WOODBURY – Bail was set at $1 million cash for a 25-year-old handyman who was arrested yesterday by his policeman brother and charged with murdering a Pitman couple for whom he performed chores.
Walter Johnson was taken into custody at about 2 a.m. at his parents’ Glassboro home and charged in the Sunday [April 29, 1984] slayings of Bruce Sharp, 63, and his wife, Alice, 59, police said.
An autopsy by Gloucester County Medical Examiner Claus P. Speth showed Mrs. Sharp was hit in the head, neck and arms about 60 times with a fireplace poker and her husband was shot in the back of the head.
Investigators who asked not to be identified said they believe Mrs. Sharp surprised a burglar in her home, and her husband pleaded for mercy before being shot.
Johnson was charged with two counts of murder and two counts of murder by his own conduct. The latter charge could bring the death penalty, and Prosecutor Alvin G. Shpeen said a decision will be made “shortly” on whether to seek capital punishment if Johnson is convicted.
Superior Court Judge Ernest L. Alvino set the high bail at the request of Assistant Prosecutor Barry Lozuke, who said the suspect was awaiting a May 29 sentencing on charges ranging from burglary to possession of a handgun without a permit when the murders occurred.
Lozuke said Johnson also might flee because he is unmarried, unemployed and has criminal charges pending against him. Johnson was held in the Gloucester County Jail.
No plea was entered at the hearing. The judge denied a request by Johnson’s defense attorney, public defender Jeffrey Wintner, to close the session to reporters.
Wintner did not contest the bail. He said after the hearing that his client was “indigent” and could not afford any bail.
Capt. Donald Layton, who heads the major crimes unit of the prosecutor’s office, said the Sharps’ bodies were found Monday in the foyer of their home in a quiet residential section of Pitman.
The Sharps were gardening outside their home Sunday when Mrs. Sharp went into the house and surprised a burglar, who beat her with a fireplace poker, the investigators said.
When Sharp returned to the house and saw his wife being held by the burglar, he pleaded for her to be spared and handed over $150 in cash, they said. He then knelt down to care for his wife and was shot in the back of the head, investigators said.
Sharp died from a single bullet wound, the medical examiner said.
Shpeen refused to release details of the investigation, but said county investigators were drawn to Johnson through a tip from a retired Pitman police officer, Paul Godman. Johnson’s brother, Glassboro policeman Carl Johnson, made the arrest.
Mrs. Sharp taught second grade at the Sewell Elementary School in Mantua Township.