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Couple's deaths in Grand Canyon remain unsolved
Michael and Charlotte Sherman were victims of a robbery-homicide at Grand Canyon in 1977

Michael and Charlotte Sherman were both 27 years old when they were killed during a robbery-homicide at Powell Point, Grand Canyon National Park, in 1977. (Photo/CCSO)

Michael and Charlotte Sherman were both 27 years old when they were killed during a robbery-homicide at Powell Point, Grand Canyon National Park, in 1977. (Photo/CCSO)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Cold winter winds were swirling through the Grand Canyon on Jan. 22, 1977.

Even though it was snowing and fog limited visibility that day, Michael and Charlotte Sherman had stopped to take in the sights that morning on their way to California from Texas.

As it turns out, the Shermans never got to bask in the warm California sun — both were shot execution-style in the back of the head just before 11 a.m. The perpetrators were never apprehended.

Michael and Charlotte were 27 years old.

One-of-a-kind case

photo

A bulletin with sketched descriptions of persons of interest in the Shermans' case, as well as information about a suspect vehicle and the murder weapon was released by the Coconino County Sheriff's Department soon after the crime. (Image/CCSO)

It’s a scenario that has confounded community members and law enforcement alike for more than 40 years. There were cars driving by on Hermit Road. There were people milling around Powell Point only yards away. And yet no one saw anything that could lead investigators to the murderer(s).

Joe Sumner, who worked the case as an Investigative Services Branch agent before retiring in 2007, told interviewers at the time that it was the first case he’d ever heard of in which two people were robbed and shot dead in broad daylight in a busy national park.

“They were shot execution-style,” he said. “It appears someone was lying in wait.”

Investigators in 1977 concluded that the motive for the killings was robbery, as Michael’s wallet and Charlotte’s purse were taken and never recovered. Their bodies weren’t immediately discovered as they had been dragged around the back of the Powell Memorial. Both were shot twice in the head with a .22 calibur handgun.

Witnesses in the park at the time reported seeing both a man and a woman in the vicinity of Powell Point at the time the Shermans were murdered, but they have never been positively identified. A profile distributed by the Coconino County Sheriff’s Department said the pair was driving a light tan, cream or off-white station wagon, possibly a 1969 Ford Fairlane or Galaxie, a 1970 Rambler or a 1963 Chevy Impala. The vehicle had a ski or luggage rack held down with bungee cords.

While the pair are not being called suspects, Sumner said they may have important information about the case.

All-American couple

According to his brother, Ken Sherman, Michael was a close friend, Ken told the Times-Herald Record of Middletown, NY.

“He had planned to move next door to his brother when they both settled down with families. He was a captain in the United States Air Force and a dentist.

His service in the USAF was what brought the couple through northern Arizona in the winter of 1977. Michael had just been reassigned to a base in California, and the couple had packed up everything and headed out west from Texas. The Sherman brothers’ parents are dead now — Ken told a local newspaper they died knowing justice was never served in their son’s death.

Still on the case

Sumner went on to join the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office cold case unit in 2008. The Shermans’ case continues to be investigated, and as recently as 2013, investigators traveled to Georgia to speak to a man and woman who fit the description given by witnesses in 1977. The man, who was serving a life-sentence for another robbery-homicide with similar characteristics, was eliminated as a suspect.

Since crime-solving technology has advanced considerably beyond what was available in 1977 and even 2007 when Sumner retired, the cold case unit has resubmitted evidence collected at the crime scene to a lab. Sumner said it appears to contain DNA that belongs to neither Michael nor Charlotte and likely came from the suspect. Currently, there is not match and the suspects remain at large.

Anyone with information regarding the Shermans’ case are encouraged to contact the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office cold case unit at (928) 774-4523.

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