for the murder of a waitress there.
"I have to be glad he's dead," said Sheri's father, John Martin, in an interview at his Kearns home. "I don't know how else I could feel. I don't know why it took so long."
Sheri's death lingers in John Martin's memory. But the grief has been softened over the years by the pleasant memories of watching four other children grow to adulthood.
Most of those children no longer remember the details of Sheri's disappearance. The painful memory of losing an older sister has been clouded with time.
The family's nightmare began Aug. 12, 1971. At about 10:30 p.m., a South Salt Lake patrol officer was sitting in his car a short distance from the Winchell's Donut House near 1700 S. State. The officer noticed that the venetian blinds were closed as if the business was closed. But Winchell's was a 24-hour outlet.
The officer later contacted the owner of the shop and was informed that the business should indeed be open. Sheri Martin, a 17-year-old high school graduate, was supposed to be working the counter.
The owner and the police officer found the business locked up. Sheri's car was still parked outside, but there was no sign of her. Nor was there any sign of the $83 that should have been in the cash register.
Sheri Martin had been working the evening shift at Winchell's for about a month. She would work nights until 11 p.m. or midnight, when another employee would relieve her.
Police suspected Sheri might have taken the money and run away. But Sheri was not that kind of girl, officers were told. She didn't need to run away from home. Sheri was planning to leave home in a short time anyway to attend Dixie College.
She was simply not the kind of girl to run away. Sheri was deeply involved in her LDS faith, as well being an A student in high school. She liked to sew and make things for her cousins. She was a softhearted girl who like rooting for the underdog "even if she didn't know what the fight was about," her father said.
"We had the feeling the night she disappeared that something had happened to her," her father said. "She was never the kind of girl to leave home without telling us where she was going. We would have heard from her."
Still, there was no sign of the young woman, and police were skeptical. They were even more skeptical when two of Sheri's friends said they saw her in a mall a couple days after she was reported missing.
FBI agent Joe Cwik, now retired and living in Cedar City, was called into the case two days later. Cwik had one major clue to work with: The store had been wiped clean except for a coffee cup that had been left sitting on a table. Three distinct fingerprints were lifted from the cup.
The shop's cash register tape revealed that the last two purchases recorded were for two cups of coffee. Officers later located a woman who had come into the store about 10 p.m. and made a purchase. Two men were sitting at a table, and when one of them used profanity, she turned and stared at them.
Seven days after Sheri disappeared, a doughnut shop waitress in Lakewood, Colo., disappeared. She was later found raped and shot to death in an area north of the Denver suburb.
Cwik recognized the method of operation immediately. "Oh no," thought Cwik at the time. "We've got a crazy person running across the country knocking off people."
Twenty-eight days after Sheri disappeared, her decomposed body was found by pine-nut hunters in the des-ert south of Wendover. Her hands had been tied with her nylon stockings and she had been shot at least four times in the head and four times in the torso.
The Elko County sheriff's office dragged their feet on the investigation, saying that when South Salt Lake arrested the kidnappers, then Elko County would have their killers. South Salt Lake, meanwhile, didn't have the manpower or the resources for a major murder investigation.
Those were days before cops knew much about serial killers. It was a time before interjurisdictional task forces and psychological profiles and computer tracking. And homicides were not the jurisdiction of the FBI. Nevertheless, Cwik convinced his superiors to allow him to use federal resources to pursue the killers.
It was a pursuit that would consume more than a year of his life. Cwik pursued them to Amarillo, Texas, where a waitress had been kidnapped, raped and murdered.
He pursued them to Dallas where a man and woman had been kidnapped from a convenience store. The woman was raped, and both victims were then shot repeatedly in the head. The bullets matched those found in the victim in the Lakewood and Amarillo killings.
Also in Dallas, another store clerk was kidnapped, raped and killed. The same killers were believed responsible.
As word of the nomadic killers spread across the nation, reports of similar killings, some of them involving doughnut shop waitresses, began to surface in places as diverse as Oregon, Florida and Kansas City.
Cwik studied each of the cases in painstaking detail. He knew what the killers looked like. He knew what they ate. He knew where they stayed. He knew the kind of cars they drove. He knew they dumped their victims' bodies in the opposite direction from where they were headed.
But he didn't know their names.
"Every night I'd go to bed wondering what I hadn't covered,' Cwik said. I would lay there wondering who they were going to kill next. It was a heavy load."
The pursuit eventually led to Kansas City and then to San Bernardino, Calif., where Sherman McCrary and Carl Taylor were in jail in connection with a robbery and a shoot-out in which a police officer was shot in the forehead.
The officer survived and the men were arrested. Taylor's fingerprints were later matched to the coffee cup, and a federal warrant was issued in the kidnapping of Sheri Martin.
For the next several months, Cwik linked the McCrary clan to the various killings. Eighteen months after Sheri had disappeared, he took a handful of photographs to the witness who had seen two men drinking coffee in the South Salt Lake doughnut shop. The witness positively identified Sherman McCrary and Carl Taylor.Comment on this story
For all intents and purposes, the investigation into Sheri Martin's death was over. After Colorado convicted the entire family of homicide-related charges, it was decided not to file homicide charges in Utah or Texas.
Carl Taylor remains imprisoned in Colorado. "These guys should have been put to death," Cwik says.
John Martin agrees, but he doesn't like to dwell on pain and frustration of the past.
"We were lucky," he said. "We had four other kids to take care of. They needed someone to answer their needs. We couldn't drown our sorrows in booze. It was better than therapy for us to have those kids."