20-year-old murder case solved

Location: Seal Beach Police Department

June 19th, 2001

Press Release Prepared by Captain Orville King, Seal Beach Police Department

20-year-old murder case solved

On Dec. 24, 1980, at 10:00 a.m., Seal Beach Police Department officers responded to a report of a deceased person at the 1100 block of Coastline Drive, Seal Beach. Upon arrival, officers contacted David Sharpe, son of the deceased. The subsequent investigation disclosed that Simone Sharpe, 70, had been murdered and apparently sexually assaulted. Ms. Sharpe, who resided in Seal Beach, had been caring for pets belonging to a friend at the Coastline address. Detectives from the Seal Beach Police Department along with technicians from the Orange County Sheriffs Forensic Services Unit began an investigation. All physical evidence was collected and retained by the Orange County Sheriff’s Crime Lab. An extensive murder investigation was conducted and all leads were exhausted; however, no suspects were identified. The case has remained as an open unsolved homicide for the past 21 years.

In January 1997, the Orange County District Attorney established and implemented the “TracKRS” Project to assist local law enforcement in the investigation of unsolved homicides and violent sexual assault cases. “TracKRS” utilizes the most recent advances in science and data technology, in conjunction with agencies such as the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Forensic Science Services and California Department of Justice DNA database of convicted violent felons.  When “TracKRS” was implemented, 100 murder cases were initially entered into a computer database, which included the Sharpe case.

On March 10, 1998, after the advent of “TracKRS,” District Attorney Investigator Paul Tippin met with Seal Beach Detectives Darrell Hardin and Gary Krogman to re-examine the Sharpe case and evaluate evidence. Two months later, the Sheriff’s Crime Lab reported that they had confirmed evidence of a sexual assault.   The Sheriff’s Department Profiler Plus typing system would be used to type DNA information for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department casework database.

On January 26, 2001, the Seal Beach Police Department received a report from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Forensic Science Services advising that a suspect DNA profile had been achieved from evidence obtained from the crime scene.

On March 1, 2001, with the advent
of new DNA technology, those findings were submitted to the State Department of Justice for DNA “CODIS” (Combined DNA Index System) database search.

On March 20, 2001, Orange County Sheriff’s Department Forensic Scientist Rob Keister notified Detective Hardin that there was a Department of Justice “CODIS” match to our evidence profile. The suspect was identified as Benjamin Wayne Watta, who was a registered sex offender in California and had prior convictions of attempted rape, burglary, use of a firearm and attempted murder against a police officer. The attempted murder occurred in Sacramento and Watta was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 1988. Detective Hardin determined that Watta, now 55, was convicted last year of another attempted murder – this time in Florida — where he is eligible for parole in 2007.

Detective Hardin and Investigator Tippin flew to Florida to interview Watta and obtain additional blood samples to confirm the DNA results. Additional standards of Watta’s DNA were obtained for testing and returned to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for analysis.

On April 18, 2001, Orange County Sheriff’s Department Forensic Science Services completed the analysis of the blood samples and confirmed the original DNA findings.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the State of Florida will begin an extradition proceeding to bring Benjamin Wayne Watta to California to stand trial for the murder of Simone Sharpe on December 23, 1980.

Had it not been for a thorough investigation, the technological advances in DNA recognition, tremendous cooperation between all involved agencies including Seal Beach Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and the California Department of Justice, this case would not have been solved.