The Unsolved Murder of Sherry Black
Case File Overview
On November 30th, 2010, 64-year-old Sherry Black was murdered at B&W Billiards and Books, the bookstore she ran with her husband. The bookshop specialized in rare religious texts and was located at 3466 S. 700 East in South Salt Lake, Utah, right beside Sherry’s home.
Sherry’s daughter, Heidi Miller, failed to reach her mother at the bookstore all morning by phone. Later that afternoon Sherry’s husband, Earl Black, discovered her body in the backroom of the store.
An autopsy later determined that although Sherry had put up quite a fight against her attacker, she had ultimately been brutally beaten and stabbed to death.
Plenty of evidence was found at the crime scene, including the perpetrator’s blood, a partial fingerprint, and a partial palm print. Although it was quickly determined that the blood was from a male, the blood and prints did not match any entries in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) or fingerprint databases.
An Armani Exchange men’s belt was discovered at the bookstore that did not belong to any of Sherry’s family members. The belt has a waist measurement of approximately 36-38 inches. Additionally, a sticker was found on the back of the buckle with the number “323”.
Although the authorities have spent countless hours investigating this horrific crime, they have yet to identify a suspect or person of interest: Sherry’s murder remains unsolved.
Case File Theories
Someone from Sherry’s inner circle
Was Sherry killed by someone close to her, like her husband, as is often the case when women are murdered? The level of violence suggests this is a possibility. Veteran South Salt Lake Police detective Joe Sutera explained, “I’ve been doing this for quite a while and this was probably one of the most brutal scenes I’ve seen. She was beaten and stabbed, and it was a violent, brutal scene.” This information gets me wondering if Sherry knew her killer, and if he was compelled by rage and hatred to commit the crime. The brutality of Sherry’s murder and the intimacy of stabbing someone seems to suggest a crime of passion.
Did Sherry’s husband Earl murder his wife and then head off to work to give himself an alibi? Later staging the discovery of Sherry’s body? Although possible, I find this theory highly unlikely. The police never uncovered any evidence that Sherry and Earl had a tumultuous relationship. In fact, detective Sutera is adamant that Sherry’s family was not involved in her murder. He stressed, “We’ve cleared all the family. We’ve looked at them extensively, and you have to in an investigation.” The police appear to have done a thorough job on Sherry’s case so far, so I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe them that the members of Sherry’s inner circle were not involved in her death.
Robbery gone wrong
Was Sherry murdered during a robbery gone wrong? Maybe. Although it is strange that there was no sign of forced entry, none of the rare books appeared to be missing, and the money was even left in the cash register.
Bookseller Ken Sanders, a retailer who owns a store similar to Sherry’s, reported that “rare Mormon books can be worth an extraordinary amount of money.” He explained that “A nice Book of Mormon is a $100,000 book. A rare Book of Commandments is worth a million dollars plus. People will kill for a heck of a lot less than that.” Sherry, though, kept most of her valuable books secured in a safe on site, and Detective Sutera stated that the safe was undisturbed and all of the inventory was accounted for.
Sanders explained to the media that before Sherry’s murder, “a criminal gang of men allegedly stole some extraordinarily rare books, and these books inadvertently were purchased by Sherry Black, and she sold a few of them before it came out that they were stolen and had to be returned.” Lorin Nielsen was one of the sellers of these stolen books, and Sherry helped the authorities prosecute him.
Could Sherry have been murdered out of revenge for her role in dismantling the stolen rare book ring? What at first seemed like an excellent lead, however, quickly fell apart. Detective Sutera said that Neilson was thoroughly investigated, and it was determined that “he’s not the suspect.”
DNA phenotyping reveals a “suspect”
In 2017, seven years after Sherry’s murder, South Salt Lake Police Chief Jack Carruth explained that “advanced DNA information” had helped authorities determine what Sherry’s murderer looked like.
This new DNA technology is called phenotyping; phenotyping is a process used to predict “an organism’s phenotype using only genetic information collected from genotyping or DNA sequencing.” Phenotyping is used to predict “a person’s physical appearance and/or biogeographic ancestry for forensic purposes.” Sherry’s case was the first time phenotyping was used in Utah, but South Salt Lake Police spokesman Gary Keller said, “It’s becoming the industry standard. They use it a lot for found human remains.”
Parabon Nanolabs took the DNA found at the scene of Sherry’s murder and “created images of what the man may have looked like based on genetic code that dictates physical traits, such as face shape, and eye, skin and hair color.” The company determined that the perpetrator is African-American, with light brown to brown skin and black hair. Because the company could not identify the perpetrator’s age from the DNA, Parabon Nanolabs created images of what the murderer would look like at ages 25, 38 and 52.
It is important to note that the DNA evidence used to generate the above images does not “account for weight, hairstyle or other environmental factors.” The authorities stress that the DNA-based reconstructions are scientific approximations at best and will only be used as a guide in the investigation.
Will this new DNA technology help solve Sherry’s murder? I am doubtful, but I guess as long as it is not permitted to narrow the investigation parameters it cannot hurt. I am betting, though, that an “old-fashioned” DNA or fingerprint database hit will be what finally offers some answers in this cold case.
Who do you think murdered Sherry?
It is past time that Sherry’s loved ones get some justice. Sherry’s family has started a website that provides details of the crime and advertises a $250,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Sherry’s murderer. They are especially concerned about catching the perpetrator because he could easily strike again. Sherry’s daughter Heidi told the media, “It was a brutal, vicious, horrible crime and I’m scared to death that another family will have to go through what we’ve gone through. Someone who could do this could do it again.”
If you have any information on the death of Sherry Black, please contact the South Salt Lake Police Department at (801) 412-3633.
“Do you know who murdered Sherry Black?” – CBS News article
“Sherry Black remembered 5 years after murder in South Salt Lake” – Fox13 News article
“South Salt Lake police say DNA ‘snapshot’ could help solve 2010 fatal stabbing of Sherry Black” – The Salt Lake Tribune article
“Police hope phenotyping will crack Sherry Black murder case” – Deseret News Utah article
“Who killed Sherry Black? Owner murdered in her Salt Lake City bookstore” – Crime Watch Daily article