Eight years ago, Tanner Sharp, then 24, pulled away from his sister’s Elk Grove home, all his possessions packed into his maroon 1994 Saturn. It was April 4, 2010.
He told his sister and her husband, with whom he’d been living, that he was moving back to Kansas, where the siblings had grown up. He said a friend had a job lined up for him.
It was the last time anyone in his family saw him, his sister, Sommer Willis told ABC10 in a recent interview. The story about Kansas and his friend and the job was a fabrication, but his family didn’t find that out until after he vanished.
He’d texted Willis that he’d arrived in Kansas and had phone conversations with his mom and grandmother, and although in retrospect, exhibited some signs that not all was well, generally presented an appearance of normality, Willis said. On April 25, 2010, Sharp texted his family that he would be getting a new phone number and not to contact him on the old number anymore. That was the last they heard from him.
When the weeks turned into months and Sharp failed to make contact, his mother reported him missing. Around this time, his family discovered that the Kansas story was a fabrication.
Sharp’s mother had been paying for his cell phone, and when she looked at phone records, discovered that all the calls and texts he’d been making for the month of April were from in and around Galt.
The police investigation was jumpstarted after his car was found, abandoned in a waterway in a remote area near the farming community of Galt.
It had been vandalized, stripped of everything of value, and had been there for some months. The trail was cold and evidence was scarce. The evidence available was baffling and incomplete.
Among other oddities, Sharp, a health food devotee, had been going every day at 4 a.m. to a Burger King in Elk Grove, Willis said.
“Honestly, I think it was really weird he was going to Burger King,” Willis said. “He didn’t like fast food.”
Willis suggested that Tanner turned to fast food because he was low on funds – but that didn’t explain why he went to that particular restaurant, in Elk Grove, when he was living in Galt.
When Sharp left his sister’s house on April 4, 2010, he checked into a nice hotel, where he stayed for a few days. But, possibly to conserve his savings, he soon moved into a cheap motel in Galt – a haven for addicts and the crime that accompanies them.
Sharp had never lived on his own. Willis worries that he fell in with someone who took advantage of his immaturity.
Sharp is, or would be (depending on what happened to him) 32, Willis said. The two siblings were close, but Sharp was reserved about sharing his troubles with his sister.
He was introverted, but had a few close friends. Like many boys, he enjoyed playing video games. He was a bit of a health fanatic, focused on eating healthfully. When he wasn’t playing games, he liked riding his bicycle, Willis said. As far as she knows, he didn’t drink, smoke or do drugs.
His family was reasonably close, getting together on holidays and taking trips from time to time, Willis said.
Sharp showed signs of having difficulty finding his path in life.
His grandmother had loaned him money for school, and he enrolled in a technical college in Colorado, but after about six months it came out that he hadn’t been attending classes.
Willis and her husband liked having Sharp living with them – they both enjoyed his company. But they wanted to encourage him to take steps toward independence. They told him he could continue to live there rent free if he got a job or went to school – otherwise he would have to contribute a small amount toward the family food bill.
Shortly after that he decided to move out, but wasn’t forthcoming with his plans.
“He refused to tell us anything,” she said. “He said he wanted to be left alone. My husband got upset because I got upset.” Her husband gave Sharp an ultimatum: tell them where he was going or move out immediately.
It was then that the Kansas story materialized.
Sharp left a week later, and Willis, with a heavy heart, helped him pack his car.
Just after he pulled away from the house, she realized he’d left behind his bicycle – a good quality road bike. She called to tell him and he told her to give it away, he didn’t need it.
“It had only been 15 minutes – it was weird he didn’t come back,” she said. “But I thought, ‘maybe he was just kind of done with that.’”
Sharp once told a friend that he wanted to live like a hermit, and Willis has speculated that perhaps he researched it and found a way, or possibly has someone helping him.
“I for a long time thought he must have somehow orchestrated his disappearance, gone off the gird or whatever,” Willis said. She clung to that idea for a long time. But the more time that goes by without hearing anything of or from him, the less she can believe it. They were close. He was close to their mother and grandmother. It doesn’t seem likely that he would permanently turn his back on them.
When she looks back, she wishes she’d picked up on some of the subtle cues that something was going wrong with her brother – and that she’d looked harder for him when she learned he hadn’t gone to Kansas after all.
But she still hopes someone has information about Sharp’s disappearance. The police investigation checked on the phone numbers he’d called during his month’s stay in Galt. Detectives tried repeatedly to contact one of the numbers, but its owner appeared to be trying to dodge them.
“I do think there is the possibility of someone having information and keeping it from us,” she said.
She’s created a Facebook page for him, and he is featured on the California Attorney General’s Missing Person’s webpage.
Although the case is cold, it’s still on the Galt Police Department’s radar screen, a department spokesman told ABC10 in March.
They know about it mainly because they get an alert whenever an unidentified male body is found.
They check it against Sharp’s DNA sample, on file at the department, but so far haven’t found a match.
Willis's husband and grandmother cling to the hope that he’s alive somewhere, staying with friends, and he’s fine. Her mother just finds the whole subject too painful and avoids talking about it.
“If I’m thinking about it critically, not trying to put emotional weight on it, I think he’s gone,” Willis said. “Either he did something or someone else hurt him.”
But another part of her clings stubbornly to the tiny shred of hope that one day she will see him again.
“It’s very hard,” she said. “I think the worst part is not having any kind of real answers.”
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