MURRAY — Police are investigating the death of a woman who was found dead in her burning home early Saturday as a homicide.
Investigators believe someone killed Shirley Sharp, 85, in her Murray home, then set her house on fire and fled the scene in her car.
Sharp's nephew, R.D. Gatherum, was stunned by the news.
"She was a great lady, absolutely salt of the earth," he said. "I can't believe that somebody would come in here and do what they did."
Utah Transit Authority police officers performed a traffic stop at 75 W. 5300 South just before 6 a.m. and described the driver as acting "a little odd," Murray police officer Kenny Bass said. The driver then sped off in the middle of the conversation with the officers.
Police traced the registration of the vehicle to a home at 20 E. Winchester Street (6400 South) and saw smoke coming from the home. The officers called police and firefighters, who traced the fire to a small area of the home.
They found Sharp in the same room as the fire, Bass said. The woman had sustained physical injuries, but Bass said he couldn't say what caused those injuries.
It was not an apparent shooting or stabbing, but it was enough to prompt a homicide investigation.
"We've got to investigate it as a homicide with the information we have," Bass said.
An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death.
"We're fairly certain it wasn't the fire itself (that killed Sharp)," Bass said. "It's going to be the medical examiner that makes the decision."
Bass said it is not clear how Sharp's home was entered, whether the death was random or what the motive may have been. Investigators believe, however, that the death is connected to both the fire and the stolen car.
"We believe it's all related we just don't know exactly how or what," Bass said. "It's tragic. It's a horrific event that someone would actually have the mindset to do anything like that."
Gatherum said he lives about a mile and a half from his aunt, who lived alone after her husband's death about 15 years ago. He said she liked to garden and he often found her working in her yard.
"It's a sad day," he said. "I mean, she didn't have any enemies, (she) was a great outstanding person in the community — one of the sweetest women you ever want to meet. ... I just can't believe that this happened."
Jon Williams, who lives up the street from Sharp, heard sirens around 6 a.m. He said he thought it strange to hear them so early and decided to investigate. Once he saw the cones and yellow police tape, he stopped to investigate what happened.
"What kind of person breaks into a house and then murders somebody and then tries to set the house on fire?" he said. "I mean, it's ridiculous. It's sad."
Police have since located the car that was stolen from Sharp's home, but it was unoccupied. They are now relying on surveillance images and asking for the public's help to locate the man who was driving Sharp's cars.
Anyone with information is asked to call 801-840-4000.
Contributing: Wendy Leonard