Michael and Charlotte Sherman entered Grand Canyon National Park at about 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 22, 1977.
Married four years earlier, their trip started in Texas. They were visiting the South Rim while on their way to Michael’s new assignment with the U.S. Air Force in California. They had stayed the night before in Flagstaff.
The couple drove West Rim Drive to Powell Point. The weather was cold, windy, foggy, and a light snow was falling. Just after 11 a.m., with several vehicles on the drive and in the area, their bodies were discovered.
“They were shot execution style,” said Joe Sumner, volunteer investigator for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office cold case unit. “It appears someone was laying in wait.”
The only reason why the bodies weren’t immediately discovered was that they were apparently moved in back of the monument. The motive appears to have been robbery, because a wallet and purse were taken and never recovered.
The cold case unit is currently working on trying to solve nearly 40 cold cases in the county like the Sherman’s, dating back to the 1950s. Sumner, who retired from the National Park Service in 2007 as a criminal investigator, came onto the cold case unit in 2008.
Sumner had worked the Sherman case with the sheriff’s office while he worked for the National Park Service. Cases of visitors coming to harm while at the canyon typically revolved around animal attacks, or lightning strikes, or falls from the rim.
“A robbery homicide in the middle of a national park in the middle of the day -- this is an exception, this is the only one that I can think of,” Sumner said.
Witnesses reported seeing a man and a woman in the vicinity of Powell Point at the time of the murder. They have never been identified, and Sumner said they could have important information about the case. They were seen driving a light tan, or off-white station wagon that was possibly a 1969 Ford Fairlane or Galaxie, or a 1970 Rambler, or a 1963 Chevy Impala.
Over the years, the case has been thoroughly investigated, Sumner said. The case was picked up again in the 1980s, and has been worked since then, too.
The cold case unit even traveled to Georgia not too long ago to interview a man and a woman who fit the description of the pair witnesses remember seeing at the time the Shermans were killed. The man they interviewed was doing life in prison for robbery-homicide committed with a similar weapon, Sumner said. But the man was eliminated as a suspect.
Sumner added that the unit resubmitted evidence and received some DNA evidence that appears to belong to a suspect. The identity of who the DNA sample belongs to is unknown for now. Next steps are to keep working the DNA evidence by finding suspects who have not been eliminated and find a match.
And the unit has had matches in the past.
The case continues to occupy Sumner.
“Having worked in National Parks my adult life, just the fact that this happened this way at this place, it makes this case important,” Sumner said.
He said the Shermans were “total innocents, an all-American couple,” doing what should be a very safe activity.
“Parks aren’t always safe, but they should be safe from this,” Sumner said.
Sumner said the family makes periodic checks on the status of the case.
“It’s devastated the family still,” Sumner said.
If anybody has information about this case, contact the sheriff’s office cold case division at 774-4523, or visit the Facebook page.
Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.