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       May 10, 2012 4:21 PM

 The Perfect Family?


Karen and Richard Sharpe lived in an upscale area of Gloucester, a seaside town in Massachusetts. To the neighbors, they seemed like the perfect couple.

They had been married for 27 years and had three
children. A dermatologist, Richard taught at Harvard Medical School and his medical practice and other businesses earned him millions of dollars.

But behind the happy facade, bizarre behavior haunted the Sharpe household. For years, Richard had led a secret life.

He was a cross-dresser who loved wearing slinky dresses, fishnet stockings and makeup. He took female hormones and stole his wife's birth control pills to make his breasts larger.

In 1999 Karen told him she wanted a divorce. Enraged, Richard stabbed her in the face with a fork. Fearing for her life, Karen, 44, fled with their two youngest children and filed a restraining order against him. It did no good.

A night of fun, then terror

On July 14, 2000, seeking relief from her ongoing divorce battles, Karen went out for a night of fun with family and friends. They took a moonlight cruise around Gloucester harbor. Shortly before midnight, Karen returned to her home with her brother and his girlfriend. A 19-year-old college freshman, Kristen Dormitzer was there, minding her son Michael, 7, and daughter Alexandra, 5.

Then, the doorbell rang. It was Richard.

"What are you doing here?" Karen asked.

Richard shot her point blank in the chest with a high-powered rifle. The sitter rushed the two children to the bathroom, put them in the tub to protect them from stray bullets and called 9-11. Fearing Richard would kill them, she stayed there until police arrived. Then, Kristen Dormitzer, Karen's brother and his girlfriend, and 7-year-old Michael watched in horror as medics rushed Karen to the hospital. She died the next morning.

High school sweethearts

Born in Michigan, Karen was one of four children. Her father was an electronics executive; her mother was a homemaker. The family moved to Connecticut. Karen met Richard in high school and they fell in love. Three months after graduation in 1973, they married. Soon their first child, Shannon, was born. Richard earned a medical degree at the University of Connecticut. Karen studied nursing at Norwalk Community College. In 1985 they moved to the Boston area. Richard completed postgraduate work at Harvard and opened a cosmetic dermatology practice at the Cape Ann Medical Center in Gloucester.

Richard's road to riches

Richard was bright and ambitious. During the 1990s, he opened a chain of laser hair-removal clinics and helped develop a line of skin products which he marketed on the Internet. No one suspected his dark side. One woman who knew him recalled that he plucked his eyebrows and looked "odd." But another witnessed more disturbing behavior. Karen worked part-time as his office manager. Richard would "yell at his wife until people were extremely uncomfortable about it." These tirades paled in comparison to the acrimony and bizarre behavior that took place at the Sharpe home.

A bitter divorce

In a June 2000 affidavit filed during her divorce, Karen said the household was "riddled with tension" and described a pattern of physical and emotional torment that had begun during the first week of their marriage. Once during the 1980s, Richard got drunk at a New Year's Eve party and beat her so badly that, due to her bloody face, a clerk at a motel refused to rent them a room. During their 27 year marriage, her lawyer said she was hospitalized more than once with a broken nose, split lip, black eyes "and all the rest."

A substitute for divorce?

Sometimes men murder their wives to end an unhappy marriage and avoid a divorce that could drain their bank accounts or trash their reputations. When police arrive after the wife is dead, the neighbors are shocked. To many, the idea to chose murder over divorce makes no sense. To others, it does. David Adams, a licensed psychologist, co-founded the first program in the country to offer counseling to men who abuse women. For ten years, he met with men who murdered their wives. His conclusion: their motivations fall into 5 categories.


        drug induced behavior

        career criminals

        suicidal or depressed

        materially motivated

Those in the later category show no remorse, Adams says. "They don't care about women. They care more about their assets." They have much to lose. They have nice homes and cars, and good reputations. "Typically," Adams says, "these men are keeping secrets, secrets they will do almost anything to protect." Affairs, shady financial dealings. Much of Richard Sharpe's motivation was related to money. But also to his cross-dressing habits.

Cross-dressing to escape a beating

Richard claimed he was beaten and abused by his alcoholic father. At the trial, Richard's siblings testified that Richard and his two brothers had endured years of physical abuse by their father.

Richard said he began dressing in women's clothing as a teenager after he noticed that his father didn't beat his sister. Years later, he had a nose job and plastic surgery on his eyes to make them appear more feminine.

Arrest and arraignment

Two days after the murder, police arrested Richard at a motel in New Hampshire. Held without bail, on July 18, he pleaded not guilty to first degree murder. Then came the bombshells.

Photographs of Richard dressed as a woman. Charges that he physically and emotionally abused Karen throughout their marriage; that he tried to strangle her and poison their older daughter Shannon. Karen's divorce lawyer said: "He brutalized Karen for years."

Her friends were stunned. "There were signs that things weren't right," said one, "but a few days later everything would be fine." She described Karen as a doting mother to Shannon, Michael and Alexandra. To her, they seemed like "the perfect family."

No money for the children

In March 2001, Sharpe tried to prevent his children from getting checks from his retirement fund. He said he need the money to pay for his legal fees. A lawyer for the children urged that the child support order remain in effect, saying: "That's the only source of money the kids are getting for child support." And let's not forget that this man deprived his three children of a mother. See those little hands? Karen will never see that child graduate from high school ... or get married or anything else. 

While awaiting trial in jail, Sharpe allegedly offered another inmate $1 million to help him escape. But the inmate read news articles saying that Sharpe's assets were frozen to benefit Sharpe's two youngest children so he ratted him out. A guard found correspondence outlining the plan.

Let's plead insanity, but only temporarily

The trial began in November 2001. Prosecutors alleged that Richard planned the murder after Karen refused to return $3-million he had transferred to her bank account after they separated. "There are three million motives that Richard Sharpe had for killing Karen," Assistant DA Robert Weiner told the jurors. "He was infuriated about the money."

But Richard claimed he was devastated when his marriage fell apart in February 2000 and believed the marriage could be saved. He said he didn't remember much about the night he shot her in the chest, claiming he was temporarily insane.

ADA Weiner dismissed this, saying Richard had parked his car 340 feet from Karen's house, shut off the headlights and walked up the long driveway with a gun. He reminded the jurors that after shooting his wife, Richard disposed of the gun, drove almost 50 miles to New Hampshire and rented a motel room. "He wants you to think it was spur of the moment ... so you'll think he was temporarily insane ... and now he's not crazy anymore. How convenient."

After a three week trial, the 12-member jury convicted Richard Sharpe of first degree murder, which has a mandatory sentence of life without parole. Sharpe was sent to prison.

Suicide attempts

In 2002, at the age of 54, Richard tried to hang himself in his cell, but this attempt failed. In 2007, he went on trial for hiring a hitman to murder ADA Robert Weiner, but he was acquitted. In January 2009, Sharpe's cellmate found him hanging in his cell. After an investigation, officials found no reason to suspect foul play and ruled it a suicide.

For more details on this and other cases, see DARK DEEDS, Volume One


What YOUR verdict? A sick man or a narcissistic murderer? Please leave me a comment and tell me what you think!

Citations: Seacoastonline, various articles

Lifting the Veil, Patrick Rogers, People Magazine, 1-29-2001

Why do men kill their wives?, Keith O'Brien, Boston Globe, 7-22-2007

Denise Lavoie, Richard Sharpe, Cross-dressing Harvard Doctor Who Killed Wife, Found Hanged, The Huffington Post, 1-6-09 

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[ Posted by Art Smukler, May 12, 2012 3:28 PM ]
     Wonderful Post; An exciting journey into the mind of a sadistic, twisted brilliant physician. Thanks, Art

[ Posted by Myrna Griffith, May 24, 2012 6:27 PM ]
     Yes, sick.....very sick....Too bad innocent folks always get hurt or killed.

[ Posted by kani osborne, January 26, 2013 1:26 PM ]
     Where is he now and how are mike and ali doing?

[ Posted by admin, January 26, 2013 6:01 PM ]
     Sharpe committed suicide in 2009 while still in prison. I don't know how Mike and Ali are doing. I believe Karen's family took custody of them.
Thanks for the comment!

[ Posted by Rachel S, March 06, 2013 10:06 PM ]
     I met Karen a few months before she was brutally killed. She confided in me that she feared her husband. She was the sweetest most amazing woman. I hope his death will ease her troubled spirit.

[ Posted by admin, March 07, 2013 7:33 AM ]
     Thank you for the comment, and my sympathies to you for losing a friend. She put up a valiant fight, but unfortunately it wasn't enough. He was a diabolical and abusive man.

[ Posted by n, February 08, 2014 8:08 PM ]
     Narcissistic murderer...hope he rots in hell...sick nut...hope his father rots in hell too, for creating this monster

[ Posted by Christopher Haley, March 18, 2015 6:34 PM ]
     I grew up with an abusive father who beat me and my mother and spared my sister. It didn't make me crazy. It made me determined to be a better man, husband and father. To hear someone try and use that as a defense for their own despicable actions is a joke. I hope the three children are able to overcome and lead somewhat normal lives. My heart goes out to them and their mothers family.

[ Posted by admin, March 19, 2015 8:14 AM ]
     Thank you for the comment. I'm not sure which post you are referencing. However, I agree that not every child who grows up with an abusive father turns into a killer. Unfortunately, some do. Domestic violence is a serious issue in the United States and no one in the media seems willing to address it.
Susan Fleet

[ Posted by Karen Stephens, March 19, 2015 2:15 PM ]
     I feel all killer's are off mentally...but insane? That's a horse of a different color. He was crazy no doubt. Did he know the difference between right and wrong? I think so. I feel for the children.

posted by SUSAN FLEET   May 10, 2012 4:21 PM  Domestic Homicide 


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