A Beautiful Child

A Beautiful Child

by Matt Birkbeck

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback - Reprint)

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Sharon Marshall was a brilliant and beautiful student whose future was filled with promise—until her murderous, fugitive father drew her into a lifetime of deception that became one of the most baffling cases in the annals of American true crime.

A student at Forest Park High School near Atlanta, Georgia, popular blonde-haired Sharon Marshall was at the top of her class. Serving as a Lt. Colonel in the ROTC, she earned a full scholarship to Georgia Tech University to study aerospace engineering. She was the ultimate girl next door, sweet, generous, and well-adjusted. But Sharon had disturbing secrets so shocking and unique, they took more than a decade to unravel...

This is the horrifying true story of a mysterious young woman caught in the violent web of the murderous fugitive she called her father—and a heartrending testament to the profound courage and perseverance of one woman trapped in the grip of extreme evil.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425204405
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/02/2005
Series: Berkley True Crime Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 95,950
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 - 17 Years

About the Author

Matt Birkbeck is an award-winning investigative journalist and the author of The Quiet DonDeconstructing Sammy, and A Beautiful Child. His work has been featured in a host of publications including Reader’s DigestPlayboyRolling Stone, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and People magazine. He has appeared on a variety of network and cable news programs, including CNN, ABC’s 20/20, NBC, CBS, and Investigation Discovery, among others, and was celebrated by the New York Times Book Review for his “killer leads, gripping kickers, and sensational descriptions.”

Read an Excerpt

A Beautiful Child

By Matt Birkbeck

Berkley Publishing Group

Copyright © 2005 Matt Birkbeck
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0425204405

Chapter One

The new school year proved difficult for Jennifer Fisher, who struggled through most of her classes while trying to resume friendships with classmates from her freshman year. The schoolwork was hard enough, reconnecting with old friends even harder. Sharon Marshall had become a positive force in her life, and with every phone call from Sharon, Jennifer's spirits peaked. Her good humor did not go unnoticed by her parents, who were happy to learn that Sharon would be visiting their home again.

When Sharon arrived in late September, she hugged Mr. and Mrs. Fisher, then joined Jennifer upstairs in her bedroom. Warren followed Sharon inside, offered his usual hearty hello, and then asked Joel if they could talk. Sue watched as the two men went into the kitchen, where Warren once again asked for a loan. He needed $300 and sounded like a used car salesman trying to close a deal. Again, Joel wouldn't budge, said no, and escorted Warren into the living room where he smiled weakly toward Sue, trying hard to mask his disappointment. He reached behind his back with his right arm and squeezed on his waist area and grimaced as if he was in dire pain.

"I've got a really bad back from a motorcycle accident a couple of years ago," he said. "I was on the bike and some guy hit me from behind, and then took off. Caused all kinds of problems for me. I need physical therapy and money for a shrink, but the state won't help me. Can you believe that? I'm in pain and the state won't give me the money I need to get better."

Warren shook his head, then said he'd be nearby cruising through the upscale neighborhood, dropping off business cards and soliciting paint jobs.

"I'll be back later this afternoon for Sharon," he said.

Warren's financial problems notwithstanding, the Fishers adored Sharon, particularly Sue, who became deeply attached. It broke Sue's heart that Sharon grew up without a mother. It was also clear to Sue that Sharon needed mothering, and her maternal instincts were always triggered during Sharon's visits. During one conversation as Sue was preparing lunch, Sharon eyed a plate of fresh broccoli.

"I never had this," said Sharon.

Within minutes, Sharon devoured the broccoli, head and all.

"That was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten," she declared.

Sue also noticed Sharon had a propensity for mood changes, particularly during the rare occasions when she talked about her father. Discussing Warren provoked nervousness and a slight stutter. Sharon would fold her hands together and squeeze. Sue didn't know what to make of it, but didn't pry. Warren appeared careful with Sharon, and it was clear he was a disciplinarian. Given the Fishers deep feelings for Sharon, Warren was tolerated, though Joel made it perfectly clear that under no circumstances would he ever allow Jennifer to spend a night at the Marshall home.

The invitation was extended in November, and Jennifer, excited about the possibility, received the bad news as soon as she asked her parents. A day later, after her father left town for a three-day tour, Jennifer begged her mother to let her spend the night at Sharon's house.

Sue Fisher gave in and on a Saturday afternoon, she drove nearly an hour from Stone Mountain through Atlanta to Forest Park. When they turned onto the Marshall's street, Sue was not pleased. The neighborhood was run down, filled with small, ranch-style homes nearly all in need of a fresh paint. Late model pickup trucks were parked in short driveways, toys and garbage littered the street. The Fishers were conspicuous in Sue's brown Mercedes, driving slowly toward the end of the dead end block. The Marshalls lived in the last house on the right, the one in need of a landscaper, with weeds sprouting all around.

Sharon spotted the Mercedes as it pulled up to her short driveway, and she flew out of the house with Warren not far behind.

Jennifer jumped out and the two girls embraced. Sue remained in the car, rolling down her window to say hello, then quickly backing out of the driveway as Warren yelled out, "Don't worry, we'll take care of her."

Jennifer was led inside the house, which seemed even smaller compared to the view from the road. Straight ahead against the wall was an old sofa beneath a shelf with several photos, including one worn, color photo of a woman.

"That's my mother," said Sharon. "Her name was Linda."

Sharon's mother had long dark hair, but the photo was somewhat blurry, making it hard to focus on her features.

Still, Jennifer blurted out that she thought Sharon's mother was beautiful.

"You must miss her," said Jennifer.

"Yes. I think about her a lot. But daddy's taken good care of me," said Sharon, who continued the tour.

To the left was a small eat-in kitchen. To the right was a short hallway that led to Warren's room. Jennifer peeked inside and spotted dozens of black videotapes, one on top of another, lined up in rows against the wall. Warren was out of sight but his arm reached out across the doorway and pulled the curtain, which served as a door. To the left was another room, but Sharon warned Jennifer not to go in there.

"No one is allowed in that room," whispered Sharon.

Jennifer didn't ask why as she was led into Sharon's room, which took up the right corner of the house. The room was as Jennifer had imagined, filled with plenty of fluffy stuffed animals, several porcelain figurines, dolls, and brown teddy bears set on shelves.

Jennifer also noticed all the novels, magazines and dozens of copies of Reader's Digest.

"You must read a lot," said Jennifer.

"I love to read," said Sharon. "I just lose myself and imagine I'm part of the story or in some distant part of the world."

As she studied the room, it occurred to Jennifer that Sharon did not have a door. Instead she had a long curtain that hung in the doorway. None of the rooms in the house had a door, just curtains. It seemed odd, but Jennifer figured that Warren couldn't afford doors. She heard her parents whispering one night about Warren asking for money or something.

Warren reappeared and announced that he was taking the girls to dinner. They jumped into Warren's pick-up for the ten-minute drive to the Piccadilly restaurant. Jennifer sat in the middle, with Sharon to her right by the window. They made small talk; Warren made a point of telling Jennifer she was attractive.

"You know, you're soooo pretty. Just like Sharon," he said.

Somewhat embarrassed, Jennifer didn't mind the compliment. As they neared the restaurant, the girls told jokes, and everyone laughed harder when Sharon began to mimic her father.

"Oh, my back, my back hurts so bad!" said Sharon.

Warren enjoyed the moment, then announced he had a brilliant idea.

"Why don't we drive down to Peachtree Street and make fun of the prostitutes," he said.

"Dad, the prostitutes don't work there anymore. They're on Stuart Street," said Sharon. "And I don't really want to do that, daddy. Why don't we just go eat?"

Warren agreed, but said he first had to stop for gas. He pulled into a service station, stopped the car by the pump and turned up the volume to the radio, which spouted out the first few chords of Iron Man by Black Sabbath. He opened the truck door, walked over to the gas pump and filled up his truck, singing along with Ozzy Osbourne.

Sharon and Jennifer joined in the chorus, and they all clapped when the song ended. Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody came over the air as Warren turned the key to start the engine. The song was unfamiliar to Warren, but the girls sang in unison.

They enjoyed quiet conversation during dinner over chicken, mashed potatoes, cornbread and vegetables. For dessert there was chocolate cake and ice cream to round out the meal. Warren paid the check. As they drove away from the restaurant, with the orange glow of dusk fading on the horizon, Warren announced he had a another great idea.

"How about I take you girls dancing?"

The girls shrieked. "Dancing? Tonight? Wow!"

Jennifer was only fourteen years old and never even thought of setting foot in a dance club. She was underage, and it was something her parents would never allow. She also didn't have any clothes to wear.

"What would I wear?" she said.

Warren calmed her fears. Sharon had plenty of suitable outfits at home, and he was sure she had something that would fit Jennifer.

They drove back to the Marshall house and the girls ran into Sharon's room, giggling as they rummaged through Sharon's dresser drawers. Jennifer was excited, so excited she didn't notice the lingerie, the nightgowns, the string bikini underwear and the crotch less panties that filled the dresser.

Sharon then went into her closet and pulled out a pink miniskirt dress with black tiger stripes. It was outrageous. And Jennifer loved it.

Warren walked by the room and Sharon held the outfit up high.

"What do you think, daddy?"

"Yeah, you should put Jennifer in that nice pink and black dress," said Warren approvingly.

Sharon decided she'd wear an off the shoulder shirt and miniskirt. They combed their hair, put on lots of makeup, and announced to Warren they were ready to go - two young teens out for a night on the town.

"Boy, you ladies are something to see!" he exclaimed.

When they arrived at the club, the first thing Jennifer noticed was that it didn't look like a dance club. It looked more like some seedy redneck bar. Warren walked the girls to the front door, where they were met by a bouncer who was checking identifications. It was clear they were underage, but Warren leaned over and whispered into the bouncer's ear, then turned to the girls.

"Ok, let's go," he said as he ushered them into the club.

Inside it was dark, the only light coming from the bar to the right, and the reflections coming from the large, silver disco ball that hung over the small dance floor.

Warren walked them to the middle of the bar, then turned to leave.

"Ok, you girls have a good time. I'll be back later."

Jennifer was confused. "You're not staying with us?"

"Hell no, honey. You and Sharon have fun!" said Warren, who left them standing on the small dance floor.

Jennifer stood awkwardly, unsure of what to do. Sharon didn't waste any time, moving her hips and waving her hand at Jennifer to follow her motions and the girls started to dance. They remained there the rest of the night, dancing to the throbbing music. Jennifer had danced before, but at home, in her bedroom, alone. She was unsure of her movements and kept her eyes focused on Sharon, who moved easily with the music, her hips gyrating back and forth, her arms raised high. Sharon wasn't just good; she was sexy. Most of the men in the bar had noticed, some of them coming onto the floor to dance with Sharon. They were much older, well into their thirties and forties, some with scruffy beards and bad body odor. All were poorly dressed, wearing faded jeans and t-shirts.

Jennifer was simply terrified at the prospect of dancing with a man as old as her father. Sharon made it clear she wasn't interested in dancing with anyone other than Jennifer, waving the men away.

Warren returned at midnight and informed the girls the night was over.

During the ride back to Sharon's house, Jennifer couldn't help herself, blurting out what a good time she had, and how cool it was that Warren would take them dancing.

"I know what you girls like," said Warren.

When they got home, the girls went into Sharon's room. Warren stuck his head through the curtain, telling them to get ready for bed.

Sharon opened her dresser drawer and this time Jennifer noticed all the pretty and sexy lingerie.

"Where did you get this stuff?"

"My daddy lets me have this. He even buys it for me," said Sharon.

"Sharon," said Jennifer, "you have the greatest dad."

Changing out of their sweaty clothes and still high from a night of dancing, the girls laughed hysterically as they recalled the awkward attempts by some of the men in the bar to dance with them, and laughed even louder at how Sharon ignored them.

Jennifer was still giggling, pulling her nightgown over her head, when Warren barged into the room screaming, his face contorted in a monstrous glare.

Jennifer didn't hear what he was saying. She couldn't. She felt faint. Feelings of exultation and joy were replaced in an instant by fear and terror. She noticed the gun in Warren's hand, then looked over to Sharon, who stood naked from the waist up, wearing only white panties and blue, frilly socks. Sharon was trembling, staring at the floor and holding her hands together as her eyes welled with tears. Questions raced through Jennifer's mind, "What's going on? Can this be happening?"


Excerpted from A Beautiful Child by Matt Birkbeck Copyright © 2005 by Matt Birkbeck. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Beautiful Child 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
How can someone take a little known yet unbelievable story and make it one of the most important books you'll ever read? Through detailed reporting and a creative and very satisfying narrative Matt Birkbeck honors the life of this tragic and gifted young woman while exposing the crazed sociopath she called her father. A Beautiful Child is not a true crime story. It's much more. It's poingnet, gripping, sad, and inspiring. This is not a book you will easily forget, nor should you. A must read. The photos that accompany the book enhance the narrative.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The tragedy of this chil's life is haunting. The author has done an excellent job of researching and interviewing main characters. I have been unable to put this story out of my mind since finishing the book. This man is the personification of evil.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful read. So very sad. The author is brilliant!!! I could not put the book down because it was so interesting. The book kept you intrigued. Readers do understand that there is a lot of facts and tons of names and charactors to try and remember. Some might say he jumps around a lot. The saddest and biggest disapointment for me was hoping for a happier ending. Wanting the ending to have the answers you want but unfortunately this is real life and not a fairy tale. This poor child will hopefully one day get the justice she deserves, dead or not. I do wish to find out if more facts came about after this book was finished. Anyway, this is a great read!!
BookMouse More than 1 year ago
This story is very moving and unfortunate that this child had to endure abuse, deception, and fear. She was not your stereotypical child of abuse, but rather very intelligent and outgoing. It is a shame that no one did anything sooner with regards to her "father" and then her "husband". Anyone who met him knew he had a screw loose and that should have alerted them to contact the authorities. It is a shame that she was not able to have a normal childhood, or even a future.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Beautiful Insight' to a Beautiful Child Aside from my own personal experience with the Tent Girl, never have I felt so close to knowing the person behind the mystery. A Beautiful Child allows the reader to experience the mystery as it unfolds and changes direction as it did in real life. This book is a wonderful gift that I will treasure. A masterpiece that I see it as a true story of hope that provides the testiment that fuels the compassion it takes to work these types of cases on a daily basis. It re-ignited my own personal passion. ---- More accurate in terms....TWO beautiful children are outlined in this book... A Jane Doe buried with no true identity known....and her STILL missing son who never had a true identity, other than a knock off of an alias. This book just might be their BEST HOPE of eventual resolution. - - Todd Matthews, Doe Network & Outpost For Hope
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This girls life was unimaginable. A loss of innocence by a monster. Well written. Hope
NookieSH More than 1 year ago
I am giving this book the 5 stars because the author wrote an exceptional book/story on a very tragic lifetime of a human being. But I will say, this was bad, not the ending I expected or wanted. What a tragedy!!!!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was excellently written and was inspired after reading it to find out more on Sharon, without spoiling look up her name on google when finished reading.
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ody More than 1 year ago
Haunting I read this book a long time ago, and I am due for another reading! I still remember how it stuck with me long after I finished it. So different from the usual book you read. This is a story that should be kept alive, somehow.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a true mystery! I hope somday someone solves this mystery and help put a name to the Beautiful Child.