Longform

A Cold Case Frozen in Time

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Quick hasn't sat down with investigators on the Skiba case for over a year, but he says he's confident it's still an open, active investigation. "I couldn't look Sharon in the face and say they're staying on it unless I know they're staying on it," he explains. "I like Sharon. I think she's been through the wringer, and I don't know how to not make her feel frustrated — because it's frustrating that it's been so long and it hasn't been solved yet."


Sharon had another puzzle to solve: how to handle Paul's interests. With time, her friends and family members went back to their lives, leaving her alone with the job she'd asked the court to give her: conservator of Paul's property. So in addition to talking to the media, posting fliers, knocking on doors and calling the detectives, Sharon was running a moving company.

Even if Paul never came back, she wanted to preserve the things he'd worked for.

But it wasn't easy. When the police took the big truck a second time to collect evidence, she had to get a rental, which was costly. Jerry was still working with her, and he trained the new people that Sharon hired. But moving furniture is hard work, and a lot of guys don't stick it out past the initial aches and pains — especially when the jobs are few and far between. Paul was Tuff Movers, and his clients didn't want to do business without him. Meanwhile, competitors were moving onto his turf. Eron Johnson says that people came by his store who said they used to work for Paul and that he should hire them to do his moves now. The whole scenario frightened him. "I don't know what happened," Johnson says, "but I'm sure it was an inside job of some sort, somebody who knew him."

After a few months, Jerry couldn't handle the pressure and sporadic work schedule anymore, and he quit — a move he still feels guilty about. In March 2000, Sharon finally dissolved Tuff Movers.

By 2001, Paul's money had run out, and the court allowed Teresa to take Paul's car and what merchandise she wanted from the house in lieu of child-support payments. With no source of income, Sharon kept paying the two mortgages — about $1,100 a month — as well as Paul's life insurance premiums out of her quickly depleting savings. Because Paul was still technically a missing person and presumed alive, his debts didn't go away.

She got a job with a company that made plasma bags for blood banks, but was in a car accident in the spring of 2002. She broke two ribs, dislocated three more as well as her collarbone, and had a herniated disc in her back. She couldn't work. Friends loaned her what they could and she ran up her credit cards to cover the payments on Paul's house.

She hadn't wanted to be there for a while, not since she'd finally accepted that Paul was never coming home. All the house made her feel was frightened. Whoever had killed Paul knew where she was. Her personality changed as she grew paranoid. She kept the blinds closed and asked Bob Martinez to put a lock on her basement door.

"You can't live like this," he told her.

Gordy and friends back in Minnesota had tried to convince her to come home, but she felt she couldn't leave until the case was settled. Now, though, it was either sell the house or let it go into foreclosure.

Sharon had gotten a court order in November 2000 giving her authority to sell the house, although technically, as Paul's conservator, she already had the power to dispose of his property. But now, as she started calling real estate agents, she says they all told her the same thing: "You can't sell the house without a death certificate."

A missing person cannot be presumed dead for five years. So in 2004, Sharon started the process to have Paul and Sarah declared dead. A hearing would have to be held in Adams County, but the hearing kept getting postponed. Sharon felt trapped.

Desperate, in July 2006 she sent a letter to Quick, the Adams County DA, listing all her canceled court dates. "Please, Don, help me get the death certificates so there can be some closure," she wrote.

"I think all the financial and other estate stuff was very wearing on her, and then trying to get them declared dead," Quick says. "It was something that punctuated her experience with the justice system."

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Jessica Centers