Sherry Culp was at a crossroadsin 1997. She was unexpectedly pregnant, under a great deal of financial strain. She tried to win custody of her two daughters, Lauren and Heather. Her relationship with her ex-husband Donald was not good. So she had divorced him three years ago. Their marriage ended after Sherry had an affair with a friend. It wasn’t an ideal time to have another child. Sherry seriously debated whether to continue the pregnancy. In the end, though, She did decide to keep the baby. She picked out a name Kelsey Morgan. Her mom and siblings planned a baby shower for her. She was just weeks away from giving birth in January 1998. Sherry experienced early labour pains.
Things with Donald Culp, however, remaine complicated. Sherry’s parents, Ken and Jane Young describe him ‘abusive’ over issues of custody of child support. These allegations are corroborated by the account of a Brownie troop leader who apparently heard Donald Culp tell Sherry that she would never get custody of the girls. That he would “see her dead before she had another child.”
On the last day of her life (January 16, 1998) Sherry was 8.5 months pregnant. She spent the day submitted her maternity leave. She chatted briefly with a colleague. Then went out to her car, which was not even 100 feet away from the entrance to her workplace. Before she could even get her key in the ignition, Sherry was shot twice in the head through the car window. According to witnesses, a man in a “dark colour hoodie sweater” spotted fleeing the scene in a maroon pickup truck.
Sherry died instantly. Her daughter, Kelsey was delivered by emergency C-section. But she’d gone so long without oxygen that she was brain-dead. She was disconnected from life support two days later, and buried in Sherry’s arms.
Authorities determined that Sherry’s death was likely a murder-for-hire. Although the person who pulled the trigger was probably a stranger to her, she almost certainly knew the person who arranged the murder.
Sherry’s boyfriend, the father of her unborn baby, was cleared pretty early on in the investigation.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, suspicion fell on Donald Culp pretty much immediately. This was based largely on three pieces of evidence (I’ll rank them in order of how strong they are):
Motive. By the time of Sherry’s death, the custody battle between the Culps had been going on for more than three years. Even though Donald had primary custody, Sherry had made it clear that she wasn’t going to stop fighting until she got more visitation. Additionally, knowing that his ex wife was about to have a baby with the ex-friend that she cheated on him with couldn’t have been an easy pill to swallow.
Meeting at a Bennigan’s Restaurant in Alexandria, VA. Just a few weeks prior to the killing, Donald Culp was seen at a Bennigan’s restaurant in the Landmark Mall, having a meeting with an unknown man. Culp did not live or work near the Landmark Mall, so it’s unlikely that the meeting was business-related. Who is this man, and what did they talk about? To this day, we don’t know.
This is by far the weakest piece of evidence, but I’ll include it here because it was mentioned in the 2002 WaPo article about the case. Donald Culp has not taken a polygraph test. If you ask the police, it’s because he refused to cooperate with the investigation. If you ask his lawyer, it’s because the police told Culp that a polygraph wasn’t necessary. Either way, polygraphs are junk science, and I totally understand why even an innocent person would refuse to take one. As I mentioned above, Donald Culp denies any involvement in Sherry’s murder. He moved to Ohio in 2000. A 2002 search of his house brought no charges.
What’s undeniable, though, is that Sherry’s parents, Ken and Jane Young, lost all contact with their granddaughters in the years following Sherry’s murder. There’s a particularly disturbing anecdote in the 2002 article that sticks out to me, because I think it does cast some doubt on Donald Culp’s assertion that he holds no ill will towards his ex-wife: family photos that the Youngs attempted to send to their granddaughters were returned torn to shreds.
On a semi-happy note, though: the Youngs were eventually able to get back in contact with the girls, and they have a very close relationship now! When Lauren, Sherry’s older daughter, got married back in 2013, her boyfriend asked her grandfather for her hand in marriage, and her grandmother went wedding dress shopping with her.
Sherry Culp’s murder remains unsolved. Anyone with any information is urged to call the FBI at 1-800-CALL FBI (1-800-225-5324) or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov. There’s a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of a suspect.
Fehmeeda Farid Khan wrote this mystery case.